Insomnia | Reviews

Mushihime Tama


By Alex Kierkegaard / November 17, 2006

Mushihime Tama is a sequel to Uo Poko (1998) in all but name. That charming little puzzler has now been dressed up with character designs and themes from Mushihime-sama, Cave's hugely popular shooting game, and lavished with as many tweaks and additions as the designers could come up with. It's a richer game as a result, but not necessarily a better one.

If you've played Uo Poko you'll know exactly what to do. Pull back the plunger to launch multicolored spheres into the playing field, and try to match up three or more of them in order to make them vanish. Instead of simply trying to clear all the spheres, however, this time your goal is to free Reko-hime's animal friends, which are trapped underneath them. So all you have to do in each round is clear just enough spheres to allow the animals to escape. This does not make the game any easier in practice, because your friends are always trapped somewhere near the bottom of the playing field. What it does is save you the effort of mopping up every last single sphere, which I guess was something that some players might have found tedious in Uo Poko, though it never really bothered me.

More important is the addition of two new techniques, called Just Fit and Counter Hit. A Just Fit occurs when your sphere lands exactly at the point where two others meet. Doing this with any degree of consistency is hard for beginners, but eventually comes naturally once you've been playing the game for a while. There's a counter which keeps track of how many Just Fits you've performed; do one hundred and you'll be rewarded with an extra life.

The Counter Hit technique is much harder to pull off. Basically, after you've launched a sphere there is a pause of a couple of seconds before you are served the next one. If you pull the plunger during that time the next sphere will fly off with much greater speed, and make a bigger impact when it lands. This technique is very useful when you are running out of time, or when you want to smash through a great number of breakable spheres. It also doubles the scoring potential of your move.

Another important change from Uo Poko has to do with the dotted line, which was displayed in the first few stages to help you get a feel of how the plunger works. This time you also get the line for the first three stages, but starting from the fourth stage it doesn't just disappear -- instead, it slowly fades away over time, and eventually becomes invisible. The idea is to gradually wean you off it, so that you hardly notice its abscence when it's gone.

However, every time you lose a life the line re-appears, and after you clear the current stage slowly starts melding away into the background again. This is a major change, and you'll no doubt find that it makes progression through the stages quite a bit easier. In fact, it would have been a good idea to give the player an option to turn this feature off -- some people will no doubt be thankful for it, but others might resent being given training wheels every time they happen to fall off the bike.

Some of the special spheres and items from Uo Poko make a return (the ones with the hard shell and the indestructible blocks, for example), while others have been removed (most notably the useful bombs), but several new ones have been added in their place. The most interesting of those are the question mark spheres, which can be of any color, and which are placed in hard-to-reach locations, usually far from the animal you are trying to save. If you make the extra effort to clear them you are rewarded with bonuses, such as extra Just Fits or access to special rounds.

There is an overworld map that follows your progress as before, but this time it has a multiple-path system, similar to that of OutRun, though here the route is automatically chosen for you depending on how well you are doing (higher scores will lead you down the harder paths). This definitely opens the game up -- though being unable to choose your route gets frustrating at times, as it prevents you from concentrating all your effort on beating specific rounds.

And finally, every stage now ends in a fight with the corresponding boss from Mushihime-sama. Beating these bosses involves repeatedly shooting spheres onto their weak spot(s), while they frantically try to claw to the top of the playing field. Trust Cave to come up with a puzzle game featuring rank and cool boss fights -- the only things missing are suicide bullets and a second loop. (Actually, I am not so sure about the latter -- I haven't 1CCed the game yet.)

From a technical perspective Mushihime Tama is much more impressive than Uo Poko, which is understandable since it runs on much more powerful hardware. There is a lot more going on at any given moment; from the highly animated, fluid-like spheres, to the trapped animals calling out for help, and Reko bouncing up and down in the background (tits included), making pirouettes when you clear spheres, grimaces when you are about to lose a life, etc. The whole game uses color, animation and sound to great effect, in order to underscore the setting and characters it portrays. Fans of the world of the insect princess will no doubt love the game just for this.

However, though this is a typically meticulously-crafted Cave sequel, using the "bigger, harder, evolved" approach that the company is known for (see Donpachi series), I can't say I prefer it over the original game. Uo Poko is a simpler, more laid-back experience; Mushihime Tama feels heavier and more involved. I can enjoy both equally, depending on my mood.