By Emill Morales

Taito - the company behind Darius, Power Blade, and Bubble Bobble, released Kiki Kaikai in 1986. Kiki Kaikai (which means "Mysterious Ghost World") is a top-down shooter in the vein of Capcom's Commando, except with Japanese mythological theme. For being so cutesy, they are surprisingly fast-paced and often quite difficult.

The main character, Sayo-chan, although not really popular in the States, has made numerous cameos in many Taito games, and most of us lucky gamers out there who followed Natsume during the SNES era know her as Pocky. Natsume licensed the series from Taito to release Kiki Kaikai games on the SNES, and they also translated them to the US as Pocky & Rocky. Let's explore the world of Sayo-chan.

Kiki Kaikai - Arcade / MSX2 / PC Engine / Playstation 2 / Xbox (1986)


PC Engine Cover

Kiki Kaikai (Arcade)

Kiki Kaikai (Arcade)

Sayo-chan is a young miko (priestess) who is out to rescue the gods of fortune from a band of evil demons. She sets out equipped with her ofuda tags and oharai wand, her only weapons. The game is your typical top down vertical shooter. Similar to Commando. Sayo can fire at her enemies, but unique to Kiki Kaikai is Sayo's ability to repel enemy fire and bash enemies away with her oharai wand. There are also other power-ups, such as increased firepower, the ability to stop time, and explosive bombs to help Sayo in her journey. Like many games of this kind, Sayo can only take one hit before feeling over. The object of each level is to collect a key that will open the passage way to the boss. After that, you must get to the boss room and fight it. The game is pretty far from a cakewalk. Although it controls well, you can only fire in the direction that you're moving and can't strafe. Unfortunately this applies to all of the other Kiki Kaikai games as well.

The sound and graphics of the game are okay for the time the game was released. It was converted for the MSX2 in 1987, which features choppy scrolling and slightly downgraded graphics, although most of the gameplay is intact. An improved version was published on the PC Engine in 1990. Since the arcade original used a vertically oriented monitor, the screen size could not be perfectly recreated for this game, but is otherwise a faithful conversion. Taito also released Kiki Kaikai for mobile phones and it also saw a release in Japan in Playstation 2 in the first Taito Memories volume, which saw released in Europe on the Taito Legends 2 package for the Playstation 2 and Xbox. There is also a game called Knight Boy, which seems to be a bootleg of Kiki Kaikai. This is a particular strange name, since the main character is pretty obviously a girl.

Kiki Kaikai (Arcade)

Kiki Kaikai (Arcade)

Screenshot Comparisons

Arcade

PC Engine

MSX2

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen - Famicom Disk System (1987)


American Cover

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen

Released in 1987 for the Famicom Disk System, Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen ("Dotou Hen" translates to "The Story of the Angry Waves") is a recreation of the arcade release. The story appears to be the same as the arcade, only this time, Sayo's friend Miki-chan joins Sayo's adventure to rescue the gods of fortune.

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen runs at a choppy frame rate, but is still playable. Here, ammo is limited, so a new level of strategy has been added. You can't just barrel through a level shooting ofuda at your enemies. Ammo can be recovered, though. Also, the game seems to be played through a huge maze instead of one stage after another. The arcade version allowed for one or two players, alternating between turns. Dotou Hen is also for two players, but player 2 controls Miki. Another addition here is the life meter, indicated by a number found at the top right of the screen, next to a rice ball. You can take four hits before dying here, unlike in the arcade. The game also has a day/night cycle, similar to Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. Although the sound is not too impressive, the graphics are OK. Most of the music has been taken from the arcade version. The title screen theme, which is new, is pretty catchy. If you want to play a real copy of it, good luck searching for it, as it is extremely rare.

