Have you ever wondered what kind of fantastical dreams would glide and glimmer through your burning mind if you were given a huge dose of psychoactive drugs and then put to work in a sewage treatment plant? Of course you haven't, you're far too normal and decent for that kind of nonsense. I only ask because I'm pretty goddamn sure that this experiment took place in 1992 in Japan. The test subject's wild delusions were recorded, analysed and eventually turned into a videogame: Media Ring's PC Engine / Turbografx-16 shooter Toilet Kids.
Every time I write that title I feel like I'm being placed on some government watchlist, a feeling that's only going to get stronger as I tell you that the game starts with a small boy going to the toilet in the middle of the night.
Something about his effluent displeases the angry spirits of the porcelain throne. Too much undigested corn, perhaps, or maybe retribution for the kid's refusal to lift the seat. Whatever the reason, a jet of water knocks the young tyke into the bowl... and then you're suddenly playing a vertically-scrolling shooter.
And that's about as much sense as you're going to get out of Toilet Kids, frankly. It's not a game designed to make you think deep questions, or marvel at the advances of entertainment technology, or even to provide a fun and challenging gameplay experience. It's just a long stream of toilet humour in the form of a scrolling shooter. If nothing else, you have to admire it for its single-minded dedication to its theme.
Gameplay wise, it's nothing special. It's basic, even: you've got one button to fire a shot forwards that is effective against enemies in the air. You can charge it up for a larger, spread-pattern attack. There's a button to drop bombs, which you can aim with the reticule that appears in front of you. If you want anything else, tough luck: Toilet Kids doesn't even feature a power-up system (except the occasional screen-clearing smart bomb you can collect), it only has four stages, and the only other gameplay mechanic of note is that if you bomb enough of the golden turds that have been... deposited throughout the game, you get an extra life. If it wasn't for its unusual aesthetic theme, it'd be the shooter equivalent of a supermarket's own-brand budget good. Tesco Value Videogame, if you will.
But it does have a theme, and Toilet Kids' obsession with excreta manifests itself most plainly in the many enemies that are trying to kill you. Not with bullets of rocket or laser swords, but with shit, piss and the odd ball of snot. In the first stage alone there are tortoises with shit for shells, artillery-style toilets that fire surface-to-air crap missiles at you, and farting beetles. However, the most disturbing enemy is pictured above. You see those things on the right? Those are penises. Flying, severed penises that zoom around the sky, trying to kill a child by urinating on them. That is literally something that happens in this game. Not only that, but if you compare them to the size of the player's character these dicks must be three feet long at least. I would feel inadequate, but as long as my tackle isn't flying around like the Red Baron I'm happy.
The stage's mid-boss is three spiders who have the faces of pigs and the fat arse of a plumber rooting around under a sink. The loss of their spinnerettes and their replacement with (presumably) human anuses doesn't seem to bother them any, which shows a pretty goddamn high level of adaptability. I'm not sure I'd be able to cope if my anus suddenly became a silk-generating gland.
Once they're dead, the stage continues on in much the same way. More enemies, more gleaming piles of golden poop and more shit flying around than a food fight at a coprophile's dinner party. This pattern is the same throughout the game, with fairly long levels that include a mid-boss and a final boss.
Stage one's boss is, surprisingly, barely scatological at all. It's a giant, stoned-looking dragonfly with a snout that fires deadly snot bubbles at you. Honestly, it's something of a relief to only be dealing with mucus. When he's defeated, you get a "stage clear" screen, gain an extra life and move on.
I presume stage two is set in Africa: after all, it does include lions, hippos and shit-flinging gorillas. I'll let them off with the gorillas. Gorillas are known for flinging their shit around. It's the second thing people think of when they hear the word "gorilla" after "King Kong". Less well know is the habit that gazelles have of turning around, pointing their disturbingly carefully-rendered backsides into the air and firing three deadly poopballs in a spread pattern. You'd think they'd use it against lions.
Also, there are huge turds covered in flies everywhere, a feature that has been strangely absent from any nature documentary I've ever seen.
