A BIT of Nostalgia: Pocky and Rocky

Hello again my dear island guests!  As some of you know , I am not very much of a modern gamer, I really tend to stick close to gems of the past and in the past of this blog I have discussed a fair few of these. Recently I replayed one of these classics again. As a kid this game was bundled in a special rental promotion set with Mystical Ninja Goemon in some of my video-stores staff favourite bundles.  That game was called Pocky and Rocky.

The Priest and The Tanuki

Pocky and Rocky is an odd game, manifesting as a scrolling shooter but for once not playing space or a warzone. Instead you move to colourful landscapes and you should down a slew of varying monsters, navigate around certain traps and use tools to defend yourself.
However other than that it does still play like a typical scrolling shooter. You collect power ups to upgrade your weapon in two different ways, you fight bosses and like all space shooters this game is tricky as heck! It is commonly seen as a bit of a niche hit for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System but upon release was popular enough to spawn three sequels. One on the SNES one on the Game Boy Advance and one on the Playstation 2 and Wii.  The game was produced by Natsume and published by them as well. Upon its release it got reviewed pretty well, easily scoring an average score of about 8 out of 10. More often going higher than that then lower. This is a perfectly fine score for this game that is mostly praised for its amazing two player mode. 

I reviewed the game Single Player as I don’t have any friend who wants to come play this with me in person and the person who might play this with me lacks the patience for such a title. It should be noted that both the American version and the Japanese version are much better than the European version of the game. In Europe the Japanese version never got translated  and as a result while there are cutscenes the European version does not feature any text or story! To explain the story I will use a Let’s Play of the American version , thus characters will be titled like their American counterpart. To be fair I had a lot of fun imagining what the story would be in the European version but seeing how far I was off made me chuckle a bit. Some of the terminology used comes from the Pocky and Rocky Wiki and not from the game as even the American version never uses any terminology for weapons or anything except the enemies. 

When you are alone you can take the role of Pocky , who is a little priest girl  who fights by throwing sealing cards, called Ofuda,  at enemies and she can defend by swinging her priestess staff or Gohei. Rocky is a Raccoon Dog and instead of cards he tosses out leafs and he defends by swiping his tail. There seem to be minute differences between the characters, for example I think Pocky is faster but Rocky can dive a bit further and seems to defend more effectively. .but I honestly am not sure if I made that up in my mind or if it is actual reality. The story moves independent of what character you pick as both storywise seem to stick together. Which brings us to a bit of a problem.. this game is very VERY hard if you single player it! I really would have liked it if the lonesome player would have gotten an NPC ally to aid them.. however  because of how some challenges are designed I guess an AI could not cut it! While you can play the game  by yourself.. the easy difficulty will already provide you with a very steep challenge.

Let’s Rocky

The story of the game is wonderfully weird and very mundane at the same time!  A long time ago wicked creatures called the Nopino Goblins spread mischief across the land. Yet they were all subjected by a priest named Pocky. All seemed well until one day Pocky the Tanuki shows up telling her his fellow Nopino Goblins are out of control! The first Nopino Goblins that go out of control are these Umbrellas with a big eye and a scary mouth. As well some weird ass cyclops monks!  They are aided by guys in baskets that should at you and spooky scary skeletons!  The boss of the first level is a guy with a big brown head that shoots seeds at you!  When you defeat him.. he tells he has been mind controlled by a guy in a Black Mantle.. so that is what the villain of the game is called Black Mantle! Pocky and Rocky then venture into the water domain to fight some creatures that look like a cross between a turtle and a duck……wait a minute!  

