Pocky and Rocky 2
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publishers:
    • JP US Natsume
    • UK Ocean
  • Released:
    • JP 06/17/1994
    • US November 1994
    • UK April 1995
Score: 85%

This review was published on 08/16/2017.

Pocky and Rocky 2 is a video game developed by Natsume for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. It was originally released in Japan on June 17, 1994, North America in November 1994, and Europe in April 1995. Natsume published the game in Japan and North America, whereas Ocean Software published it in Europe. As its title implies, this is the sequel to the first Pocky and Rocky, which originally came out on the SNES about a year prior. However, this is actually the third game in the overall series. The series is known as Kiki Kaikai in Japan, and the first title was released there as a coin operated arcade game in 1986. Taito Corporation developed the original game, but licensed Natsume to develop and publish the second game in the series. It was Natsume's decision to publish the second game as Pocky and Rocky outside of Japan. As a result of that, Pocky and Rocky 2 is the third game in the Kiki Kaikai series. Anyway, the first Pocky and Rocky is awesome, and the second is one also pretty good.

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In case you haven't played the previous game, the world of Pocky and Rocky is set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan. Pocky is a Shinto shrine maiden and her pal, Rocky, is a tanuki, which is a Japanese raccoon dog. In the last game, Pocky and Rocky defeated an evil sorcerer that had taken control over various creatures and caused them to unleash chaos upon the countryside. Pocky and Rocky 2 is set after those events, where a harvest festival is being held. To celebrate the festivities, a princess from the moon named Luna comes to visit the village square. Pocky and Rocky are also there. Suddenly, a bunch of demons show up! The head of the demons identifies herself as Impy, and after exchanging a few hostile words, she kidnaps Luna. After consulting with the seven wise people for advice, Pocky and Rocky set out on an adventure to rescue the princess.

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As with the other games, Pocky and Rocky 2 has you walk around and shoot stuff from an overhead perspective. Unlike the previous game, the first player is only able to control Pocky. As Pocky, you walk in eight different directions with the d-pad and rapidly shoot magical cards in the direction you're facing by holding the Y button. The B button still uses Pocky's decorative wand as a melee attack to damage enemies and destroy certain projectiles. However, the evasive slide move from the previous game has been removed in this one. You also no longer have the use of screen clearing bombs. This results in far simpler controls, but it has the side effect of making your character less versatile. The controls are as precise as ever, but you still lack the ability to strafe.

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Instead of a life gauge represented by hearts like in the last game, Pocky and Rocky 2 opts to go with breakable armor like Ghosts 'n Goblins. Every time Pocky is hit, some of her attire is stripped away, and she eventually dies if hit in her lightest clothed state. She starts off each life with enough clothing to take two hits, but is able to find armor that lets her take up to three. There's also a pair of bunny ears she can wear for an added layer of protection, and when combined with the armor, it allows her to take up to four hits. However, even when fully suited up, Pocky can't take as many hits as she could in her previous adventure. This is slightly made up for by the fact that you'll be finding additional clothing or armor in a far more regular basis than the health restoration items from the last game. Regardless, this life system is a nice visual touch, even if it isn't too original.

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The power-up system has been revised a bit. The projectile power-up orbs return, but there's now only a single type. Whenever Pocky collects one of these orbs, her magical cards will become more potent. The first upgrade makes her cards shoot out in a spread pattern, and the second dramatically increases their size. Once fully upgraded, collecting additional orbs will only give points, though Pocky's cards do get downgraded by a single level whenever she's injured. This revised power-up system greatly simplifies things, as you can just grab every power-up you encounter without having to worry about accidentally canceling them out. However, the lack of options means that there's less strategic depth. Additionally, most power-ups are found within boxes, some of which are locked. You'll need keys to unlock these. Keys are either found via other boxes or bought at shops. Speaking of, there are these fox shrines scattered throughout the game that transport you to shops where you can purchase power-ups, keys, and extra lives with money mostly gathered from felled foes. It's neat.

