Originally released in 1992 for the SNES, Pocky & Rocky was a darling child among fans of Natsume. It spawned what was a modestly successful series, until it suddenly ceased all activity for about two decades. That was until last year, with the surprise announcement of a remake of the original game, Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined. With many modern conveniences at its disposal, it aims to elevate that original outing to new heights.
Reshrined and Rechristened
Pocky & Rocky is an unconventional take on the top-down bullet hell genre. You’ll be contesting with loads and loads of enemies to deal with at a single time, and you still have a very small number of hits before game over. The key difference between Pocky & Rocky and most bullet hell games, though, comes down to the autonomy and control you have. Rather than being set on a linear path where you’re constantly moving forward, you move in all eight directions as you please. Unlike bullet hell games where enemies and projectiles to dodge come in predetermined patterns, here you have a degree of influence over how things play out. If you’re eagle-eyed and attentive, you can get the drop on many enemies before they even become threats.
Slow and steady wins the race in Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined. There’s no two ways about it, it’s an absolutely brutal game. Even in the game’s normal difficulty, the game will fight you tooth and nail to keep you from proceeding. Enemies come out from every corner of the screen and will rush at you before you even have time to think about it. The key to winning is to ensure you don’t get overwhelmed and to take things one at a time. You’re additionally not forced to fight the broad majority of enemies you see and can walk right past them, but this tends to yield poor results from my experience. If you’re struggling too much with some parts of the game, you can call in a friend and play the whole game co-op.
There are three core aspects of your kit: the first is a regular, fast projectile that you can shoot out by pressing or holding down a button. The second is a melee attack that also allows you to reflect incoming projectiles back to your enemies. The last is a dodge roll maneuver that can also let you clear some gaps in levels, while it’s fast and covers a lot of ground, it can also leave you vulnerable for a time. Partway through the game, you’ll obtain upgrades that expand on your initial repertoire. Mastering these aspects of play is highly satisfying, and flexing a full degree of movement over your character can lead to moments where it feels like you have absolute control over a given situation.
You’ll also be given a variety of power-ups throughout each stage, which can be dropped from defeated enemies or found in boxes sprinkled throughout every stage. These power-ups can range from strengthening your main projectile attack, to a shield that lets you take an extra hit, to even a tiger you can mount for a short while.
The Stages of Life
With just seven main stages to make up its main story, Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined is quite a short game, clocking in at roughly an hour or two in length. The developers have seen fit to fire on all cylinders within that timespan, delivering a non-stop barrage of variety and challenge. This is best demonstrated with each main level, which can have radically different theming and transformative gimmicks that change how you fundamentally play. In a moment’s notice, a stroll through the Japanese mountainside can become a life or death struggle against an octopus on a river raft. Cleaning out the local monsters from your shrine will eventually become something so outlandish that I don’t think you could legitimately predict it. The main levels have surprises in all the best ways that a game like this should.
This variety does come at the slight detriment of the game occasionally being too eager to surprise the player. Though it is overall easy to read, there are some key points in the game where I’m left scratching my head, wondering how the devs could have possibly thought a player could see some things coming. While the game’s difficulty is built around both foresight and hindsight, there are times where I’m left wanting for more clarity due to the occasional unfairness of the latter.
The length of these levels can vary anywhere between five to ten minutes each. While you’re technically on a time limit, you’re usually given more than enough time to play as you wish. You also have a limited number of lives to play with, so you can’t just mindlessly bum rush a level until you win. If you get a Game Over, you’re booted all the way back to the beginning of the level you failed on, but if you Game Over against a boss, you’ll respawn right in front of them and be allowed to take them on again. It’s a good balance between ensuring the player won’t be frustrated by having their time wasted and making sure that you get the most out of the game’s mostly airtight difficulty balancing.
Redrawn and Remixed
With Pocky & Rocky now running on the Unity engine, this remake has received the mother of all facelifts. While the original game was not bad looking by any stretch, Reshrined’s visuals completely blew it out of the water. There is a downright incredible amount of love and effort put into every single aspect of its look. Each section of every stage has a handcrafted look to it, like each part of the game was just a small part of a greater canvas. Some parts that weren’t of any note in the original game have also seen facelifts and have been expanded upon to have more flair and personality. For example, a miniboss that may just be standing there in the original will drop down into the scene in epic fashion in Reshrined. It’s impossible for me to count every instance where the original was changed for the better, but details like these add up and make for a more memorable experience overall.
Mostly a carryover from the original game’s already great art direction, you’ll be facing off against a wide number of weird and interesting foes. The broad majority of the enemy designs are based in eastern mythologies, with the game being set in a rural area of Japan. They’re as fun to look at as they are easy to read and immediately understand, which is crucial in learning their patterns. Bosses in particular are a treat for the eyes, with cartoonishly expressive features and inspired looks all around.
The last area of the game’s presentation is the music, which has been completely remade as well. Both the original soundtrack and the remade soundtrack veer on the atmospheric, as opposed to the energized and rock-based tunes you would hear in most bullet hells at the time. While the remixes are mostly faithful, the instrumentation is redone to give each track a greater feeling of depth and weight. It’s something you’ll have to listen to for yourself to get a feel of, but there’s a nice added ‘oomph’ to the new score.
As a remake that plays close to the original, Reshrined’s core gameplay is largely the same as the original game. The big new feature is the addition of the game’s Free Mode, unlocked after clearing the Story Mode once or getting a certain number of coins. In Free Mode, you’re able to take on the game’s stages with whatever character you please, rather than the ones you’re locked into during the main story. While the differences between how these characters play can be subtle, they do make a noticeable difference upon playing stages not originally meant for them. There are a few other unlocks for this mode you can get after getting Free Mode as well, such as an additional character and an extra difficulty setting.
While this mode is well and good in its own right and adds a layer of replay value to the game, I’m baffled by the strange choice to lock multiplayer behind it. The original game was lauded for its couch co-op play, so if you’re hoping to replicate that experience with Reshrined, you’re out of luck. Someone will have to have already cleared the game or taken the time to tediously grind up the coins necessary to unlock it without beating it. Neither option is ideal, and keeping the Story Mode locked to single player for consistent continuity seems unnecessary for a game as narratively unambitious as this.
Though at times it plays things too closely to the original game for its own good, that’s in testament to how rock solid it was to begin with. Even 35 years after the fact, this game is still unlike anything else you’ll find in the bullet hell genre. While the restrictions to multiplayer hold back its fullest potential, Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined is otherwise the golden standard for how to do remakes.
POCKY & ROCKY: RESHRINED IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Natsume for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt