Harmful Park: High-brow Gag and Pure Shooting
"The Most 'Traumatical' Place On Earth"
I'm aware "traumatical" is not a word, but to keep the headline relevant to a certain amusement park by a certain famous rodent, Harmful Park is truly traumatic. I don't mean the game itself, but the premise. Imagine trying to have a vacation only to find that an evil dictator seizes an entire island, declaring war on it, and holding you along with half of a million patrons hostage? Fortunately for you, there's a rogue scientist who sends their two teenage daughters to save the park on custom hovercrafts. I cannot say the same fate for the daughters as they are kind of doing this against their will, but them's the breaks.
Harmful Park was released exclusively on the PSX in 1997 by Sky Think Systems. There's almost little to no information about this team except that they only made three games, two of which were on the Saturn. Harmful Park would be their curtain call and it would go on to be one of the most valuable games for collectors. To put things in perspective, the game was once worth around 100 pounds according to this Eurogamer article in 2015.
A search on eBay will reveal that the price had skyrocketed, some entries going into the quad digits. Recently, an English translation patch was released courtesy of the programmer Hilltop, the same Hilltop who translated all of Square's obscure "Car-PG," Racing Lagoon. I figured since I already covered Cotton Fantasy and I mentioned Harmful Park before, I might as well try out this intriguing game for myself.
Harmful Park Is A Wacky And Beautiful Mess
Players who start Harmful Park are treated to a lengthy intro that recaps the premise I mentioned above. For a shoot-em-up that takes about an hour to beat, spoiler alert, the cutscenes are well done. This was during the time when 3D gaming was starting to spread its wings. 2D sprites were still a force to behold and when done right, it was a beautiful sight. Sky Think Systems did a really good job with its characters showing expressive features and witty dialogue. Looking back at Cotton Fantasy's cutscenes, it amazes me how far gaming has gone 25 years later.
These graphics transition well in actual gameplay as bright colors and whimsical enemies await the player. There's also a neat sense of time as the entire game takes place over the course of a day. The first stage is the entrance to Heartful Park in the morning, followed by a giant roller-coaster at twilight, a nightly parade, and lastly a late-night infiltration of the enemy base. The fact that the girls were able to do everything and save the world before bedtime is amazing, but, again it's an interesting choice.
Crush Your Enemies With A Helping Of Humble Pie
The various weapons the player has access to in Harmful Park are just as unique as the entire game itself. Keeping with the "Amusement Park" theme, the player doesn't have weapons per se, rather they are based on food. The default weapon, Potato, shoots regular bullets in any other shmup. It's only when you use your special attack that you are greeted with a giant exploding sweet potato that acts as a bomb. The other three weapons include a Pie, which acts as a projectile-based weapon with a special that hurls a volley of wedding cakes in a 360 degree motion.
The Jelly throws boomerang-esque jelly beans while the special encases the player in a Jello-looking cake. The cake acts like a shield for a fixed period of time until it dissolves. Finally, the Ice [Cream] shoots beams of ice cream towards a general direction. This special summons a giant ice-cream sundae that shoots a wave of ice similar to a wave cannon. Each weapon can be leveled up to 3, increasing the power and range of each type.
The Range Of Harmful Park Is Peak 90s
There are six stages in total, each with a theme and a boss at the end that somehow goes against the theme. One of the examples is a haunted house in which the final boss is a floating purple heart. The player interrupts the wedding and the groom's tears mixed with the bride's hearts are both enemy projectiles. This is the result of the bride-to-be deciding to be with the...bachelor who wound up confessing to her at the alter?
That's not as weird as trying to explain one of the bosses that is a giant beautiful woman in a movie theater, only upon defeat to reveal that it's an old woman. Another part of the story involves the girls fighting every animal in the animal kingdom because a monkey stole one of the girl's lunch. It definitely has the weird humor factor of "cute-em-ups," but the difficulty does increase past the midway point.
If the player gets a Game Over, in the early stages they can respawn right where they lost. In the latter half of the game, getting a Game Over means the player needs to start from the beginning of the level. Even if they are at the boss. This makes preserving special attacks and being careful a necessity. Harmful Park's difficulty defaults to Easy mode for some reason, but changing it to Normal makes it just right.
The Harmful Park Experience Is As Short As It Is Unique
As mentioned, Harmful Park is an hour of gameplay which is roughly the estimate for a shoot-em-up during this time. There are mini-games hidden in the options menu, but I have the same gripe about them as I did with Moto Roader MC. The mini-games, which consist of a Pong clone and a "racing" minigame, require two players. There's no "vs COM" mode or anything, which is a bummer. But again, it was '97. Either you had a buddy to play this with you or you didn't.
That said, thanks to the efforts of Hilltop, players can experience Harmful Park the way it was meant to be intended. The story was surprisingly decent for a wacky title such as this. It's a shame the original developers went belly-up as the ending left room for a potential sequel. A quirky game about two girls in an amusement park shooting robots with ice cream had a decent story. I said it and I meant it. Players who are interested in seeing the patch for themselves can check out their Patreon for information on setting up.