Shin Chuka Taisen ~Michael to Meimei no Bouken~
By Alex Kierkegaard / January 23, 2008
There is a hefty stack of Japanese Wii games on my desk as I sit down to write this review and one glance at it should tell you this game is rather special. It is... the only one with a full color spine. It also happens to be the only one that's 2D. Between these two seemingly unrelated facts, might there be... a connection?
I am convinced there is. Just think about it for a second: all Wii games so far have been 3D, and cheap 3D at that, each one uglier than the last with only a handful of exceptions (the Takoron and Biohazard 4 ports come to mind, and those were, you know, ports). So you've got a bunch of butt-ugly 3D games which no one cared about enough to spend a few bucks on for some extra colored ink, and then you have Shin Chuka Taisen, which is not only true high-res 2D (still a rare sight among 2D games) but also quite simply the prettiest Wii-exclusive game yet, and which also happens to have a cute, colorful logo on the spine of its case. If you still can't see the connection let me make it clear: In contrast to all the shameless Wii-bandwagon-jumpers out there, THE PEOPLE AT STAR FISH ACTUALLY GIVE A TOSS ABOUT PRESENTATION.
Too bad they don't seem to give a toss about anything else. As a modern shooting game, this is a total failure. The power-up and speed-up systems are completely broken, for one thing. You start off way too slow and way too weak, and you always seem to end up either a lame, underpowered sitting duck, or overwhelmingly powerful, mowing down everything in your path. Then you have the obligatorily inane Wii motion controls. Tilting the remote right or left tilts the screen accordingly, either speeding the scrolling up or slowing it down. So tilting to the right gets you to the boss in no time without even having to shoot anything down on the way (if you are willing to sacrifice one life or so, a strategy which comes in handy in the later stages -- if you suck that is), and tilting to the left makes it easy to pick up items etc. (assuming you can play effectively with the controller on its side).
And that's just for starters. For the main dish there's no scoring gimmick whatsoever, and on top of that you've got a life bar that can sustain half a dozen hits, as well as an instant respawn system with five lives by default. (By the way, those of you who've no idea why a life bar in a shooter is a bad thing should just memorize the following equation: life bar = broken game.)
And on top of all that there's an auto-save option for fuck's sake (meaning you can continue at a later time from the stage you last died in -- in a game that barely lasts half an hour), even though this game's so easy that average players will 1CC it within a couple of tries. AND the story mode is nothing more than normal mode with dialogue scenes and character selection between stages.
It's worth noting that Taito's 1988 Chuka Taisen, while no masterpiece, had exactly none of the above problems. But then again that game was born in the arcade environment, so it's no wonder. What I find somewhat funny and somewhat pathetic is how the sequel's designers have tried to distance it as much as possible from its arcade legacy, to the point where there's no mention anywhere of an "arcade" mode or of "credits", as there is in every Japanese-designed console-exclusive shooter I am aware of. The moral being: Designers, forget the genre's roots at your peril.
And yet for all that I can honestly say I enjoyed my couple of hours with this game, and I am keeping it in my special CD case with games I'll be playing for the long-term (other Wii titles currently in there: Kororinpa and Sharuuii Star Takoron). If nothing else, a quick blast on it will come in useful when I need to rest my eyes from all the "next-gen" visual atrocities the future no doubt has in store for me. I mean hook it up to a 640x480-capable CRT and you'll see what I mean. Forget about the crap screenshots in this review -- all detail is lost in them. The high-res 2D art here is sublime; not loud and boastful like a Guilty Gear, but simple, modest and tasteful, yet no less striking.
See, the way to enjoy this game is to ignore the tilting controls (an easy thing to do, in fact if no one told you about them and if you didn't read the manual you'd probably need a magnitude 8 earthquake to discover them), and play it as you'd play a mediocre 16-bit console-exclusive shooter. I mean people play those games for their simplicity, their graphics, their music, their oldschool feel, that feel which they became acquainted with because they couldn't take home with them the REAL shooting games they played in the arcades. Those games -- games like Whip Rush and Gynoug and Gaiares (the Mega Drive had loads of them) -- are in the grand scheme of things barely mediocre, and with the dozens of perfectly emulated infinitely superior arcade shooters now available there's no reason why anyone should be playing them in this day and age; and yet for people like me, they still have a place in our hearts, and always will.
So yes, more 16-bit-console-exclusive-style updates of old shooters please, churn out as many as you can. I'll take 'em. I'll take 'em all.
Alex Kierkegaard owns a fuckton of Japanese Wii games, but since he sticks the cases in storage right after opening them, and since it hadn't occurred to him to check before today, he doesn't know whether there are other ones besides Shin Chuka Taisen with colorful spines. Is this game the only one? The world will one day know.
Note that the videos are provided courtesy of GameTrailers.com. UFO Interactive has been planning to release this game in North America as The Monkey King: The Legend Begins, but they keep pushing it back. Current date is April 15, with no word of an EU release.