Posted on March 1st, 2010 3 comments
Release Date: 4/21/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.12 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The player controls Momo as she fights off advancing enemies. Enter the whirlwinds that appear from the left side of the screen to transform into Wonder Momo and upgrade your strength and defense. A port of the arcade game.”
Wonder Momo is the most common PC Engine game in God’s creation. It’s not quite the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt of the PCE’s library, but it’s definitely the StarTropics. If you pay for a complete copy — doesn’t matter how much — then you overpaid. Up until about 2001, one could take a stroll into Akihabara and find entire shipping cartons of Wonder Momo (six sealed games in each carton) on sale for 50 yen.
It’s therefore a vital part of every PCE fan’s collection, for the simple fact that if you somehow didn’t trip over a free copy somewhere along the line, then cripes, man, you just ain’t trying hard enough.
Like Dragon Spirit and Yōkai Dōchūki before it, Wonder Momo is a port of a 1987 Namco arcade game, one that wasn’t a massive income success but had a massive impact on the impressionable minds of ’80s arcade rats. If you haven’t played it on MAME, the basic idea is this: You’re Momo, a magical lady from the planet Lolicott (ugh), and you fight tokusatsu enemies onstage in front of an audience of rabid otaku, all wearing identical white bandannas. It’s funny to think that creepy Power Ranger fan subcultures existed in Japan way back in 1987 — and was prevalent enough that Namco parodied it, right down to the pudgy photographer trying to nab upskirt shots of our innocent hero. That photographer’s probably stuck in with a wife, one or two kids, and a dead-end middle management job nowadays. Scary.
There’s a real game here, though, and it’s classic Namco — simple mechanics that require robotic hand-eye coordination to master. Wonder Momo, like the better Game & Watch titles, is all about time management. You have to carefully observe how each enemy moves and attacks, figure out how to dispatch them all as efficiently as possible, and keep a cool head as the monster waves accelerate in speed. Your “Wonder” gauge, the bar that governs how long sweet, innocent Momo can become arse-kicking dervish Wonder Momo, becomes both your best friend and bitterest enemy. Learning the exact right moment to transform (too soon and you’ll run out of Wonder and be a sitting duck; too late and you’ll die from massive, overwhelming enemy attack before you have a chance to pull off the transformation) becomes key from the second half on. Better players can devise patterns for both of these core gameplay aspects, since each stage throws the same sequence of bad guys at you every time. Just like Ken Uston’s classic Pac-Man patterns, you can use those rote bits of joystick input to beat the game with your mind on cruise control — eyes connected directly to the nervous system, connected directly to your fingers — once you memorize them well enough.
Not that you can execute these patterns in any home port. Sadly, the PC Engine version (like Namco’s other PCE ports) is heavily cut down from the arcade — voices are cut entirely, along with assorted enemies and four out of the original’s 16 stages. Even the PlayStation version, released exclusively in Japan as part of Namco Museum Encore (1997), isn’t quite right — Momo’s Wonder Ring moves faster than in the arcade version, which destroys all the patterns for defeating bosses. 24 years on, if you want a perfect port, it’s still MAME or nothin’. (What the PCE version does have are cutscenes featuring Momo in skimpy clothing. I can’t complain about that too loudly, I suppose, but it woulda been nice if they used the ROM space to add those missing enemies, at least.)
I’ve chosen a video from the second half of the PCE Wonder Momo to demonstrate the Game & Watch-y aspect of its gameplay. Note how this player defeats each enemy wave in nearly the exact same way every time, deviating from the patterns only long enough to eliminate any unforeseen threat that’s blundered onscreen. It’s a thing of beauty to see in motion, it is.