Videogames are complicated, complex creations. Miss one goddamn thing in there, and the whole thing can fall apart.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is the latest in a series of games released within recent years that nobody would have ever predicted we would see, but, impossibly enough, here we are (see also “American” Radical Dreamers, or that immaculate Record of Lodoss War tie-in). Pocky & Rocky was an astonishing little Super Nintendo title (itself a quasi-sequel to an arcade game) that perfectly captured the chaos and joy of a run ‘n gun like Ikari Warriors or very particular (unpopular) levels in Contra 3. However, unlike many games where you are given a bazooka and an enemy army to obliterate, Pocky & Rocky often erred on the side of adorable. There were certainly scary monsters running around, but you are definitely playing as either a chibi shrine maiden or a roly-poly raccoon, and your greatest allies are gods of plenty that leisurely float around on clouds. This is a scenario where you are saving the world from demonic invaders, but the first boss is also a goblin that is named for partying too hard.
But it is tricky for a player to party too hard with Pocky & Rocky. Despite the cutesy appearance, Pocky & Rocky has always been difficult to the point of parody. This should not be a great surprise, as the game is practically a shoot ‘em up, and that genre is known for a number of entries that were as equally likely to please a player as make them cry. It doesn’t matter if you are steering the Vic Viper through a hail of bullets or Pocky through a maze of oncoming nuts, your health is fragile, and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the stage in no time if you dare show the slightest sloppiness. Pocky & Rocky was always fun (and easier) with two players, but not unlike Contra or Toejam & Earl, nobody holding a controller was all that convinced they’d see past level 3…
And Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continues this tradition with aplomb. Is it cute? Listen, bub, you’ve got a playable raccoon and a shrine maiden cosplaying as a fox yōkai (or maybe it is technically a fox yōkai cosplaying as a shrine maiden? Whatever!). There is the signature turn into darkness as our protagonists travel through time to burning villages with disturbingly buff versions of ancient gods, and the challenge is continually buff-god worthy. Unfortunately, the game seems to follow a reverse difficulty curve, as your health and abilities expand dramatically as the game progresses. While there is not a single level or boss that is a pushover, it does seem like the earlier areas are a lot more difficult to conquer with your meager opening offerings. Regardless, even that is arguably Pocky & Rocky to a T, so there is very little to complain about in this remake-y sequel.
Well, except all the nonsense I am about to complain about ad nauseum…
It is hard to pick apart Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. It would be so easy to say this game lacks polish! But that is completely wrong! Pocky & Rocky Reshrined has remarkable sprite-based graphics that must have taken years of experience and craftmanship to appear so beautiful and animated. But you will be distracted from that artistry the moment you notice a glaringly obvious typo…
Did you mean “fortune”?
But more importantly than presentation, there are gameplay quirks that frequently detract from the experience. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined continually feels like a “tough but fair” shooter… except when a monster spawns directly on top of you, and how the heck were you supposed to see that coming? Bosses are large and in charge, except for the middle crop of creatures that feel like they could be conquered by a toddler. Oh! And the glaringly obvious issue that 2-player mode is locked behind completing the game, and then an additional character that can only be unlocked by completing the exact same game twice (while other, more appealing modes are available that patently will not unlock said character)? That speaks to a severe misunderstanding of why people are playing Pocky & Rocky in the first place. And, while none of these issues somehow equate to making Pocky & Rocky Reshrined unplayable, there are a significant number of problems that feel like the videogame equivalent of writing an essay but skipping the proofreading stage (fun fact: my original intention was to deliberately add some typos to that sentence, but my autocorrect has thwarted me at every turn, and I am far too lazy to attempt to train it differently. Sorry!).
Which brings us to the actual make or break of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. Possibly the worst thing your humble author did to P&RR is play Cuphead’s DLC immediately before switching over to tanuki times. As a result of this blunder, it was immediately revealed that Cuphead possessed one simple action that Pocky & Rocky Reshrined did not: stationary/locked aiming. In Cuphead, you can hold a shoulder button to keep your porcelain playable character aimed at an opponent. This allows for situations where, at the press of a button, you can stay “locked” facing your focus, but back away to a more advantageous position. Or stay stationary, and rotate around so you can aim without leaving your safe spot. This is an essential move in any game where the difference between life and death can sometimes be measured in miniscule pixels, and it is completely absent from Pocky & Rocky Reshrined.
And, to be clear, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined was designed without this function in mind. There are three different powerup options for every character available, and they can be summarized as “spread”, “strong”, and “homing” (more or less). A homing bullet loses an awful lot of functionality when you have more robust aiming options, and the challenge involved in a number of bosses (and even a few of the regular monsters) is based entirely on how you must choose between aiming your leaves in the right direction, or staying safe from a salvo. Hell, there is even the improved melee attack that seems to reflect everything, and that is a defensive option that you don’t see in any other game. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined seems to have been carefully calibrated to not include this feature seen in the likes of Cuphead.
But that doesn’t stop it from feeling lacking in comparison. It may be deliberate, but it still feels like something has been lost, and that other, contemporary games are better for having such a feature. In short, it feels like, thanks to one missing piece, the whole thing falls apart.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is indisputably a great videogame. But failing to enshrine polish seen in other games leaves it lacking.
FGC #644 Pocky & Rocky Reshrined
- System: You got your Nintendo Switch, and your Playstation 4, and looks like that is about it.
- Number of players: Two, but only after you unlock the option, you monsters.
- Favorite Level: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is just parallel enough to the original Pocky & Rocky that you can almost recognize some of the new stages as references to the source material. What was once a level where you flew through blue skies is now an assault on a series of airships, and it makes for one of the most fun levels. You must defeat your opponents here to progress, and that means a whole lot of airship destruction. So, basically, if you ever wanted to wreck up Final Fantasy’s main mode of transportation, this is the game for you.
- Favorite Character: The goddess Ame no Uzume can float over pits, but her “bullets” are a little too spaced out for my liking. So maybe this is the Stockholm syndrome talking, but Hotaru Gozen, the samurai lady that requires beating the game twice to unlock, is probably my favorite pick. She turns a shooter into something more like… well… I don’t know what genre this is supposed to be, but she does have to get up close and personal with all opponents. It’s like playing as Zero in an early Mega Man game!
- An end? The finale reveals that the final boss and source of all the trouble ‘round these parts is basically a divine abuse victim that had a few problems with her pantheon before bopping over to Fantasy Japan to wreck up the place. After being defeated in an amazing boss fight that includes way too many lasers, she shrinks back down to normal friend-size and… becomes a new Fantasy Japan goddess. And, like, I get that she had a rough time of it, and may have been manipulated by darkness or whatever, but I feel like she lit an awful lot of the country on fire, and was then “punished” with godhood. Talk about failing upwards…
- Goggle Bob Fact: I ordered the physical copy of this release well ahead of its release, but it took forever (okay, maybe a week) to arrive. This vexed me to the point that I nearly downloaded a virtual copy in the meanwhile, despite the fact that I have a backlog of approximately five billion games…
- Did you know? The original Pocky & Rocky featured a harpy that marginally looked like a naked lady. The American/European version put that harpy in some armor, conferred it a beak, and turned the whole thing into an angry bird. I understand granting her protection against (feathered) nudity, but why go full bird? Not like this is the kind of game where you can’t have female opponents, as your heroine certainly takes more than a few hits.
- Would I play again: This is a fun game! It is great and I like it a lot! However, a lot of the post-game content feels weirdly grindy, and… Well… There are other games that have the shoot ‘em up features I crave. Put this one down for a strong maybe.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge! Time to slice and dice with some turtle pals! Please look forward to it!