Category Archives: Miscellaneous

#44: Dog Walking

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2001 Developer: Sega

As I’ve said before, this list isn’t just about the best games ever made – it’s also a chance to honour games that might not have won any awards but that nonetheless improved our lives, if only by raising a smile. Sega’s utterly random ‘Dog Walking’ coin-op (or ‘Inu No Osanpo’ to give it its Japanese title) is just such a game – hardly a world-beater, but bonkers enough to merit induction into the 101 Video Games hall of fame.

A wonderfully random promo pic for Inu No Osanpo.

I first encountered the game in 2004, when I was living in Japan. It became something of a hobby of mine to search out random Japanese arcade machines and, despite fierce competition from various taiko drumming simulators and trading-card-based soccer games, Inu No Osanpo stands out as one of the most bizarre – and compelling – coin-ops I’ve ever played. Naturally, it was only ever released in Japan.

The aim of the game is to exercise a dog by walking (or running) on a treadmill. The on-screen dog is controlled by a lead originating from the neck of a plastic dog in front of you, and the aim of the game is to steer the dog away from danger (like cars or other, bigger dogs) and towards points of interest (like cats). The idea is to get the pace just right so that the dog is happy – walk too fast and you end up dragging the dog along behind you, but walk too slow and it pulls at the lead impatiently.

Here's me suffering on Inu No Osanpo back in 2004.

In practice, playing the game is utterly exhausting. (See? Way before the Wii came along games were keeping people fit.) The treadmill is quite stiff, so getting up to speed is quite an effort, and slowing down is just as hard. The controls are also fairly lackadaisical – your dog never seems to go in the direction you want it to (a bit like the real thing I suppose).

But whether or not the controls are any good is rather beside the point – this game made it onto the list because it’s totally unique and brilliantly fun to play (and even more fun to watch, especially if someone falls off the back of the treadmill). Sega, we salute you. Now can you release this game in Europe please? Thanks.

(Here’s some (American?) guys playing Inu No Osanpo. They haven’t quite got the hang of it… The dog starts barking when you’re walking too slow or fast, and the musical notes appear when you’ve got it just right.)

Lewis

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Filed under 2001, Coin-Op, Miscellaneous, Sega

#26: Katamari Damacy

Format: Playstation 2 Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 2004 Developer: Namco

Katamari Damacy is like some sort of gaming Prozac – every person I showed it to walked away with a smile on their face and a spring in their step, no chemical aids needed. It’s like concentrated happiness pressed onto a disc, ready to explode out through televisions worldwide in a giddy dissemination of the gospel of cheerfulness. And it’s utterly bonkers.

Katamari Damacy Japanese box

Let’s start with the plot. The King of All Cosmos (the enormous bloke with a crown further down this page) has gone on a bit of an alcohol binge and accidentally knocked the stars and moon out of the sky. As you do. For some reason he decides the best plan of action is to get his son, the diminutive Prince, to roll up loads of junk from planet Earth with a sticky ball called a Katamari in order to replace the missing stars. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make out much more of the plot than that (I played the Japanese version of the game – it was never released in the UK), which is a shame because if the dialogue between the Prince and the King was as joyously insane as the rest of the game, it would have been a real treat to read.

katamari damacy building

My favourite part about Katamari Damacy is its fantastic sense of scale. You start of the game with a tiny, 5-cm Katamari, and you find yourself picking up things like paper clips and LEGO bricks while dodging rampaging mice. Gradually, as your Katamari gets bigger, you find you can pick up larger and larger objects, and there’s a joyous moment in each level where the things that have been chasing you – be they mice, bears or circus elephants – suddenly turn tail and run as you bear down on them with your enormous sticky ball of doom. Eventually, by the time you reach the final level, your Katamari gets so big that you can actually pick up entire skyscrapers – possibly one of the most satisfying gaming pay-offs of all time. I found myself  compulsively replaying the final level again and again in order to make my Katamari as big as possible – to the point where I could pick up the islands themselves.

katamari damacy pencil

There’s a wonderful attention to detail throughout the game. As I was living in Japan at the time, it helped that I could recognise some of the more esoteric objects, such as the giant kotatsu early in the game and the maneki neko that seem to crop up everywhere. The items seem to get weirder and weirder as the game progresses, and some of my favourite ones crop up in the later levels, including a delightful Ultraman lookalike and even the Japanese god of thunder, Raijin, who’s hiding out in a cloud on the last level.

