Released only a couple of months after Dezaemon 3D on the N64, Dezaemon Kids was likely developed concurrently, and quite probably by a different internal team. This 'different team' theory seems all the more likely after trying it, since Athena radically changed absolutely everything found in previous games. It returns to the 2D formula and considering the near perfection of Dezaemon 2, this must be the most frustrating case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in videogame history. It begs the question: why didn't they simply port the Saturn version? Roughly two years after the release of Kids, Athena released a Superlite 1500 Series budget version of Kids. According to unconfirmed online Japanese sources, the save data created with the two titles is incompatible, thereby making the re-release kind of useless. An official book was also released by Athena, titled: Athena Official Dezaemon Kids! Official Guidebook. (アテナ公式デザエモンKids! オフィシャルガイドブック)
As conveyed by the title, Kids attempts to appeal to a younger audience. It does this by featuring massive bright graphics, and allegedly a more 'kid friendly' set of design tools. Unfortunately and ironically, for a game aimed at children, Dezaemon Kids is the most complicated in the series - or at least equal to the N64 game, but for different reasons. While the Japanese language barrier is part of the reason, it's mostly because the 'kid friendly' symbolic menus are so difficult to decipher. For example: it took us some time to realise what mice, puppies, giraffes and whales represented.
You see, in the designers' minds a mouse is small, so represents single-tile enemies. The puppy is in fact a sausage dog, so designates the long thin enemies. Giraffes are tall, so represent tall two-tile enemies. Which is a ridiculous and unnecessarily complicated system, since in all prior games these were represented by easy to interpret square symbols. Even worse, you only see the heads of the animals, so the icons for the enemy types don't even visually match what they are - it appears more like a police line-up of Disney character faces. As for what ship wheels, radar towers, and a whole menagerie of other incomprehensible pictographs mean, we're not sure. It's doubtful any child would have been able to comprehend any of this.
There is a voiced tutorial section, but it doesn't help much, and outside of the tutorial Athena's green rabbit mascot Peron will regularly chime in with voiced advice, quickly becoming as welcome as Microsoft Word's Mr Paperclip. Even if you dig beyond this and come to terms with the system changes, you'll find it's been cut back compared to the Saturn release - presumably this reduction of the toolset represents the 'kids' aspect. The number of enemy sizes is reduced from seven to four, while projectiles, explosions, weapon systems and animation frames have all been cut down as well. The music editor has been removed entirely, limiting you to pre-made samples, and a strange option where the game asks you to insert your own music CD. Stages are cut down from 10 to 6 and you're no longer able to mix and match horizontal with vertical stages. You can still do horizontal stages, but unless we missed one of the wacky zoo people buttons which allowed it, you're restricted to only one type for the duration of your creation. Gone also is the ability to have 'effect stages' for dedicated cut-scenes (unless, again, there's a strange icon for it which we missed). Finally, the polygon snapshot mode for creating sprites is also absent.
Despite these cutbacks there are also several improvements. One major and extremely welcome change is the ability to use the left analogue stick to move the cursor, which speeds things up immeasurably and allows for improved graphic design control if you lack a mouse. The game also comes with a selection of pre-made backgrounds (with their own selectable degree of parallax), which you can layer with your own custom backgrounds for some impressive results. This is actually an ingenious addition. It's entirely optional, and you can still create your own 100% customised backgrounds, but if you quickly want some parallax clouds or star fields it does make things easier. Finally, it's also still possible to create 2-player games.
It's actually possible to make some rather complex and impressive shooters, especially if you check out the sample games (a combination of horizontal and vertical titles, including a sequel to Ramsie and Elfin on the Saturn). Each of the six also unlocks a further game, Elfin becomes Thrash for example, making for a total of 12 sample games to play around with (there doesn't seem to be any noticeable difference regarding Chupacabre's alternative though). To unlock them, click on one of the available six games so that Peron the green rabbit gives his warning message. Then quickly enter the Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right) and push Select. If done correctly the screen will shake and an explosion will ring out and the game title will change. Then click to accept Peron's message and start the same game as normal. After exiting it you can then access it in the design section.
The problem with Dezaemon Kids is that in trying to make the process kid friendly Athena ended up making it needlessly difficult. Which is a shame, since it was the final entry in the series and there's been little like it for consoles in the 12 years since its release. It also saw re-release on Japanese PSN. It's reasonably priced, especially since the real reason you'll be buying it is DISC 2 which comes bundled alongside (for PSN buyers, click the Home button, choose reset and select DISC 2).
In a similar way that Athena included a series of games in Dezaemon Plus which had been made on the SFC release, for Dezaemon Kids they included a second disc featuring 102 games developed with Dezaemon Plus. That's right, 102 user-created shooters on a single CD. They're not all of retail quality, and in fact some of them are terribly designed, but there's enough decent games alone to warrant purchase.
The first on the list (translated: Shadow Wolf) is especially impressive, featuring a demon flying through medieval Japan and fighting other demons. It's full of subtle details, such as the dead bodies of fallen samurai in the river stage, and has some epic, originally designed bosses. By itself it's almost worthy as a standalone title. Other highlights include #4, Side, which is a clever attempt to make a horizontal shooter in the skin of a vertical one. Game #101 meanwhile features an impressive stage based on Castlevania, complete with turning clock-gears.
What makes this collection especially good, is for the majority of games you can download their save data onto your memory card to then be loaded with Dezaemon Plus. It gives you access to countless sprites and music tunes, some of which are very good. Some games, like the aforementioned Side, don't allow you to download the save data, but there's more than enough other games to provide hours of tinkering. Another cool feature is that you can mix and match the levels of any game, to create your own remix title. You're also allowed to choose which of the 102 character sprites you want to use in it.
The only slight negative is that with every game using the same standard weapons system, some of them do tend to feel alike. Also, we're disappointed no one attempted a horizontal shooter like the kind we made in Dezaemon Plus.
Below you'll find a gallery with an image for each of the 102 games.