23/08/2011

HACHOO!

Today's game is brought to you by the Council for the Promulgation of Obvious Jokes, and that game is Jaleco's 1989 chuck-em-up Hachoo! Gesundheit!

Somewhere in ancient China, a demon is very, very slowly being released from the statue that he's trapped within. A group of kung-fu students sit around discussing the problem until their master picks the most inexplicably Caucasian of them to go on a quest to defeat the demon. At least, I think that's the story: there aren't any words to go with the pictures.

I actually quite like the wordless intro, despite feeling a little cheated out of a potential cavalcade of poorly-translated nonsense. Armed with the knowledge that a statue is slowly crumbling somewhere, as well as a natty set of pyjamas, our unnamed Aryan hero sets out to right wrongs and ride clouds.

Hachoo isn't named after the sound of a sneeze, but rather it's a representation of a Bruce Lee-style kung-fu cry, like Fist of the North Star's "Wataaah!". You've probably already figured out that Hachoo is a beat-em-up of some kind, your deductions aided by the fact that there are very few racing or puzzle games starring kung-fu masters, and indeed it is a beat-em-up... but with a twist!
It's a pretty rubbish twist, though. The controls are basic enough; there's one button to attack, with our hero either throwing a punch or a kick depending on whether you press a direction or not. There's a jump button (although you can't perform a jumping attack), and that's it. However, punching and kicking will only get you so far in Hachoo. What you really want to be doing is throwing the enemies around like a pitching machine that has gained sentience after being hit by lightning and has dedicated its new life to battling evil, and I'll be right back to finish this article after I pitch this idea to various Hollywood execs.

Nobody wanted to read my script for The Wacky Adventures of Pitchbot 5000, the philistines. While you can kill enemies with your standard strikes, throwing is a far more expedient manoeuvre. You can instantly kill enemies by throwing them off the terrain or into pools of water / lava, and as you can see in the screenshot above you can also throw them into the screen. That's Hachoo's gimmick in a nutshell; you can see the faces of your defeated foes pressed up against the glass of your monitor. Baldy up there got away fairly lightly, but some enemies are a dispatched a little more gruesomely:

As I'm sure you're all aware, kung-fu tournament rules state that an enemy whose eyeballs have fallen out is disqualified. And blind.

That's all there is to Hachoo, really. Walk around throwing guys off a cliff, yadda yadda. This would be fine except the gameplay is a bit rubbish, which is mostly down to the sub-par collision detection. There's a very narrow margin for error when trying to get on the same plane as your opponents: if you're not on exactly the same level as them, your attacks will sail right past them. Even if you are on their exact plane, half the time your punches will go straight through their target, and in the end ninety-five percent of your blows will connect with nothing but thin air.

Even the throwing mechanism has issues. It seems that most enemies require a bit of a beating before you can pick them up, but there's no indication of how much damage you've done to them and if they're ready for a good chucking. This leads to a lot of instances of walking over to an enemy, expecting to throw them and getting a smack in the mouth for your troubles. Presumably to make up for this, Jaleco threw in a little fan service when you throw the female enemies.

The rest of the enemies don't get undressed when you throw them, so either she's wearing clothes made of tissue paper or our hero has learnt some kind of "disrobing throw" technique.

Graphically, Hachoo is not bad for a game released in 1989 - the character animation is a bit jerky, but the sprites themselves are decent and the backgrounds are good, with some nice parallax scrolling. I love parallax scrolling, you know. Judging by the style of the characters, I'd say that Hachoo's designer also worked on Jaleco's (superior) spectre-em-up Avenging Spirit.

Sadly, the stages themselves don't show much imagination, following as they do a standard clifftop-cave-temple structure, and the bosses aren't particularly interesting, either. Well, the lizardmen aren't bad.

But they're lizardmen, so you would hope they're more interesting than the basic kung-fu troopers. As for the final boss, let’s see how our old friend the statue-demon is doing:

"Curse this rubble that is resting gently against my feet and holding my demonic powers in check! I'll destroy you as soon as I can clear this debris, Hachoo hero!"
Actually, he won't. You see, you don’t get to fight the demon, because apparently statues are much better cosmic prisons than you might have guessed and poor old Destruktorr or whatever his name is never quite manages to wriggle free.

Instead you fight an unnamed wizard, who is presumably behind the demon's escape attempt. Don't let his staff and his pointy hat fool you - he knows about as much real magic as Uri Geller does. His only attack is to summon enemies into the room, which just about qualifies him for a position working as an announcer calling people to the checkout in a supermarket. Once you dispatched enough of his goons he kindly lets you throw him, and in splattering an old man into the screen the world is saved and the demon's statue reassembles itself.

Wow. That loincloth deserves some sort of medal. Hachoo is now finished, and our vandal of a "hero" burns the temple to the ground whilst you enjoy a slideshow of the various enemies being thrown into the camera.

A short article, because Hachoo is a short game with not much going for it. The gameplay is a ropey and often frustrating, especially when you can't quite hit the enemies despite your foot passing through their heads, or when you accidentally press jump and our hero leaps to his doom, or during any of the occasional (and mercifully short) sections where you have to do a little platforming. Still, the graphics aren't bad and some of the music is pretty good, especially the first stage theme which to me sounds like an extended Deep Purple solo. The throwing gimmick... well, it's interesting for a short while, but it quickly becomes tiresome when every time you throw and enemy, you have to stand around waiting for the animation to finish. But wait! With my discovery of Riot City and its position as the world's most average beat-em-up, I have a handy benchmark to measure Hachoo against. So, is Hachoo better than Riot City? No - not in terms of gameplay, at least. While it does shows slightly more invention than RC, the poor gameplay drags it down and in the end, I can't really recommend it. And that's Hachoo! I shall see you all later, but for now I'm off to work on my script for Pitchbot 2: Operation Human Enslavement.

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