Fuuun Gokuu Ninden

Fuuun Gokuu Ninden (風雲悟空忍伝) - PlayStation (1996)

Fuuun Gokuu Ninden (風雲悟空忍伝)
Developer: Aicom
Release Date: 1996
Platforms: PlayStation

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As one of the great works of classic Chinese literature, there are more adaptations and references to Journey to the West than grains of sand. Among the more obscure of these is Fuuun Gokuu Ninden, a decent side-scroller with pre-rendered visuals where the monkey king Sun Wukong (referred to here by his Japanese name, Gokuu) and his friends travel the land to collect golden tablets from ruthless villains. The game was developed by Aicom, who also developed Pulstar and Blazing Star for the Neo Geo, two shoot-em-ups that also used pre-rendered sprites.

It’s a straightforward action game where you have to reach the end, fighting a bunch of enemies and bosses along the way. You pick from a trio of characters: the all-rounder Gokuu, the slow but strong pig Hakkai (aka Zhu Wuneng) and the agile though fragile bird Sagojyou (aka Sha Wujing). They share the same basic skills including being able to throw nearby enemies/objects and cast magic spells, and you swap characters when you die. 

There isn’t a lives system, and you can only restore their health in between stages with the orbs you’d normally use for casting magic, which adds a nice risk/reward on when or if to use magic. That said, you’ll have to restart stages from the beginning if everyone’s dead, and that’s quite an ask considering there’s three bosses per stage. Even more annoying is the lack of a save or password system, meaning you’ll need to beat the entire thing in one sitting. It’s not a long game, though, taking around an hour and a half to clear its seven stages.

At least there’s a good bit of variety in the levels, with a mix of platforming sections, corridors full of enemies and even the odd moment where you can fly around on Gokuu’s famous magic cloud. Same goes for the bosses, who each have a unique strategy to overcome either by waiting for the right moment or using your magic attacks willy-nilly. It controls well enough and there’s some fun to be had in tossing enemies around, but there isn’t much to write home about gameplay-wise. 

The pre-rendered character sprites are pretty cute, especially when it comes to the dorky looking enemies and boss you come across, and they contrast nicely against the variety of nicely drawn backgrounds. Less successful is the music by ex-Capcom composer Harumi Fujita, which manages to be upbeat but otherwise unremarkable, and the squeaky annoying voices that accompany every move the characters make. Altogether, a pleasant but unexceptional entry worthwhile for 2D platformer fans, notable mostly for its rarity. 

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