Pocky & Rocky Reshrined
Shrine Maidens And Bullet Hell Always Seem To Go Well Together
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is the fourth title in the Pocky & Rocky series. Originally released in Japanese arcades in the late 80s, the Kiki Kaikai series featured a shrine maiden who fought against yokai to save the shrine she was sworn to protect. While the title was never released outside of Japan, the series it spawned, Pocky & Rocky would release in 1992 on the SNES. As is the case with games from this era, several interesting localization decisions were made.
The shrine maiden's name was changed from Sayo-chan to Pocky. Perhaps the most confusing change was Rocky being a raccoon instead of a tanuki. I'll spare the reader exactly why a tanuki and a raccoon are different animals, but the core gameplay remained similar. Depending on the character chosen, Pocky will use her gohei to throw talismans at the various yokai while Pocky lashes his tail to throw leaves. Each character plays identical to the other and both can receive power-ups to increase their attacks. A sequel would release two years later in 1994 while a Game Boy Advance version titled Pocky & Rocky With Becky would introduce a new character with a different playstyle.
It's Time To Get [Pocky &] Rocky
Excluding the original arcade version, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined follows the same formula as the previous three releases. After years of peace between the humans and yokai, the latter disrupts the peace and it's up to the duo to figure out what's going on. There is a story to be told that unveils itself between each level. Much like Cotton Fantasy, the cutscenes are simple yet effective, showing the personalities of each character. Rather than adding a fresh coat of paint, Reshrined attempts to keep its graphics and aesthetics as close to the original 16-bit era titles as possible.
This was a great choice as the original titles aged quite well three decades later. The soft, almost serene graphics lull the player into a false sense of security. Don't let the innocent cute appearances of Pocky, Rocky, and the various clumsy yokai fool you. The Pocky & Rocky series are notoriously difficult and Reshrined fits right at home with its intensity. The first level alone was enough to force me to use my continues several times. At one point, I was stumped, much like my experience with Horgihugh and Friends.
Pocky & Rocky Has That Classic 16-Bit Difficulty
To further explain the gameplay of Pocky & Rocky, the player controls either character (depending on the level) via a top-down perspective. While it was never released on the Mega Drive, a similar game released for the platform titled Twinkle Tale followed a similar gameplay element. Players will have to be mindful of their surroundings as enemies will immediately spawn, barrelling towards Pocky. Fortunately, Pocky has a melee attack, titled "Deflect," that doubles as a way to reflect bullets back towards enemies. Using this will mean the difference between taking unnecessary damage and moving through the level.
The objective is to get from Point A to B, but with the constant respawning of enemies, the best way to clear a level is to clear through the enemies while making a path. Players who are skilled enough to go for scoring rather than clearing can take advantage of the wave of enemies. There is a timer that players need to be aware of, however, as running out of time will equal a Game Over. As I also mentioned, be prepared to see the Game Over screen a lot. While you begin with four lives per continue, it's very easy to take damage.
The No-Frills Combat Is A Blessing And A Curse
Controlling the direction of your own shooting takes some time to get used to as Pocky's movements are digital and not analog. This means that players don't get a full 360-degree range of movement. Whatever direction you aim at is the direction she will shoot and you have to be consistent as the direction never "locks" into place. It's weird at first, but it's based on the 16-bit era games. What prevents the game from being unfair is that there are checkpoints before the player fights the boss of each level should the player lose all of their lives.
The challenge is making it to the checkpoint. It wasn't uncommon for me to go through a gauntlet, including a mid-boss, only to run out of lives while coming up short. This also leads to one of my main complaints about the game as a lot of its content is locked behind progression. As you defeat enemies, you collect coins which are used as a way to track the player's progression.
Questionable Progression Methods Make The Early Game Rough
In order to unlock staples from previous titles including two-player mode and easy mode, you have to unlock it first by collecting coins. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is not the first title to hide most of its enticing gameplay modes via progression, but generally speaking, it was always the higher difficulties that needed unlocking, not the easy difficulty. If the player is skilled enough to breeze through the "normal" difficulty, why would they need to unlock the "easy" difficulty? At least in other games if you get a Game Over a certain number of times, the game pities you by unlocking Easy mode at that point. Reshrined does not give you that courtesy.
Despite this, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is yet another title that joins the likes of the Wonder Boy Collection among others in bringing retro gaming to a newer audience. While it provides emphasis on how unforgiving the 16-bit era games tend to be, it's a rewarding title that pays itself in dividends the more the player understands how the game works. It's not an easy game to play or get used to, but the charming characters and addicting gameplay make every retry worth it.
For the collectors out there, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is having special limited editions courtesy of ININ Games. These include the game soundtrack as well as a cute Rocky tanuki plush. Pre-orders are now available and are expected to ship within the Fall of this year. Fans of the series can purchase here via Games Rocket.
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is available for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4.