Four games in, and we are at the first Japan-only release. I know Christmas is not exactly the same merciless onslaught of retail merchandising across the Pacific as it is here, but you’d still think that the sole December release for your fledgling console would be something besides a tie-in with a slice-of-life comedy manga from the sixties, but that’s just what Japanese gamers got with Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou (don’t quote me on this, but the subtitle means something along the lines of “Nonsense Theater”). Osomatsu-kun was apparently a popular gag comic that had then recently been revived as a half-hour comedy show, with the tie-in game taking the cast and putting them in outlandish and ostensibly comedic situations befitting the platforming gameplay. And since this is Japan, “outlandish” and “comedy” both basically amount to strip-mining the “grotesque faces equal COMEDY GOLD” vein that has served the comedic needs of the nation for the past half century:
So, what is there to do in this game besides be hounded by nightmare creatures drawn with faces pulled straight from World War II anti-Japanese propaganda? Apparently Osomatsu is tracking the rest of his sextuplet brood, who are apparently being held captive by auxiliary cast members of the show. Gameplay consists of Osomatsu wielding both a basic misunderstanding of hit detection and awkward jumping mechanics as he wades through semi-linear levels. There are several branching paths that are all more or less identical beyond enemy placement, but the inability to move backwards really prevents the player from getting too lost. Eventually you come across a boss that is again dressed like one of the myriad of horrifying secondary characters from the source material and shoot it to unlock one of your countless brothers and repeat the process again. I took the liberty of recording the first level to show both how good this game looks and just how off it feels to play. And considering that I can’t find any gameplay videos on Youtube while limited to the english language, consider the following clip a Pre-Sonic Genesis exclusive.
(I get to a little under the halfway point of the game before dying at the hand of what appears to be a tweaking cat. Please note the Enchanted Cave of Ethnic Caricatures towards the very end)
The game is spotty, and really seems to know this. Not least of all because it can hide behind what will easily be the best graphics on the system for the next six months or so – consumers wouldn’t see games this attractive on a regular basis until well after the launch of the Genesis in America. While the last few games primarily focused on recreating an arcade experience, Osomatsu-Kun tries – with remarkable success considering the game’s age – to be an interactive cartoon. The atmosphere is weird and presumably hilarious if you are familiar with the culture and subject matter (though I basically am going to love this game forever for the tiny toy-breed dogs with samurai knots) while the music does a remarkable job of trying out a mix of traditional and poppy arrangements, a refreshing change from the muddy bombast of Altered Beast and Super Thunder Blade.
Like most of the early games for the system, it’s ultimately difficult to say outright if Osomatsu-kun is worth playing, though if pressed I would err on the side of a belabored sigh and a tossed off “not really.” The exploration aspect is nominally interesting and the game looks fantastic, at least in screen shots, but there’s really nothing here to recommend. Unless of course you are a fan of cartoonish ethnic stereotypes, in which case Osomatsu-kun is the sensational video game find of 1988:
(Not pictured: The guys in turbans vomit bombs. Ladies and gentlemen, the noble island nation of Japan)
And since I don’t have much to say about this game, we may as well look at the full release library of 1988. This is normally where I’d rank them based on the enjoyment throttled from the ROM or graphics or what have you, but since we have a grand total of four releases, I’m just going to go ahead and say the only one really worth your time is arguably Space Harrier II, with an emphasis and several HTML tags on arguably. While I still think it’s a fantastic game there are really no compelling reasons to play it, especially when the superior arcade original is easier to find. While I don’t necessarily regret the time I spent with Osomatsu-kun or Altered Beast, neither of them are outstanding games in their own right. And of course we all know that if you ever see Super Thunder Blade, you need to avert your eyes, cross the street, and call the police immediately.