The actual physics of the ball are ingenious – if you pick up an awkwardly shaped object, such as a pencil, the ball reacts accordingly, making it difficult to roll in a straight line. The game could never be described as difficult, but moving the Katamari efficiently through a level requires just enough skill to make the game rewarding – and utterly addictive.

katamari damacy king

However, the highlight of the game has to be its fantastic soundtrack, which features everything from J-rock to jazz. Turn up the sound on your PC and click on the intro video further down the page – you’re in for an aural treat. Not to mention a visual feast of dancing pandas, singing ducks and rainbow eruptions…

And I guarantee that you’ll be humming the theme tune for days afterwards.

“Naaaaaaaaaaaa NaNaNaNa Na Na Na Na Katamari Damashiiiiiiiii”. Damn, that’s in my head now.

katamari damacy large ball

Katamari Damacy made my life slightly better simply because it never fails to cheer me up – even just writing about it has made me positively smirk-happy.

Everyone should play this game at least once – its combination of bizarre humour, fantastic music and addictive gameplay make it one of the best games ever released for the PS2. It’s just a shame that Namco never released it in Europe… Come on Namco, don’t we deserve a bit of happiness too?

The bizarre game opening, featuring the signature tune, “Katamari On The Rocks”.

A sample of gameplay from the US version of the game (I finally get to read a bit of the dialogue between the King and the Prince – and it’s just as bizarre as I supposed).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.whattheyplay.com and www.ign.com)

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Filed under 2004, Miscellaneous, Namco, Playstation 2

#20: Wizkid

Format: Amiga Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 1992 Developer: Sensible Software

Wizkid is an early title from Sensible Software, who went on to develop the legendary Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. It makes it onto the list by merit of its sheer lunacy – a trait I feel should be encouraged in games wherever possible.

wizkid_box_art

The R. Crumb-inspired box art for Wizkid

Wizkid is a sequel to the 1987 game Wizball, although it bears little resemblance to the original game. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to actually classify Wizkid into any kind of genre. The main chunk of the game involves clearing the screen of enemies by knocking blocks into them with your floating head, but once you’ve finished a round, your head is reattached to your body and you have to solve a series of increasingly bizarre puzzles to find the route to the next level. An example of one such puzzle is when you’re presented with the screen below.

wizkid_08

One of the earliest puzzle screens.

 Here’s what you have to do, according to the GameFAQ by Johnny “ThunderPeel2001” Walker:

Keep winding the well’s handle until the bucket appears. Jump onto the bucket to sink deep into the well. Go into the Ladies room and use a toilet in order to unblock the volcano (this is Wizkid, weird things happen). Go out and into the Men’s. Use the urinal one in from the left and it should leak when you flush it.

Head back outside and jump into the bucket again before you drown. Water should rise and take you back onto the upper screen. Now you can keep winding the handle for infinite colour bubbles, but you can also jump into the volcano (where the bubbles come from) and you’ll find yourself next to a Kitty and the exit to Round 3!

In short, you have to use a ladies’ toilet at the bottom of a well to unblock a volcano, then flood the level with a faulty urinal. Told you this game was weird.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

In a later level, entitled ‘Wizkid Meets Dog Girl’, you have to jump into the mouth of a barking, digitised woman, and in the level entitled ‘The Ghost of Wizkid Past’, you have to work out a way to kill yourself in order to descend into the grave, fight Dracula and find the exit for the next level. The whole game is like some crazy acid trip of inventiveness, and you get the impression that the developers were having an absolute whale of a time coming up with all this stuff.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The game also keeps up Sensible’s tradition of including loosely justified hidden obscenity: to finish each level you have to collect a set of musical notes, which then cascade down from the top of the screen in what the manual calls the ‘golden shower’. Ah, good old Sensible, where are you now? Best Amiga developer ever? Probably. Any company that releases a game called Sim Brick is all right in my book.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth sheild of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth shields of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

So there you have it, Wizkid made my life slightly better because it made me laugh. A lot. Possibly even as much as Advanced Lawnmower Simulator (but more on that another time).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1992, Amiga, Miscellaneous, Sensible Software