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This time, Pocky has a couple other friends helping her out besides Rocky. Prior to starting every stage, you're prompted to pick one of three partners: Rocky, Bomber Bob, and Little Ninja. The selected partner will automatically follow Pocky around, occasionally attacking stuff. However, a second human being can control Pocky's partner, which is preferable, because the computer AI almost never attacks. Partners are allowed to take a few hits before getting defeated, but they do come back after a short while. Each partner has unique offensive capabilities, like how Bomber Bob hurls iron balls at enemies, and Little Ninja throws shurikens that home in on foes, plus has a katana for close quarters combat. Other partners may join Pocky's entourage over the course of the game, like Tengy the tengu, Scarecrow the scarecrow, Digger the mole, and Ottobot the robot. You can't manually pick these partners, though. Instead, you must obtain power-ups that allow you to change partners. These special power-ups will cycle through all your available partners, and you touch them when they show the partner you want. While changing partners is annoying, the partner system is overall pretty cool.

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That's not all the partner system has going for it, though. If you press the A button, Pocky will use magic to briefly possess the partner that's currently following her. This allows you, the first player, to control these special partner characters for a few seconds. When possessed, partners will shoot cards like Pocky, but they'll also gain new abilities. For example, Bomber Bob is able to lift boulders, Little Ninja opens locks without wasting keys, Rocky finds hidden items, Tengy flies over pits, Scarecrow jumps around like a pogo stick, and Digger digs into the ground. The best partner is Ottobot, because he can fly like Tengy and lift heavy stuff like Bomber Bob when possessed. However, if you don't cancel the possession with the A button quick enough, Pocky will take damage. Another thing Pocky can do with partners is throw them at enemies as a projectile. When thrown at a boss, partners will cause a giant magical attack to occur, resulting in massive damage. It's all a bit strange, but interesting nonetheless.

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After the opening cinematic, which can be skipped, you're thrown into a massive tutorial stage. The tutorial will carefully walk you through every single game mechanic in a painfully slow manner, making you play a bunch of annoying mini-games to satisfy its arbitrary requirements. Tutorials like these were a rarity for the time, but became rather commonplace in more modern games. That makes Pocky and Rocky 2 somewhat ahead of its time, but not in a good way. Fortunately, Pocky and Rocky 2's tutorial can be skipped entirely by answering a simple question at the beginning. Further, the rest of the game provides the same fast paced action that is expected of the series, with no more tutorials in sight. There's also a simplistic password system this time around, allowing you to resume your progress later if you decide to take a quick break from the action. You'll probably need several breaks, because this game is tough.

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Like before, stages are tackled in a linear order. Stages now have doors you can optionally enter, which are occasionally locked, with friendly folk to talk to. These friendly folk usually give you tips about the current stage or boss, but sometimes give you money or extra lives. Some stages also have branching paths, making them slightly less linear than before. In addition to providing some replay value, these paths may contain different rewards. Some paths are clearly better than others, though, as they often have exclusive stuff like additional characters to recruit. Also, there's a stage in the game where you ride a dog creature. This stage plays more like a traditional shoot 'em up, because the screen automatically scrolls at a steady pace, and you're only able to shoot in a single direction. You also have hearts instead of breakable clothes. Unfortunately, this is one of the few stages that can't be played with two players. Besides that, all the stages are fairly good. The bosses are also all solid, though many of them are taken from the original Kiki Kaikai.

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Due to a couple of missteps, Pocky and Rocky 2 isn't quite as stellar as its predecessor. It's still pretty stellar, though. Aside from the excruciating optional tutorial at the start and the omission of the wonderful slide move, everything else about the game is great. The graphics are amazing, the controls superb, and the action is as hot as molten lava. This isn't just a retread of the previous game, either, as there are many interesting additions, such as the partner system, shops, branching paths, and other stuff. Pocky and Rocky 2 is one of the best action games on the SNES, so check it out sometime.

Word Count: 1,643

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