Tanuki..Kasa Obake, Oi No Bakemono, Hitotsume-kozō and Kappa! Nopino Goblin is the English translation for the word Yokai! That is hilarious! The second stage makes you fight the cutest monkeys before eventually turning into a water stage quickly restricting your movement. Since a game over doesn’t abide by any checkpoints or subareas getting a game over means you go back to the beginning of a stage! You have unlimited continues but..Nopino Goblins can be tough sons of Yokai! The game is hilariously  translated and the dialogue feels SUPER cheesy! Especially after you finish the third stage and things seem more dire!  That stage took me SO Many attempts though! It has two pretty hard minbi bosses, and grueling gauntlets of flying enemies.  After you deal with that you dodge some  traps and shifting walls that can push you off the stage so you have to master the dodge technique here to avoid the deadly twomps like skeletons and shifting stage. It is a very good stage that has some amazing designs though and some funny Nopino Goblins!

It gets even better though , as you advance past the third stage you find out that the evil organisation is the Gorgonzola Goblins, living in the Gorgonzola Fortress and to get there you have to use a cursed airship! This is probably the hardest stage in the game, Narrow spaces, few options to dodge and lots of Yokai Pirates and turres with crazy attack patterns. It is guarded by a bird Yokai which requires you to be pretty good at your shield and dodge techniques.  Of course that pales in comparison to the skill you have to show against the second to last boss fight! Black Mantle of course works together with Dracula!  This fight. quickly turns into a bullet hell! With a twist. Entire sections of the map at time become electrified so standing still and defending will not get you anywhere.. so you will have to zoom across the arena.. while using your defensive tail swipe AND attacking the boss! All tools have to be used at the same time. The final stage is a simple climb facing some tough enemies that fire attacks that cover half the screen. Getting hit by them drains a massive amount of health as well and health power ups are very rare! With a miniboss and the big boss himself.. this one might take a few attempts. The ending is wholesome and cute and after a bit of ending dialogue Pocky and Rocky share some Dango together in the moonlight!

Sweet as a Pocky

Pocky is a sweet japanese candy..well it’s bread  with chocolate on it but the Pocky in this game is just as sweet. The presentation of this game is phenomonal! The cutscenes are super cute, the sprites are fantastic and the game has some pretty nice tunes. It really has a cute anime esthetic that also reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons for very young kids. The way the story is presented also seems very much like one of the cutests tales for kids you have ever seen. The story is very much non-violent but  there are some creepy like bosses and creepy imagery as well it is very balanced out! 

You never get bored!  Every stage feels significantly different from the others even if lots of set pieces are reused across all stages. It really works, you can see what areas lie close to one another but you also feel like you have made progress. Pocky and Rocky both look great themselves. If you play with two players you even get some team moves where one character uses the other to launch themselves forward as if they were a skateboard of sorts.. It looks buttery smooth. The frame-rate can stutter a tiny bit if there are too many enemies on screen but that is almost never an issue.

The gameplay is rather pleasant and while it is difficult as heck, it never feels really unfair.. that said it is one of those , remember the patterns ,  kinda game.. but to be fair that rings true for most of the genre and the genre itself is known for being pretty difficult.  Basically how this game works is, you make progress until you die, you find out why you die or how these enemies work and how to best get around it , you lose less health and the next time you progress further. You die again facing this new enemy  or a bit in the level and you come up with a strategy for that section again. You start the stage over again and combine your knowledge of before to get even further.. and so you get a little bit better every time you die. You really have to remember how these things work because health is fairly rare and there is no regaining life during a stage. Playing alongside a friend will make things a bit more manageable as you can remind each other how to get around an obstacle and the team moves really make you able to dash through things you can’t do alone..but that is actually a nice reward for playing with two. You really can use each other! 

The controls all work pretty nicely as well, pretty much every button is used and if you don’t like a lay out the game allows you to remap them yourself to fit your preference. For example I remapped the dodge  to something that worked a bit better for me. I gradually ended up remapping a few things, just to fit my playstyle and it worked. I really felt myself improving.. but there is a lot to improve for just one sitting.

