SonSon (Capcom, 1984)Posted on August 23rd, 2009 2 comments
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One of the two games that inspired SonSon II, which I covered last week. Capcom was born as an independent entity in 1984, when Irem founder Kenzo Tsujimoto left his company after a hostile takeover and created a new one chiefly with ex-Namco employees; this is their second game ever and the first one that Yoshiki Okamoto (fresh from Konami, where he did Time Pilot and Gyruss) created for them.
In an interview segment aired on an episode of Game Center CX, Okamoto explained that SonSon didn’t start out as a Journey to the West-themed game, exactly. Instead, the concept began as simply a game that featured a pig (because Capcom thought that a pig character would be readily accept among American and European audiences) and a monkey (because they figured Japanese people would like monkeys more).
I’m not sure it amounted to anything, considering I never heard of SonSon until I started collecting Famicom games in Japan. The Micronics-developed Famicom port is an awful, flickery mess, but the arcade game is much better.
Like pretty much all Capcom titles in the ’80s, SonSon features the “Pow” and Yashichi symbols prominently. Okamoto stated that these symbols were part of an effort to give Capcom’s games something unique and immediately identifiable. That worked a lot better, I think. Some power-ups from this game, including the bamboo sprout, would themselves become regulars in subsequent Capcom titles as well. (The “Yashichi,” by the way, is meant to be a pinwheel. It’s named after Kazaguruma no Yashichi, a ninja that appears in Mito Koumon and uses shuriken with pinwheels on ‘em as his weapon.)
SonSon is a simple co-op shooter with deceptively complex scoring rules. The entire playfield is littered with non-random small foods worth 10-100 points each. Pick up six of these, and a “jumbo food” worth 1000-10,000 points appears depending on the point value of the small food you grabbed. “Pow” (which turns all enemies onscreen into jumbo food) appears in certain rare locations or if you eat 8 jumbo foods; the bamboo sprout shows up when you walk over certain locations. The Yashichi, worth 4000 points (it’ll sometimes display other point scores up to 10,000, but a bug prevents you from actually earning anything besides 4000 points), shows up if you can clear out a fortress within 20 seconds.
Click on the above video to see what co-op play meant in 1984-era video arcades. Also click it to hear some early work from Tamayo Kawamoto, a lady who handled a lot of Capcom’s soundtracks around this era (Commando, Black Tiger, Legendary Wings, Tiger Road, Ghouls’n Ghosts, Forgotten Worlds, etc).
It’s always a bit weird to find out more about the games that were made at the very beginning of the history of the biggest players in the current industry.
At least SonSon’s descendant later got a role in Marvel vs Capcom (2?).
I hadn’t heard of SonSon until I was forced to somehow promote it as a desirable game at GameTap. It ended up being sort of an underdog favorite within our office walls, but I don’t think our audience ever got into it.
I actually got into this game, believe it or not. I wouldn’t personally recommend it or anything, but I have a habit of firing it up if I’m ever in the vicinity of an Ultracade cabinet (usually followed up by a round of Rod Land!). It’s not a great game, but it does reward you for taking the time to get good at it.
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