I’d like to think I had either explored or made aware of every great game for my systems growing up. Take for example the Super Nintendo. I still own mine (albeit it’s a rather disgusting shade of yellow now), and in the 30 years or so I’d been SNES doing what Megadrive don’t, I thought I’ve played every game that was worth playing on Nintendo’s classic system: either I had it at the time, rented it from video stores, or emulated the ones that passed me by.
That wasn’t the case when – 29 years after it was released – I played Pocky & Rocky for the first time.
I definitely remember hearing about the Natsume game, but I cannot remember it getting rave reviews. Maybe average reviews, rather than dire reviews, but I can remember giving it a cursory glance at the name. I couldn’t tell you anything about the game. After dedicated a solid month of playing it, what you have is a fun little shoot em up.
You can pick one of two characters – Pocky (a girl in traditional Japanese dress) or Rocky (a tanooki), and must battle through a number of levels. The basic premise is that there’s a group of goblins that have gone insane with a spell and you need to break the spell. Granted it’s not exactly the greatest plot but it’s not about the plot. During the game you are shown stills of the action and a basic story, but you don’t really play this game for the story.
There are subtle differences between both characters, and the game can be played in one player or two player mode. The game is tough, with a lot of Japanese cultural references and enemies trying to kill you, but over time you end up learning patterns and how to progress. Unlike many games of this era you have an energy bar and lives. Both of which can be replenished with pickups, and there are a number of pickups dotted throughout the level, either by killing certain enemies or by firing at background objects.
The beauty of this game is the difficulty and it’s replay-ability. It’s a tough old cookie of a game, but like games of it’s genre like Contra and DoDonPachi, if you screw up, it’s your fault. It rewards repetition and using your full range of weapons to do the most damage. Some enemies are easier to beat with the melee attack than the actual firing of the weapon. After a month or so of solid playing, I didn’t complete it, but did have the best time with Pocky & Rocky. It does look different from other classic shooters – with no spaceships or muscular men to control – but with it’s timeless graphic style and a cute soundtrack that doesn’t get old – underneath you will find a solidly fun 16 bit shooter, that deserves more praise than it gets. Firmly a cult classic of the SNES era, it got more deserving eyeballs when Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined was released for the Nintendo Switch, and is probably the most definitive way to play the game today.
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