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen

Kiki Kaikai Nazo no Kuro Manto / Pocky & Rocky - Super Famicom/Super Nintendo (1992)


American Cover

Japanese Cover

Pocky and Rocky

Kiki Kaikai: Nazo no Kuro Manto (The Riddle of the Black Mantle), is the first Kiki Kaikai game to be presented by Natsume, and the first one to be released officially outside of Japan. The story behind this one is that Sayo had put an end to the demons that went on a rampage and everything seemed fine until Manuke, the tanuki (who was the final boss of the original arcade game) storms in, saying he has been attacked by the demons. He needs Sayo's help, and thus they pledge an alliance to defeat the evil demons

The gameplay has been improved greatly, and this game could easily rank with the best of the cute'em ups, such as TwinBee and Parodius. Now, the action can be played by two players simultaneously. You can choose between either Sayo or Manuke. The two-player mode will remind fans of the Contra series with the intense action and teamwork. When you run out of lives, you can use lives from your friend to join back in. The gameplay control has been revamped, you can shoot rapidly or you can tap the button repeatedly, as both functions have been mapped to two buttons. Sayo can still use her oharai wand, while Manuke uses his tail to attack enemies. If you hold the B button (the button used for the short range attack, such as attacking with the oharai stick) you can charge an attack. With Sayo, releasing the button results in an spinning attack that can take out enemies or projectiles. Manuke will turn into a statue and become invincible to attacks for a limited period.

There is also a slide button, which is great for covering great distances and dodging projectiles. If you hit your friend with the sliding move, you will make him or her slide all over the screen like crazy, hitting all enemies in the vicinity. However, this technique decreases your friend's life energy. There is also a button for a screen-filling bomb attack that should be used in desperate situations. Bombs are limited, of course - you have 3 in Easy difficulty, 1 in Normal, and no bombs in Hard. There are a total of 6 stages in this game. You can improve your firepower by picking orbs. Red orbs upgrade your shots with fire, while blue orbs will give you an spreading burst. If you mix the orbs, the level of firepower decreases. There is also a force field and the new Mad Dog item, which allows you to ride an animal for a limited period and bump into enemies. You have 4 life units and gain one for clearing stages.

Like similar titles, such as Pop'n TwinBee, the game can get pretty difficult, even on the easiest setting. However, with practice and unlimited continues, you can really get far if you play with a friend. The graphics have been overhauled for the 16-bit system and everything looks colorful and detailed. The music and sounds are not anything impressive, but some songs are decent, such as the title theme.

Natsume released this game in the US as Pocky & Rocky in 1993. So, in the US version, Sayo is known as Pocky and Manuke is known as Rocky the Raccoon. The ofuda tags have been changed to magic cards and the oharai wand is now called a magic stick. At least it's better than the European release, where all of the cutscenes were deleted entirely. Other than these changes, this game is heralded as the best Kiki Kaikai and Pocky & Rocky game in the series because of the frantic, multiplayer arcade-style fun. A quality SNES title given to us by the minds behind the incredible Shadow of the Ninja for the NES.

Pocky & Rocky

Pocky & Rocky

Pocky & Rocky

Kiki Kaikai Tsukiyozoushi / Pocky & Rocky 2 - Super Famicom/Super Nintendo (1994)


American Cover

Japanese Cover

Pocky and Rocky 2

Translated as "The Rescue", this installment of the series is graphically the same as the previous SNES game. The music has also been given more of a Japanese feel as well, and sounds really nice in most places. In terms of gameplay, this game has integrated some RPGs elements into the fast paced arcade action from the previous games. The sliding and bombs are gone, but there are still many new additions to make this game a worthy member the Kiki Kaikai family.

The story begins when a princess (Princess Luna in the English version) begins a festival and is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by a girl named Impy. Sayo, accompanied by Manuke and two other friends, must band together and rescue the princess. Before most stages, you can choose to play the game alone or with a friend and get a choice of three partners: Manuke/Rocky, Takuan/Bomber Bob and Shinobi/Little Ninja (English names). There are also other partners you encounter throughout the game, such as Tengy, Scarecrow, Digger and Ottobot, each with their own characteristics. .

You can still shoot cards and attack with the wand like in the previous games. While controlling Pocky, your partner uses their own attacks behind her to assist her. However, with the A Button, you can use magic. With magic, you can take advantage of their different abilities by combining with Pocky.. For example, Rocky can search hidden treasure by pressing the B button. When he beats his chest, keep on eye on any question marks you see, and then throw your partner into that area for items (partner throwing discussed in detail below). Bomber Bob can pick up boulders and throw them to open passage ways. Little Ninja can open locked treasure chest without using keys, Tengy can fly over lava and the water, Scarecrow makes Pocky ride a pogo stick, with Digger you can get underground, and with Ottobot, Pocky gets to ride a little mecha robot that can also pick up boulders.

You've gotta be careful when using magic though. When the character begins to flash, press the A Button again to change back, or you will take damage. Speaking of damage, Sayo (or Pocky) doesn't have a life meter. Rather, Pocky's life energy is indicated by what she is wearing. If she is hit, she will be in shorts, for example, and when she gets hit here, she dies (or falls down and cries, as seen in the game screen). To make up for this, you can equip or buy a piece or armor, which gives an additional hit for a total of 3. And there are also bunny ears, which you can purchase or equip that can give you one more hit as well, for a total of four.

You can change your partner in a stage by shooting the red fireballs that appeared that gave you firepower in the first games. With the R button, you can throw your partner at enemies. When thrown into bosses, you execute a Partner Bomber attack, which is unique for the partner you have chosen. After this attack, you must wait a few seconds for your partner to return to the game again. Your partner also has limited life energy, and if he or she dies, you must wait for them to return. The game has 9 stages altogether, with the first stage being a practice stage that's great for beginners to get the hang of the new engine of the game. This stage can also be skipped entirely.

The stages which cannot have partners (and therefore, no two-player mode) are the Mad Dog and Gordon stage. In the Mad Dog stage, you ride a dog through a balcony and must shoot at anything thrown in your way. In the Gordon stage, you will ride the huge dragon, Gordon, and enemies will ambush you. You can collect keys to open chests or locked doors and use money to purchase equipment, such as more attack power, extra lives and hint books. The game also provides passwords to record your progress. Pocky & Rocky 2 is so different from its predecessor to provide an overall different experience. If you're a fan of the series and the genre, you will definitely love the improvements.

Pocky & Rocky 2

Pocky & Rocky 2

Pocky & Rocky 2

Pocky & Rocky 2

Pocky & Rocky 2

Kiki Kaikai Advance / Pocky & Rocky with Becky - Gameboy Advance (2001)


American Cover

Pocky & Rocky with Becky

Pocky & Rocky with Becky

After closing its doors in the US in 1995, Altron was given the rights to publish a Kiki Kaikai game for the Gameboy Advance, and they released Kiki Kaikai Advance in 2001 in Japan. The game, like many first generation GBA titles, tries to revive franchises that were seen in the 16-bit era. But Altron choose to pattern this release after the arcade original, and not after the SNES versions. For example, you must find a key to open the boss room. You die if you are hit once. Thankfully, this game is a bit easier. There's also the force field item seen in the SNES game as well as an item that calls a guardian that will pulverize anything in its way.

At the beginning, an evil Hydra has been imprisoned by Sayo. After a number of months, it escapes from captivity to wreak havoc once again. Sayo, Miki and Manuke must venture through 7 stages to defeat the Hydra and capture it again. This game is only single player. When you start, you can select Sayo, Miki or Manuke. Each of the three characters have distinct properties that makes them unique. By picking a purple ofuda tag, you can utilize these special properties. For example, Sayo can throw tags that explode upon contact with an enemy, causing additional damage. Miki can throw multiple cards in a shotgun formation and Manuke throws homing leaves at enemies that cause additional damage. You also start stages with a bomb that can be used with the L or R button. It destroys all enemies in the stage, but it cannot be used against bosses, much like with the original arcade game. It's okay, but fairly easy and short.

The US version was released here by Natsume as Pocky & Rocky with Becky. Miki-chan was renamed to Becky obviously for this game. The US version is also slightly different. Here, you can take two hits before croaking and there is also a password system which keeps track on how many lives and bombs you have.

Pocky & Rocky with Becky

Pocky & Rocky with Becky

Heavenly Guardian / Legend of Sayuki / Yukinko Dansenpuu - Playstation 2 / Wii (2007)


American PS2 Cover

Japanese Wii Ad

Heavenly Guardian

In 2007, a Japanese developer named Starfish announced that they would be releasing Kiki Kaikai World 2 for the Playstation 2 and Wii. During its development, it actually looked pretty good. Unfortunately, when Taito was purchased by Square-Enix, there were some arguments over the rights to the Kiki Kaikai name, so Starfish needed to cancel the title. Not to worry - they simply changed the main characters and released it under a new name: Yuikinko Daisenpuu, or Heavenly Guardian, as it's known in English speaking territories. (For the record, Starfish also worked on the DS remake of Devilish and the remake of Chuka Taisen for the Wii, so they seem to have a tendency for buying licenses for retro titles and remaking them.)

From the get-go, it's pretty clearly related to Kiki Kaikai, and definitely feels like a spiritual successor. Instead of Sayo-chan, you know play as a snow goddess name Sayuki. (The second player is her sister, so there's no tanooki character unfortunately.) The levels are a bit more free scrolling but still linear. In addition to your standard weapon, you can find Rapid Fire, Three Way, Homing and Bomb crystals. If you pick up the crystal for a weapon you already have equipped, you'll upgrade it and make it stronger. This encourages you to pick one weapon and stay with it, rather than just grabbing weapons haphazardly. It's actually a bit annoying, because all of the weapons on the lowest level are pretty weak.

The game controls are a bit slippery and it can sometimes be hard to aim properly. The game lacks support dual analog controls nor Wiimote aiming for moving and shooting. On the plus side, this makes it feel like the old Kiki Kaikai games, even though it's a bit awkward. Instead, the right analog stick (for the PS2) or the Wiimote (for the Wii) is used to summon a gust of cold wind, turning enemies into ice crystals. If you manage to destroy an enemy encased in case, they'll drop a little spirit, which will replenish your special power gauge. You're also followed by a little bunny rabbit, which can also freeze enemies. (This was supposed to be a fox in Kiki Kaikai World 2.)

Heavenly Guardian isn't necessarily hard, but it feels cheap and shoddily designed. Certain enemies can dish out cheap hits, and some bosses simply take way too many hits to kill. You can take three hits before you die, although you're sent back to a checkpoint when you expire. If you run out of lives totally, you start at the beginning of the stage. This would be fine, except the levels themselves are huge, expansive, and a bit dull. Despite the length, you can't save your progress. This wasn't a big deal in the older games, because they were much more compact. You can unlock stage select and boss attack modes, but this requires hunting down secret items littered through each stages.

The graphics are all high res 2D, but they look a bit cheaply done. The music, too, is unmemorable at its best and annoying at its worst. It's an okay game, but it feels more like a homebrew project than a true successor to the Kiki Kai Kai games. Strangely, the PS2 version was only released in North American and Europe (the latter under the title "Legend of Sayuki".) Japan only got the Wii version.

Heavenly Guardian

Heavenly Guardian

Heavenly Guardian

Kiki Kaikai World 2

Cameos

As stated at the beginning of this article, Sayo-chan has made several appearances in other Taito games. In Rainbow Islands (for the NES), Sayo appears as a boss in the sixth world, which had a Kiki Kaikai theme. She also speaks to Bubby at the end for advice. In the US version, she is named Cindy. Sayo is also a helper character you can summon in Bubble Symphony, released in Europe as Bubble Bobble 2, and is also a bonus item in Bubble Memories. There's even a whole set of levels based off Kiki Kaikai World. She is also one of the selectable pilots in Space Invaders '95, a game that reeks of Parodius. Player 2's pilot is Miyo-chan, a new character seen only in this game. She is also a playable character in Pop N Pop, with Miki Chan used by Player 2. Manuke is also in Pop N Pop as a boss character. There's also a minigame in the Taito Wii collection Furu Furu Park.

Rainbow Islands

Pop N Pop

Bubble Symphony

These games, the Kiki Kaikai series, are much of a light-hearted Commando or M.E.R.C.S., and it will appeal to those gamers who love the genre, especially for the original Pocky & Rocky, which will remind players of not only the Contra series of the past, but of Twinbee and Parodius if they have been into those titles. It deserves to be the third in the rank of cute'em ups.

Links

Gamest Online Spanish article on the Kiki Kaikai series.
Video Game Den A quick look at the first SNES game.

Space Invaders '95

Back to the index