Title: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined
Release Date: June 24, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: Everyone 10+
Availability: PS4, Switch
Recommended for fans of: Retro games, 2D “shmups“, Cotton Fantasy
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
The Pocky & Rocky series goes way back to the 1986 Japan-only arcade game, Kiki Kaikai. In it, a chibi shrine maiden teams up with a mischievous tanuki to shoot their way through an army of monsters inspired by Japanese folklore. With Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, publisher Natsume has given us a high-definition remake of the 1992 classic, Pocky & Rocky, which was the second game in the series. Or is this new release a sequel? It's a bit of both, actually, and while I get to the new content a bit later on, I feel that Reshrined should appeal as much to series newcomers as to fans of the original.
What's the Story?
Having already restored peace to the land once, Pocky and Rocky are confronted by the mysterious sorcerer, Black Mantle. Forced to battle against their brainwashed youkai friends, Pocky and Rocky battle through eight action-packed stages. The duo make new friends along the way, and each victory brings them closer to the truth about Black Mantle's identity. The story is mostly told through cut-scenes between stages, and the vibrant art really brings each character to life. The tone of the story gets surprisingly dark and serious toward the end, but never in a way that impedes the fun.
How Does Pocky & Rocky Reshrined Play?
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined, like its predecessors, can be a difficult game to classify. It mostly resembles a top-down shooter, but one that you approach more at your own pace. Your ability to backtrack is severely limited, but you can sit on one screen and take out endlessly-spawning enemies to your heart's content. Your primary attack is to throw a steady stream of projectiles across the screen. Pick up power-up items to make the projectiles stronger or to imbue them with wind or fire elements. Don't just go and grab every power-up, though, as picking up a new element type resets your projectile's power level.
Equally important, yet less frequently used, is a close-range swipe attack. This attack deflects enemy projectiles and occasionally knocks larger enemies off balance. It's a good (and quite literal) rule of thumb to be ready to hammer on the close-range attack button if enemies draw near, just to be safe. Rounding out the basic move set are an evasive slide and a screen-clearing bomb attack for emergency situations.
Make no mistake, Reshrined can be a difficult and often unforgiving experience, even on Normal difficulty. Enemies attack consistently from all angles, with many requiring a good number of hits to take down. Bosses have ruthless attack patterns and become stronger as they take damage. You have three lives, one checkpoint per stage, and unlimited continues, so it's all mostly manageable. And if not, the game offers an Extra Easy option that is unlocked with little effort.
Pocky and… Friends
If you were luck enough to have played the older Pocky & Rocky games (or even luckier enough to have owned them), you probably have fond memories of playing them with a friend. Despite Reshrined having a total of five playable characters, however, a multiplayer mode isn't immediately available. Your first playthrough limits you to Story Mode, which forces you to play as certain characters as the story dictates.
Completing the 8-stage Story Mode unlocks Free Mode, which allows you to pick amongst the five characters and play alongside a second player. Locking away a proper multiplayer mode is a baffling decision, to be honest, and one of my only major criticisms. That being said, multiplayer is every bit as fun and chaotic as you would expect. It also makes the game significantly easier, which was likely a factor in it being locked away.
What's New in Pocky & Rocky Reshrined?
Those familiar with seemingly similar remakes of 16-bit classics such as Wild Guns: Reloaded and The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors might expect Pocky & Rocky Reshrined to have been given a similar treatment. Both of those games feature remastered graphics and audio as well as a handful of new characters and enemies. Reshrined appears to be this sort of remake with its first two stages, which are nearly identical to the first 16-bit Pocky & Rocky, but it becomes a mostly new experience after that. Think of it as something between Wild Guns: Reloaded and Cotton Fantasy.
As the game progresses, it introduces new characters and the story begins to deviate sharply from the original. Black Mantle is a carryover antagonist, but reveals themselves to be a surprisingly sympathetic villain. New characters play just differently enough to warrant replays in Free Mode, though, and it's fun to experiment with different combinations.
Graphics and Sound
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more charming presentation for a 2D action game than in Reshrined. Characters emote through subtle animations, pouting or falling asleep if you idle for too long. Boss characters snarl and roar in great detail, though even the most ferocious enemy borders on adorable. The game is truly a feast for the eyes and evokes classic pixel art while making good use of newer techniques.
The game's sound is equally impressive. Each stage has a musical theme that sounds appropriately fitting to the Edo period of Japan's history. The music warbles in that very specific and nostalgic 16-bit way that can be so difficult to describe. There is no spoken dialogue, but characters chirp with appropriate urgency when in danger, and the sound of endless projectiles and destruction never becomes irritating.
Final Thoughts on Pocky & Rocky Reshrined
I greatly enjoyed my time with Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. It acts as both a remake and a sequel to a beloved 16-bit classic and offers a decent challenge. While I would have preferred to immediately jump into a multiplayer mode, I appreciated being introduced to the new characters gradually. Reshrined reimagines Pocky & Rocky in a bold manner that I hope is the beginning of a trend with remakes. It's fresh and nostalgic at the same time, and never resorts to lazy pandering.
While I played through a digital copy of Reshrined, there are several physical versions available through retailers such as Strictly Limited Games. Collectors such as myself are no doubt thrilled to be able to own a physical copy, considering how sought after the older games are. Or you could be like me and inevitably double-dip in order to enjoy both the Switch and PS4 versions!