Midboss time, and I think the developers reached the peak of their insanity here. It's a helicopter with a human ass and legs grafted on to the front. I'd like to have been in the meeting when that was proposed: "Yeah, a human ass. No, no, just stuck on the front. Because then, yeah, it can attack with rockets and farts at the same time!"
The main boss is poor old Ganesha, pulled away from his godly duties to help destroy this poor kid. According to Wikipedia, Ganesha is revered as "the Remover of Obstacles", which seems fitting for a game about clearing out your alimentary canal.
Stage three is an underwater kingdom filled with crabs with butts and the world's worst mermaids: in a rare case of Japan removing tentacles from something, they're squid on the top and human in the leg region. Luckily, there are no flying penises for the crabs to latch on to in this stage.
The mid-boss is a submarine made from a Japanese squat toilet. Yawn, how very gauche.
A special mention goes to these little fish. Like real fish, they poop in long strands; unlike real fish crap these bars then travel slowly down the screen, acting as obstacles and taking several hits to destroy. Strangely, these fish are the only enemies that seem to be having any kind of difficulty in producing their weaponised crap. Maybe they should put in a call to Ganesha.
The boss is a purple whale with two perfectly-coiled dumps for eyes. He is also extremely happy, you know, just like things with shit where their eyes should be aren't.
The final stage has an Egyptian theme, and once again I'm basing this on the local fauna. You don't get camels with shit for humps in Sweden, now do you? Oh, and all the pyramids. They're covered in shit, too. Everything is. Toilet Kids is clearly the work of a sick mind. When I was a kid I enjoyed a good poop joke as much as anyone, and I'll still laugh at them today, but even at my most immature I'd have found this constant barrage of faeces tiresome.
There's also some interesting relics of an ancient shit-based civilisation, like this statue of a mysterious man. He's got what looks like some Arabic written on his loincloth, so if anyone knows if that text actually says anything, please send me a translation at vgjunk(at)hotmail.co.uk. EDIT: shockingly enough, it apparently says "toilet". Thanks to elieattie for that!
"I pronounce you... Pharaoh Poopankhamun! Unless you're female, in which case it's Cleocraptra."
We're nearing the end as the final mid-boss appears. It's a pair of fish, once again made of Japanese toilets. At least these guys are sort of cute, and considering they appear right before the final boss they're pretty easy to defeat, too.
And here is the final boss, the Great King of Unpy. No, I have no idea why he's called that. What I do know is that he represents a sudden and violent difficulty spike that makes this battle feel like bullshit, appropriately enough. He constantly drops exploding shitbombs as well as firing lighting from his navel, and to make matters worse you can only hurt him with the short-ranged bomb attack. Still, it could have been worse: I was expecting some kind of giant prolapsed anus that attacked with powerful streams of diarrhoea, so I am at least glad to have been spared that. If you managed to defeat him, then congratulations, you've completed Toilet Kids.
The God of Underpants (no, really) shows up in the ending and explains that he had been trapped by King Unpy. Now that you've freed him, he can grant you the power of underpants, freeing you from the tyranny of diapers and allowing you to grow up. Then, Underpants God tells you that you'll meet again, setting the scene for a sequel set eighty years hence and based around geriatric incontinence.
This would seem to suggest that Toilet Kids was designed as some kind of aid to potty training. If that is the case, then it backfired pretty fucking spectacularly. The only two things that kids are going to take away from this is that sitting on the big-boy toilet can see you getting sucked into a nightmarish otherworld where you're attacked by flying penises, and that the slightest physical contact with any faecal matter will result in your instant death.
The PC Engine is home to a lot of a shooters with a wide variety of strange themes - for instance, I wrote about Hana Taaka Daka?! a while back, and that game is all about testicles (and Freddy Kreuger), but I think Toilet Kids is the weirdest of the lot. The scatological theme is a great example of the differences between Japanese and Western attitudes to this kind of thing: the only comparable game in the west that I can think of off the top of my head is Boogerman, and that most certainly did not feature flying dicks. The sad truth is that for all its weirdness, Toilet Kids just isn't that good a game. It's not terrible, but really the only thing that's above average is the music. In the end it's an interesting entry in the long, long list of bizarre videogames, as well as a great example of how not to potty train children, but as something to actually play it's not really worth your time.
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