Gaming

Review of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined (Switch)

Note. This review is based on the Japanese version − The game releases in North America and Europe on June 24, 2022.

Pokey and Rocky, Super Nintendo’s top-down run-and-gun game, was the gold standard by developers Natsume, fondly remembered for its intense arcade action, adventurous stage design, and beautiful visuals. While Tengo Project’s Wild Guns Reloaded and Ninja Warriors Once Again were delightfully polished remasters, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a reimagining so drastically different from the original that it’s essentially a whole new game. Completely redrawn from scratch, it’s nothing short of a flute song magic that dials in on the opening title screen to the first section of the road and beyond. Fallen leaves shift as you slide over them and settle back onto the cobblestones; weather effects bleach the world in flashes of sepia; the special effects, especially those surrounding the boss entrances, are dazzling.

The Super Nintendo game’s distinctive Japanese theme, traveling through old Japan as a girl from a Shinto shrine and a tanuki raccoon dog, was one of the most appealing aspects. This hasn’t escaped the attention of the Tengo Project art team, who have tried – and succeeded with aplomb – to cram in every inch of their newly rendered maps with captivating attention to detail. Reflections in the water, babbling streams, sun-drenched rice fields and fiery rural landscapes are all beautifully crafted, and the enraged characters of Japanese mythological enemies positively reveal individuality. These visual ingredients, brought to life with superb animation, are almost Metal Slug-esque in graphic fidelity. And, if you’re interested, a scanline option with a range of densities is available, as well as the ability to switch between languages.

The switch and lure of Reshrined is that when you get to the first stage, it feels like a direct remake. Then, as you find yourself wandering down narrow paths and rocky steps, rounding corners and running into hordes of enemies, that notion begins to fade. The second stage, although thematically the same, moves even further, its location and enemies are fundamentally different. You fight rogue firewyrms with a parry and balding shapeless giants camped behind terracotta walls. When you eventually get to the once-familiar octopus boss fight – now a raft nightmare with incredible visual bombast – it’s clear that this is a brand new ball game.

Mechanically, it remains basically the same. You have a rapid-fire projectile attack, a deflection defense maneuver that guards against incoming fire, a quick belly slide to avoid danger, and a limited number of smart bombs that don’t refill on death. The reflection attack now does a lot more work and is better at killing enemies by knocking their projectiles back at them. You still accumulate an extra heart-meter of life after each stage, and useful secrets are scattered everywhere, regularly in the wilderness, in enclaves and forest clearings, and quite often in the form of roaming chickens.

What’s new is that you’re forced to play as one of five characters in different stages, each with customized weapon attributes, and one of which is only available in hard mode. In the third stage, the Ame-no-Uzume beginner gives you new skills that allow you to create a sphere that automatically guides your projectiles when fired, and a temporary shield that requires a short charging period. These extra features come just in time for a series of never-before-seen scenes (complete with brand new musical arrangements). Here, haunted rice paddies dotted with thatch huts, pond demons and annoying spirits lead to deep caves and Egyptian-style tombs – all requiring the use of your newly acquired skills. Although there are references to the original airship scene and torch-lit castle, the structure is completely changed.

Since we’ve played the Super Nintendo game up until today – and we might add with some conviction – we’re in a good position to make head-to-head comparisons. The most immediate difference is that Reshrined plays a bit slower. Like the original, it’s not meant to be torn apart: it’s a dense and strategic conflict that requires moments of digging to clear the field so things don’t get too much. At the same time, the original is a bit more arcade-y, its layout offering more room for impromptu slide talks and the ability to take out most of the enemies on screen fairly quickly if you have the game’s strategy.

Since both are superb examples of the genre, it’s hard to say which one is more interesting, although there’s something to be said for the simplicity and fast pace of the 1992 game. Reshrined works differently, weighing in at about an hour and 20 minutes from start to finish, compared to the 45 minutes of a Super Nintendo release on a clean run. The way the stages are formed – especially the new ones, which, while excellent, may not be as creatively inspired as those reported by the first 20 minutes of the game – is to have obstacles that require you to set up camp and clear before than move on. Some enemies, such as fire serpents or worm-like stone hands, either slow things down or even require a temporary retreat; while the airship scene, which was forced scrolling in the Super Nintendo game, is divided here by gates that can only be opened by removing the turrets. You can still find a weird gap to slip out of in the clinch, but overall Reshrined is more of a war of attrition.

Gaining power quickly is still critical, only now it’s much easier with more weapon drops and a game that gives you a little hint on what’s best to use at each stage. Also, when you get hit, weapon icons are knocked out of you, allowing you to grab them back, as long as they don’t fall into a nearby pond.

In terms of complexity, it may be a little simpler than its predecessor, but not by much. While the aesthetic is sweet enough to take a bite out of, it can sometimes be very harsh, requiring rigorous reflex honing and an almost constant switch between both offensive and defensive techniques. However, the difficulty curve seems to be tortuous. The first stage is a gauntlet that really shows you the ropes, while other, later areas occasionally drop in difficulty, such as the oddly easy stage three boss. And while the twisting caverns of the fourth level aren’t overly intense, its giant winged guardian cow brutally ripping through the screen and freezing you periodically with its stomp really puts your pattern matching skills to the test.

On the other hand, while going through one credit is still a marked test, the restart continue points are very handy, allowing just about anyone to eventually get through the whole thing. Once you have accumulated 3000 coins received from destroyed enemies, you will unlock an easy mode that offers endless lives.

Conclusion

Despite numerous comparisons to a Super Nintendo game, Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined is, for the vast majority, a brand new installment in the series. And it’s worth celebrating for several reasons. Tengo Project, well aware of the original’s bloodline, was smart enough to only use it as inspiration rather than trying to follow suit step by step. In this modern structure, the developer has created a breathtaking tapestry of light, color and dynamic connections for hardcore gamers to immerse themselves in. Is it better than Natsume’s venerable entry in 1992? No, but it’s about the same level, albeit for slightly different reasons. Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined is a blessing, a great looking, delightfully crafted reinterpretation of a beloved classic and a remarkable example of what can be creatively achieved with a 2D environment. If you are even a little fond of old-school gaming disciplines, you should take it without hesitation.




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