Review: “Pocky & Rocky Reshrined” (PS4, Nintendo Switch)
Following up on their recent retro revivals for Ninjawarriors and Wild Arms, developer Tengo Project are back at it trying to breathe new life in a latent Japanese franchise with Pocky & Rocky Reshrined.*
Unless you are a seasoned Super NES veteran (or a connoisseur of rare Game Boy Advance curios), it’s very likely that you’ve never played Pocky & Rocky game. Originally developed by Natsume, the Pocky & Rocky series is a multiplayer action/shooter with an overhead perspective.
From a story standpoint, Reshrined picks up where old games leave off. After a time of peace thanks to previous victories, the young shrine priestess Pocky is visited by her raccoon friend Rocky (though he’s almost certainly a tanuki, not a raccoon). In any case, Rocky has come to warn Pocky that the monsters living in the mountains have started to cause havoc again, and Pocky jumps into action to check it out.
The story mode of the game is a one-player adventure, though the multiplayer “free mode” can be unlocked by completing the game on any difficulty. The story will send you across time and through other realms, and the eight stages include haunted shrines, fiery towns, enchanted forest, and airships. Along the way, you’ll encounter all manner of supernatural enemies inspired by Japanese mythology and folklore, including skeletons. umbrella demons, otherworldly farmers, yokai, cyclops, giant fire-breathing
fatasses body positive gentlemen. Once you step into the other realms, however, the enemies and environments take on an Egyptian/Middle Eastern flare, which is a nice way to visually represent the otherworldly nature of the stages.
The boss fights are rather impressive, as you will have to face off against baddies such as a massive octopus, a living stick of bamboo, a flying bull, an overgrown soy bean (I think), and of course, the massive demon overlord – Gastaroth.
Throughout the adventure, you’ll get the chance to play as multiple characters, including the buxom goddess Ame-no-Uzume, a samurai named Hotaru, and a lightning-wielding weather weasel named as Ikazuchi (available only on the second playthrough). Each character plays slightly differently and has their own advanced attacks or abilities (i.e. Ame-no-Uzume can hover over water and pits). The crates some some fresh gameplay from stage-to-stage, but staying familiar enough that you’re not re-learning how to play with each character swap.
Worried that you won’t get much chance to play as your favorite character? I wouldn’t worry about it too much, as you can play as any character you like once you unlock the “free play” mode. You will likely get plenty of game time with each character before that, though, as Pocky & Rocky Reshrined lives up to its predecessors with regard to difficulty. It’s not an easy game, particularly by modern standards, and you will likely have to play through the same stage multiple times before conquering it.
To make matters a bit easier, you can collect coins from defeated enemies that can be “gambled” with random NPCs for weapon power-ups and extra lives. While the bonus life is usually the desired prize, the maxed-out weapon power-up is still very helpful, as you will drop weapon upgrades every time you lose a full heart, and you are set back to ground zero when you lose a life. If you are having a really hard time with the game, you can replay the stages until you save up three thousand coins to unlock an “easy mode”, which gives you infinite lives (making the game beatable by pretty much anyone, even professional game journalists, I’d wager).
Otherwise, the game saves your progress, and you get infinite continues, too, which oftentimes places you at or near the stage boss if you get that far. It’s a pretty generous continue system for a retro-inspired game, likely designed to accommodate those less patient modern gamers. However, if you’re a dedicated retro gamer at heart, there is also a hard mode that removes the ability to reclaim dropped powerups. I found “normal” difficulty to be hard enough, but it’s nice to give the hardcore audience an even steeper challenge.
Aesthetically, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined will remind you of the very best sights and sounds of the 16-bit era. The graphics are mostly bright, colorful, and resemble the Super Nintendo predecessors. I really enjoyed the character animations, including Rocky’s jaunty walk and some of the enemies tripping as they dash around the screen. It’s all very cute and endearing, despite the darker undertones of the story. All of this without any hint of flicker or slowdown (a significant step beyond its Super Nintendo predecessors). If you are a retro purist, there are also options for adjusting the onscreen scan lines, though I found that the pixelated graphics still looked fine without them, even on my HD television. Unfortunately, the story cutscenes are not voiced, but the music is catchy, well-orchestrated, and matches the mood of the game, though I won’t be rushing to pick up the soundtrack CD.
We received an advance PS4 copy for our review, and I regret to inform PlayStation owners that the story sequences in their version of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined are censored. When you reach stage three and meet Ame-no-Uzume, her closeup portrait is wearing an extra layer of clothes over her chest, covering up the cleavage seen in other versions. This was almost certainly done at Sony’s behest, as they have been very strict in removing even the mildest “immodest” imagery from PlayStation games… at least from games made by Japanese third parties. This doesn’t seem to affect the gameplay in any way, and there were no edits made to Ame-no-Uzume’s gameplay sprite, but it’s still keenly annoying that such a minor artistic choice isn’t immune from Sony’s ban-hammer.
By the time you complete Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, you will have traveled through time, played as four different characters, and with the help of he Seven Gods of Fortune, defeated the dastardly demon Gastorath. If you are a uniquely talented master (and don’t need to continue), I suppose that the game can be completed in an hour or so. However, I expect that it will take quite a bit of practice before completing anything resembling a “speed run”, and there are some incentives for playing through multiple times.
So do I recommend it? If you are in any way inclined to give it a shot, then yes, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a fun, unique and well-made revival of an under-appreciated IP that many gamers have missed up to this point. However, if you support artistic integrity, I’d opt for the Nintendo Switch version over the censored PS4 version.
If you are a physical game purist like me, it is also worth mentioning that there are physical editions available thanks to ININ Games. There is both a standard edition and a special edition package that includes a cute Rocky plushie, so it’s definitely worth checking out. You can order a physical edition of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined on the ININ Games website here.
*Disclosure: A digital copy of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review.
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