Posted on August 21st, 2009 2 comments
Maker: NEC Avenue
Release Date: 1/27/89
Price: 5400 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.98 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A game based off the arcade title Black Tiger with new characters and rearranged content. The light, bouncy music and cute characters are nice. A basic side-scrolling action game.”
Who came up with this cover art? It’s got, like, nothing to do with the actual game. It shows someone who vaguely looks like a cooler version of Goku from Dragon Ball, complete with his magic cloud and stick, dispatching a blue demon under the watchful eye of the Siddharta Buddha. Meanwhile, the dude you’re controlling in the game is plainly a stocky little monkey whose head is over half of his height. The manual calls this guy SonSon but everyone in-game calls him Son Goku, the Japanese rendering of the name Sun Wukong. Total rip! Inconsistencies in my children’s action video games! Oh, how they irk me!
Things improve quickly once you get over NEC Avenue’s playing fast and loose with the ad material and actually load the thing. There is, in fact, a very interesting history behind the game. It was actually developed over at Capcom, with Yoshiki Okamoto himself getting a planning credit in the ending’s staff roll. (You can tell this right off from the music, which is pure Mega Man-goes-Oriental.) It’s very loosely the sequel to SonSon, the 1984 arcade game that was Okamoto’s debut effort for Capcom, but it borrows its gameplay style wholesale from 1987’s Black Tiger, swiping the basic platform action, the weapon upgrade system, and some of the enemies. NEC Avenue called it “Black Tiger reborn in a new-character version” in the print advertising, but it’s not a port so much as an expanded Metroid/Castlevania-y take on the original.
The game’s divided into seven stages, each divided into several maps you flip between by going through doorways. Mr. Sun has to power-up his weaponry and find the keys and such required to reach the boss, occasionally running into other characters from the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West, the work that Dragon Ball very loosely parodied for its first few years. Killing enemies earns you Zenny, the magical currency that all Capcom games used around this time, and Zenny buys magic and other assorted upgrades — although some of that stuff’s also found by breaking secret walls.
There’s very little that really stands out with SonSon II; the graphics and gameplay are in lockstep with the standards of the day and the game doesn’t try much of anything outside of Principles of Okamoto Design 101. It is, at least, expertly made, and the challenge level ramps up on a nice, slow, yet engaging clip. I like it a fair bit, although history has all but buried it as far as Japan-based nostalgia is concerned.
Here’s a basic sort of playthrough. Anyone who’s played Black Tiger might be in for a bit of culture shock — the game’s colorful, cutesy, and everything that Capcom’s arcade original wasn’t. If you’re interested, there’s another playthrough showing a cheat code in action that swaps around character sprites to extremely humorous (?) effect.