Nope-Ino

There are a few minor gripes I have with this game and for one is there is no save feature! That is rather common and if you are familiar with the game you can beat this entire game in just under an hour.  To learn all these patterns of thought takes a lot longer. I needed several hours to gradually improve myself enough to beat this. It’s possible.. but as I grew more tired focus began to fade. At stage 4 I had to call it quits the first day. Replaying Stage 1 through 3 was a lot easier the next day but there is no real reward for playing through them well. You can’t take extra lives, at least not above your maximum and continue being unlimited even if you could.. it doesn’t really matter if you don’t start out with max lives you just learn and progress later.  Stage 4 and Stage 5 are WAAAY harder than the previous once so after progressing through stage 4 and most of 5 .. I had to call it quits on the second day! The third day playing through stage 1 till 4 felt a bit .. tedious.. It’s part of the genre but a password after stage 3 might have been nice. Even if it was just the one.

The fact that there are only two upgrades .. plus a shield is also a bit .. thin. Blue orbs improve your cards or leafs so you can throw multiple while orange orbs turn your projectiles into fireballs. While both characters have a unique main weapon the  fireball is the same, which is sad as it does more damage, but it looks way less unique! You are usually better off with the bigger range of your main weapon anyway. I just wish there were more upgrades. Upgrades decrease if you take hits so for example I can see a slower but homing attack being a nice upgrade or  perhaps a less damaging projectile but one that also blocks enemy attacks much like your swipes.  It would give us a bit more variation to play! It doesn’t really affect how fun this game is.. and it is really fun.. I just think.. it could even be more fun if you and your friend could go different weapon upgrade routes and get a bit more creative rather than just skilful!

Of course for the european version the lack of text is a BIG issue. While the dialogue is nothing to write home about, it adds a really innocent charm to the game that isn’t really there in our PAL version. While the cutscenes without dialogue are still pretty cute, the bosses in the American version usually say some fun lines as well .. a threat right before you start, which feels like some extra motivation.. since the european version apparently had to translate from the japanese version and they said nope we are not going to translate it.  Which is a shame.. it isn’t a good text.. but it is really cute!

The final gripe I have with this game is the box art! It really is quite ugly and doesn’t represent the style of the game at all. The Japanese box art looks so much cuter! The art of the game is much more reflective of that Japanese style so why make it in this weird semi-cool box art. I get it in some games where a sprite is open for interpretation but given the high quality presentation in the cutscenes, and of the sprite itself , I don’t think this is something you can pull off successfully!

The Boxart we got!
The Japanese Boxart!

Two can play THIS Game

This title is a super strong and quite overlooked one in the SNES library! Due to it’s arcade like feeling it aged very well and is very fun to play to this day. Buying a cartridge can be a costly affair with prices ranging going well above that of a full priced game, and including a case you can easily buy two full priced console games. So it does hold some collector value. I am sure however people can find a way to enjoy this game none the less. Pocky Rocky and Becky the second sequel for the Game Boy Advance has been released on several virtual consoles. If you manage to get your hands on this game however it will provide a few hours of good fun! While relatively short it takes quite a while to master and the colourful graphics and varying stages make everything a delight to replay. Even by yourself.

The real fun however starts if you play this with a buddy! More strategies unlock, extra moves are handed out and there is just that much more fun to be had with the game. Single player the game is great but you can feel it never completely reaches it’s full potential. Some enemies are extra rough to dodge because you really miss that team up move set. A choice I think is very brave and makes sense A single player has much more reason to master this while a two player game can be more casual fun. It might not be able to escape some of the classic genre tropes and the lack of a password system or a save feature prevents it from getting my highest rating but it got darn close! Pocky and Rocky is one of the better Co-op multiplayer games on the system and Nopino Goblins is an amazing english word for Yokai!

2 thoughts

  1. I like my old school games as you know, but I’ve never heard of this one before. Honestly that’s not a real surprise as I never played much Nintendo apart from the game boy. I do like these type of games, but I was never very good at them, so without a save system as you mentioned, I don’t think I would ever have the patience (or the skills😂) to pull this one off. Great post though!😀

    Liked by 1 person

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