Growing up with a Mega Drive instead of a SNES meant that I played a load of fantastic games that many people have never heard of. It also meant that I missed quite a lot of other games that were only available on the competitor’s console; one of which was Pocky & Rocky – a game that seems to have quite a reputation, even though I’d never even heard of it until recently.
With the release of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, I now have the opportunity to revisit this classic game – albeit in remake form.
Time to see what all the fuss is about!
Many thanks to PR Hound for the review copy.
The young shrine maiden Pocky is busy tending to her shrine one day, when the frantic Tanooki ‘Rocky’ runs up to her saying that all of the Yokai have gone crazy. As is her duty, Pocky helps her furry friend find out what is going on. After a short investigation, they find reports of a mysterious figure donning a black mantle, who may be behind all of this. Pursuing the figure may not prove as easy as they anticipated, however, and may even prove life threatening to at least one of the pair…
It’s a simple tale befitting a title from early in home console gaming, and there are a surprising number of plot developments that occur via the cutscenes between each level. Many of the story elements are new to this remake too, as the development team decided to flesh the game out a little bit more by enhancing and adding additional levels into the mix – which includes some brand new playable characters too!
BETWEEN A ROCKY AND A HARD PLACE
From the glimpses of the game I had seen prior to playing it, I’d imagined that the game was effectively a shmup where you shoot a ton of enemies whilst avoiding their gunfire. Whilst that still is true to a certain degree, the game actually plays more like a run and gun game albeit from an overhead perspective. There’s no autoscrolling here; instead, you have direct control of your character as you navigate the surprisingly intricate levels shooting down opponents that get in your way. The slow careful pace you need to proceed at can be quite jarring at first with everything else happening so fast, but methodological elimination is definitely the safest approach!
Another thing that really threw me off initially was that, whilst it may seem like a twin-stick shooter in appearance, your weapon only fires in the direction the character faces. There’s 8 directional movement, but aiming diagonally (which is absolutely essential in the game) is somewhat tricky to do using the stick; the directional pad wielded far more positive results when aiming, but then general movement didn’t feel as free as with the analogue, making it harder to avoid enemies. In the end, I opted for stick movement but I always felt like most of the difficulty boiled down to fighting with the controls. No doubt those familiar with the original will be able to adapt without a problem, but someone used to twin-stick games will probably find it hard going.
The combat itself is surprisingly a lot more layered than I had initially expected, and the depth makes up for the awkwardness. Your primary attack works a little bit like Cotton to a degree, with coloured orbs scattered around that change your shot type. There’s homing, spread, and flame available and each can be upgraded if you collect multiple of the same colour. Getting hit will lower your power level, but you do have a moment to quickly pick up the power again before it disappears. It’s a nice system that feels pretty fair and is complemented nicely by your character’s secondary melee attack. Despite being something you’re likely to ignore at first, this secondary attack is arguably more important than your primary attack due to its ability to deflect projectiles. Even when the game gives off the appearance of bullet hell, it can be brushed aside with a mere sweep of your stick/tail. To top things off, there’s a dash and an obligatory super attack too which , even though it has limited use, can deal massive damage.
Partway through the story, you’ll also upgrade your attacks too with the ability to charge up a temporary deflection shield, or to produce orbs that can supplement your main attack. They’re nice little additions that complement your arsenal nicely. For some added variety, the story will also put you in the shoes of various other characters who all control slightly different to one another. The base mechanics are essentially the same, but with enough variation to make them feel unique to one another.
ALL LOCKED UP
As you boot up the game, you’ll notice that only the story mode is available to you at first. Anyone looking to jump straight into multiplayer will be in for a disappointment, as beating the campaign is the only way to unlock the free play mode. This mode allows you to pick and choose what character(s) you want to play as, so no doubt this was done to avoid narrative confusion; however, this is a remake of a retro game, not some kind of narrative masterpiece. The story really isn’t that complicated and the requirement just feels like an unfortunate unnecessary hoop to jump through. The story isn’t that long, particularly for those who are familiar with the game, but newcomers will still need to play it for a couple of hours or so before they’re able to join up with a buddy.
The biggest issue for newcomers though will be the punishing difficulty of the game. Veterans will no doubt be aware of how everything works, but the game gives little indication about how the mechanics work to those who have never played the title before. The in-game manual is laughably minimal and doesn’t even tell you about what the melee attack is used for, which is a huge thing for those wanting to get through the game. Not only that, but enemies are everywhere and the limited number of lives means that you’ll be replaying levels continually until you get it memorised. There are checkpoints scattered around that you can continue at, but these tend to be sparsely placed. Whilst there is an easy mode available that offers unlimited lives, the amount of coins required to unlock it is ridiculously high and you’ll likely have finished (or almost finished) the story on normal mode by that point. It’s a baffling choice hiding the easier difficulty behind an excessively high wall, but at least the infinite continues means that you’ll never game over at least.
The real highlight of the game though is the presentation. The music fits perfectly and the aesthetics are drop dead gorgeous: environments are intricate and well detailed, and the Yokai themselves are beautifully designed with lots of character. Even the animations are far more complex than you’d expect for a retro title, and the more you look what’s going on, the more you notice the smaller details. Bosses are a visual highlight too as these fearsome foes typically have an even more accentuated personality. The chubby boss of the first level is busy feasting on his lunch, which he then spits out at you. Hit him enough times and he’ll turn from Yokai into Chonkai with his massive second form. They’re all a spectacle, and I always looked forward to facing a new one.
Fans of the original are sure to love Reshrined. Not only does it look and sound fantastic, but the added characters and new stages will no doubt be the icing on the cake. Newcomers, however, may find the control scheme and unforgiving difficulty to be too frustrating for their tastes.