Japanese games can certainly be weird to us Westerners. Compared to western games, some stuff that came from the land of the rising sun seem down right insane to us. In Katamari Damacy, you roll a giant ball around gathering any object and person that happens to be in the way to rebuild the stars your father had destroyed. Clearly and purely Japanese in every sense of the word, and is one of the few games that actually came stateside. And these games are finally becoming popular over here for people are opening up to the quirkiness of these titles.
But some titles are still left behind, as they’re sometimes considered “too Japanese”. These games are literally too weird for an American audience and the suits feel there is no market for these games to the “mature” audience of the West. This is where some truly great and truly bizarre titles get left in the dust.
While not exactly “great”, one of these really bizarre titles has to be Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun for the Neo Geo Pocket Color. One of the last games released in Japan for the portable system, SNK developed and published an absolute oddity compared to their usual line up of fighting games. Classification of this game is quite hard, for it’s a hybrid of a virtual pet and a bunch of mini-games that give tribute of games of yore.
Neo Poke-Kun is … well I have no idea what the hell he is exactly. All we know about him is that he lives in your NGPC and he is a programmer. He lives in what appears to be a small studio-like room. He has a small desk, a door which leads to a bathroom, and random pron mags strewn about the room. He lives like a normal person would, having his time set up with the internal clock of the system, so he’ll sleep at night and usually only work during the late morning / early afternoon. Neo Poke-Kun will make games for you under one condition: you must keep him happy. The happier he is, the more games he will develop for you. Upon booting up the game, you’ll notice that you do not have direct control over Neo Poke-Kun. Heck, you barely have control in the room at all. The directional pad makes random things happen (Up turns on/off the light bulb, Left turns a on a neo sign that shows different stuff depending on the time of day, Down makes bugs come up from the ground, and Right has a hand or foot come through the mail slot of his door.) None of these weird things seem to have any affect on Neo Poke-Kun at all.
What makes him happy/sad are the visitors that come in whenever you press the A button. A some random person/creature/God-only-knows will barge into Neo Poke-Kun’s room and either make him happy or sad (or from looking at his facial expressions can also range from being embarrassed, confused, depressed, etc.). Each visitor has a variety of different actions, ranging from a man with either a giant mustache or lots of hair in his nose jump roping, to a pink bunny that throws a banana peel at Neo Pok-Kun. One of the funnier ones would be when a blonde man in a tuxedo comes in to slap Neo Poke-Kun in the face and then proceeds to grab Neo Poke-Kun’s crotch, then leaving and waving goodbye, leaving our poor NGPC dweller and the player utterly confused. The visitors change depending on the time of day, so you need to play at different points through the day (or change the NGPC clock) to see them all. These animated sequences are much in the same vein as Panic!!, as all you do is push a button and a random event happens with out you actually being in control of the action.
Other humorous events can be seen when rotating the directional pad. A some random disater will happen, such as the burning of Neo Poke-Kun’s house or the bathroom springing a leak and submerging his entire place under water. The scene always returns to his house being unharmed, but Neo Poke-Kun always gets pissed, so he won’t be making a game fro you anytime soon. Sometimes, instead of constant visitors, your door will have a megaphone attached and pressing the A button will have it play a random sound clip, ranging from the beginning of Beethoven’s 5th to a cat screeching to a seductive woman’s voice saying, “Come On”. For added hilarity, keep pressing the A button nonstop to have visitor after visitor to see what happens to his door.
Depending on how happy you make Neo Poke-Kun (which there is no indicator telling you how happy and/or sad he is), he will go out of the room, hard hat and all, and work on a game for you. There are six generation of games with five games in each for grand total of thirty games. The games have a very Wario Ware feel to them, as they are developed by your character and they’re knock offs to a lot of other games. Accessing these games are great, as it gives a great animation of the light bulb turning into a flashing siren and a Neo Poke-Kun running to the screen slamming his head into the camera.
Games are based off classics such as Pong, Breakout, Star Wars Arcade, and others. These games have a bit of a twist to them however. One of the games is a cross of Galaxian and Space Invaders with Neo Poke-Kun in the middle of the mayhem as you try to avoid aliens and bullets. Another game has you throwing ninja stars akin to Shinobi against hordes of other ninjas or men in business suits (!) Another game is a full on fighter in the same way as The King of Fighters for the NGPC is. The mini-games quality are pretty much all over the place; some are really fun and actually improve on the classic game they’re imitating while others are just terrible, Although many of them are just stupid, one of the most frustrating is Dig Dug / Minesweeper clone that has bombs randomly placed and there is no way possible of knowing where the bombs are. Most are simplistic, so mileage will vary if you aren’t a fan of old style games.
The rate in which Neo Poke-Kun develop these games is time limited. There will be some times when he will want to do absolutely nothing except sleep or play his own NGPC. Also of an annoyance is that at times, the only visitors that come are ones that make Neo Poke-Kun upset, often making him pack his stuff and leave the house (only for a few seconds for he comes back, but he will be in no mood to make games for you.) This makes trying to obtain all the mini-games rather tedious and more of a waiting game then anything else. It’s best to play this game in small doses.
It seems odd that one of SNK’s premiere games for their portable system would be Ganbare Neo Poke-Kun, but I guess that’s something we as westerners will never understand. It’s a shame however that this game wasn’t given a chance outside of Japan, as it would have paved the way of niche games with bizarre and wacky premises that are gaining popularity now.
Though this is Neo Poke-Kun’s only game, SNK hasn’t forgotten him completely – he shows up with Ai in NeoGeo Battle Coliseum during her attacks, running animations, and victory poses. Neo Poke-Kun also appears in Doki Doki Majo Shinpan! and Doki Majo Plus, the witch hunting/touching games for the Nintendo DS.