Pocky and Rocky was the first game I rented for SNES, so it seemed a good as place as any to start. The game is very Japanese insofar as it borrows lots of elements from Japanese culture. As a kid, this was lost on me and I just assumed it was some fantasy world made up for the purpose of the game. I’ve never been to Japan myself, so I can’t say for certain it actually exists. Part of me believes that any country that has vending machines that sell panties or crane games where you can win live lobsters can only be an elaborate fiction created by a government conspiracy.
The game boasts a two-player cooperative mode so a buddy and I played through as much as we could in one sitting. We were also drinking Sapporo. This wasn’t a misguided attempt at a crash course in Japanese culture. It was simply the shit I had in the fridge.
P&R is a top down shooter; players move and shoot in eight directions. Mechanically, the game exists in a weird space between vertical shooters like 1942 and top down arena shooters like Robotron or Smash TV. Unlike the former, players are not constantly moving toward the top of the screen and can backtrack to some extent and unlike the latter players can only shoot in the direction they are facing. Although this seems logical, it means it is impossible to move in one direction and attack in another. This becomes especially frustrating when there are tons of projectiles flying around and you can barely catch a break to line up a shot so you can kill whatever is responsible for the continuous volley.
As the title suggests, the game features the adventure of two characters named Pocky and Rocky. Players play as Pocky, a Shinto priestess, or Rocky, a bipedal racoon. The two characters play almost identically with a few differences. Pocky throws cards as her main attack while Rocky throws leaves to dispatch foes (y’know, like a real raccoon). Each character has a melee attack that also deflects projectiles. For Pocky, she swings a stick—which we continuously referred to as her “Shinto stick”—and Rocky swings his tail. Depending on the size of enemy, this is often hysterical because it looks like Rocky is besting his foes by lightly dusting their crotches. Each character also has a unique special attack: Pocky swings her Shinto stick and becomes a whirling dervish and Rocky turns into an immobile but invincible statue (y’know, like a real raccoon).
The story is simple enough: in the middle of her priestess duties, local sad sack Rocky raccoon interrupts Pocky to inform her that the local Napino goblins are on the rampage, and, quite frankly, being a bunch of dicks.
For the record, googling “Napino goblins” only results in references to this game. We felt it sounded like an antiquated racial slur, not unlike how “squarehead” was once used to refer to Scandavian immigrants.
As explained in the pre-game cinematic, this happened once before and Pocky cured them by giving them a stern talking to.
The two set out to knock some sense into the goblins and after delivering their unique brand of feudal street justice, the goblins explain they were not acting of their own accord and were under the influence of a man named Black Mantle. The two go off in search of him and that’s the gist of it.
16-bit plots for non-role playing games were often more a mechanism to connect stages than to serve as compelling narrative devices. Pocky and Rocky is a stellar example of this.
This is not to say the simple story is any sort of deficiency. Except for being unable to shoot and move in different directions, the game is mechanically sound. Enemies are varied, each stage is visually distinct and the difficulty scales nicely. The game is short, only 6 stages long, but length was never a selling point for shooters like P&R; games like P&R were always about replayability. Between reflecting projectiles with melee strikes and being able to slide headfirst Pete Rose-style to avoid danger, the game avoids being a pattern memorizing run-and-gun-affair.
Check out some gameplay below.