Kiki Kaikai
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Developer:
    • Taito
  • Publisher:
    • Taito
  • Released:
    Arcade
    • JP 09/18/1986
    MSX2
    • JP 02/10/1987
    FDS
    • JP 08/28/1987
    PCE
    • JP 03/27/1990
Score: 70%

This review was published on 08/11/2017.

Kiki Kaikai, which roughly translates to Mysterious Ghost World, is a video game developed and published by Taito Corporation. It was originally released as a coin operated arcade game on September 18, 1986, but later got ported to home platforms. The game was ported to the MSX2 on February 10, 1987, the Famicom Disk System on August 28, 1987, and the PC Engine on March 27, 1990. The Famicom Disk System version was massively modified and went under the title of Kiki Kaikai: Dotou Hen, which roughly translates to Mysterious Ghost World: The Story of the Angry Waves. All versions of the game were only officially released in Japan, though the arcade version did get unofficially released in North America as Knight Boy. So what's so notable about this game? Well, this is the first game in what eventually became known outside of Japan as the Pocky and Rocky series. In the early-to-mid 1990s, Kiki Kaikai received several sequels on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the form of the Pocky and Rocky games. Today, the Pocky and Rocky games are heralded as some of the best action games of the era. Sadly, the original Kiki Kaikai isn't anywhere near as good as the future games in the series.

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This game is set in a highly fictionalized version of feudal Japan where Japanese mythology is real. The protagonist of this mythological tale is a young girl known as Sayo. Sayo is a shrine maiden or priestess for Shintoism, Japan's ethnic religion. One night, while Sayo was fanning a ceremonial fire using her decorated wand, the Seven Gods of Fortune appear before her. They warn her of an impending danger, which was apparently really impending, because they soon get kidnapped by a band of mischievous goblins. These gods must not be very godly if mere goblins got the best of them. Anyway, the goofy goblins took the captive gods to a faraway mountain range that likely acted as their base of operations. Determined to save the gods, Sayo sets off on a perilous journey across the countryside. While the events of the plot aren't anything special, the setting is rather unique. If you're into Japanese mythology, you'll likely get a kick out of this.

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Similar to other classic arcade titles from the 1980s like Commando and Ikari Warriors, all action in this game is viewed from an overhead perspective. All these games are classified as multidirectional shooters, because you're able to move in multiple directions and you primarily attack via shooting projectiles. Like many of those games, Sayo is able to walk and shoot in eight directions with relative ease, though there is no way to strafe. However, instead of shooting bullets out of a gun like most games at the time, Sayo throws talisman scrolls. In Shintoism, these scrolls are meant to ward off evil spirits, but Sayo uses them as weapons against the many monsters she encounters. Additionally, Sayo can wave her purification rod to swat away enemies and some projectiles, but this only works at close range. Such a thing was a very unique feature for this kind of game back then. Besides Sayo's slightly slow walking speed, everything controls well.

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Sayo's capabilities can be enhanced via acquiring power-ups. Most power-ups are found by defeating enemies, and they usually look like tiny paper slips. Generally, power-ups increase the range, speed, and power of Sayo's projectiles, and there's also one that allows her projectiles to pierce through multiple enemies. On top of that, there are orbs that Sayo can collect and use at a later time by pressing the shoot and wand buttons at the same time. One orb briefly freezes all enemies, whereas the other one acts as a bomb that kills all foes on the screen. Neither orb can be used during boss fights, though. Also, all power-ups and orbs are lost the moment Sayo dies. As was the norm for these games, Sayo immediately dies if she comes into contact with any enemies or other hazardous things. As a result of that, power-ups are a temporary luxury unless you're a master at the game.

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Like most action games, stages are tackled in a specific order and are strictly linear. However, unlike most shooters, the screen doesn't automatically scroll in a single direction. This means that you're free to move at your own pace. Despite this, the stage layouts are all fairly straightforward, so the challenge primarily comes from the nearly endless swarms of enemies. Most enemies die in one hit, but they make up for that deficiency through sheer numbers. Almost all the enemies are derived from Japanese mythology, adding to the exotic Asian atmosphere of the game. The goal of stages isn't simply to get to the end, though. Every stage has a key you must collect in order to face the boss at the end. Thankfully, the keys are all easy to find. Also, a nice little detail during boss battles is how the floor panels fly away from the ground to denote how damaged the boss is.

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All the home versions of the game have been downgraded in one way or another from the arcade release. Aside from the resolution, the PC Engine port is the closest to the original. On the other hand, the MSX2 port looks and sounds much worse, plus it suffers from choppy scrolling. However, as previously stated, the Famicom Disk System version has such significant differences that it's almost an entirely different game. These differences include limited ammo, a life meter, a day and night cycle, shops, and a palette swapped character named Miki that a second player can control. Don't get too excited about that last one, because both players must still take turns, just like the arcade release. The biggest change, however, is that the game has been converted from a series of linear stages to one maddeningly massive maze. There are countless other differences, but those are the main ones. All these changes make the game far less enjoyable. Unless you like running out of ammo and getting hopelessly lost, the Famicom Disk System version should be avoided.

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While far from a bad game, the original Kiki Kaikai just doesn't hold a candle to the Pocky and Rocky games. However, it wasn't a bad first effort, especially for 1986. This was the same year that Taito created Bubble Bobble, which was a much bigger hit in the arcades than Kiki Kaikai. Though it lacks the historical significance of Bubble Bobble, this game did set the basic groundwork for Pocky and Rocky. That alone is worth singing its praises, but it also happens to be a decent game in its own right. It is, however, insanely hard.

Word Count: 1,128

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