I've read theories that the reason so much anime is set in high school is because the crushing reality of Japanese working life is so miserable that for many Japanese people their school days actually were the best days of their lives. What a depressing thought. Anyway, here's a pink-haired schoolgirl with eyes the size of a dump-truck's hubcaps, and she's sure to make you forget the misery of your adult life as I take you through Jaleco's 1994 Super Famicom title Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen!
Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen is based on an anime series. Some elements of the title screen may have clued you in to this fact. The series in question is rather unsurprisingly called Kingyo Chuuihou, which means Goldfish Warning, and as I far as I can gather from some half-hearted internet investigation the plot is that a rich girl is send to a rural highschool full of idiots and weirdoes. Rich girl tries to bring culture and decency to Barnyard High or whatever it's called, comedy hi-jinks ensure, etcetera, etcetera.
Oh, and the rich girl also has a pet goldfish that can fly and talk. Presumably the title Goldfish Warning refers to the fact that if you can hear a flying pink goldfish talking to you it's a warning that you should get some psychological help.
Despite not really knowing what I was doing, I managed to correctly press enough buttons to reach the character select screen. You can choose from three standard anime girls, two anime boys (one with sunglasses that cover 90% of his face) and an angry cow because why not? Cows need secondary education too. Just one look tells you that the cow is the school's tough guy with a heart of gold.
I chose the pink-haired girl, whose name is Wapiko, as my character, and the blonde and the angry cow as my opponents. I refuse to believe there is anyone out there who didn't include the cow in some capacity the first time they played this game.
I might have been somewhat disparaging about the characters being the most bog-standard of brightly-haired, saucer-eyed anime schoolgirls, but this is really some pretty nice art - crisp, colourful and with the nice addition of that poster on the left-hand side that was obviously written by animals. Yeah, it all sounds whimsical and fun now, but just wait until you're assigned a group project and your partners are a cow and a chicken. You can kiss that A goodbye, farmyard animals have a very poor work ethic.
Huh, I would have expected the angry cow to be sat at the back of the class like a proper delinquent. Anyway, Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen is a collection of competitive minigames, sort of like Mario Party but with travelling around a board replaced with making it through three years of high school. As the classroom setting suggests the minigames are (very loosely) based on school subjects, and after three-to-six minigames a semester, three semesters a year for three years, a winner is crowned. Can I guide my pink-haired avatar to victory over the posh blonde and the angry cow, accumulating enough points along the way to win what I'm sure will be a very grand prize at the end of it all? Of course I can! Yeah! I can do anything!
Well, except read Japanese, which is unfortunate when a sizeable portion of the minigames are these Japanese-language quizzes. Taking a cue from my real-life approach to academia I decided to blag it and throw myself upon the mercies of the multiple choice questions with a series of wild guesses, and it worked out surprisingly well. It helped that the pressure of this event was clearly too much for the cow to handle, and he kept leaping in with an answer even before all four possible answers had been revealed. In his panic the cow almost always answers incorrectly, eliminating a possible choice and increasing my chances of guessing correctly from 25% to 33%. I even won a few of the quiz rounds this way, but hopefully I'll be able to conquer the rest of the minigames by actually having a bloody clue what I'm doing.
Hey look, it's Puyo Puyo. I definitely know how that works. Pairs of blocks fall in from the top of the screen, place two matching blocks next to each other and they'll disappear. In this first puzzle round it's as simple as matching the same shapes, but things get more complicated in later iterations when you have to match capitals letters with their lower-case equivalents, or combine two single-digit numbers that add up to ten, or this variation that it took me a while to figure out:
Internet descriptions of Kingyo Chuuiho! Tobidase! Game Gakuen led me to believe there would be much less reading than this. I eventually figured out that in this instance you have to match the colour of the blocks but the character written on them have to be different. By the time I realised this, the cow had already reached the hundred points required to win. In fact, I didn't win any of the falling block stages. I think I spent too long trying to build big chain combo, which is pointless in such a stripped-down version of the Puyo Puyo formula. Plus I think that cow was cheating.
Finally, some raw action. For the science lesson (hey, I said they were loosely based on school subjects) you take the controls of a stubby red spaceship and fly through an organic fleshscape, shooting germs and avoiding the white blood cells that fall down the screen. Gain points for shooting germs, lose points if a white blood cell collides with your ship. It should all be straightforward, but the shooter scenes aren't as much fun as they could be thanks to the overly-busy and cramped gameplay. You can see in the screenshot above that all three player's ships are piled on top of one another, which makes it difficult to tell exactly where you are and subsequently makes it very difficult to dodge anything. That's why I've got zero points in that screenshot - well, that and it seems I'm just really bad at scrolling shooters, no matter the platform, speed or general level of cutesiness.
The sting of my shooter-related inadequacies is soothed somewhat by the music. It's one of my favourites from a soundtrack of unexpected quality, as well as the one that best sums up the slightly unusual nature of Kingyo Chuuihou's score - sunny and cheerful but with a slightly weird edge, which in this case I'd put down to that thrumming bass sound that feels as though it's wandered in from a different, far more threatening track.
After each semester there's a brief scene where you have to pick from one of three mystery cards. The cards are then flipped over, and you receive a points bonus or penalty depending on the card you picked. I think. All I can say for certain is that my character seems very pleased to have uncovered a picture of a blonde woman while the cow is furious that he's stuck with some guitar-playing kid standing on a mountain. I can't say I blame him, look at that kid's eyes. I can't tell if he's supposed to be wearing really thick glasses or if the animeization process has been taken to its terrifying extreme.
Next up, a bit of track and field. Do you make your character run by alternately hammering the A and B buttons as fast as you can? Of course you do. If you've got a better way to make a videogame character run fast I'd like to hear it.No, really, I would. My thumbs are killing me, swollen and red like a baboon's arse.
You also have to press up on the pad to jump over these cats, otherwise you won't get any points. I know this because the first few times I did I I trampled those cats into the ground beneath my whirling cartoon feet. In fairness, I was distracted by the cows in the background. I know those are probably supposed to be nose rings, but I can't see them as anything but fat gold chains.
Here you have to complete the picture by picking up the missing pieces from the selection at the bottom of the screen and dropping them into the appropriate gap. I almost messed this one up because I spent too much time pondering how a goldfish could possibly wear a bow-tie - I eventually came to the conclusion that there are magnets involved - but I somehow managed to come out on top despite the fact my character felt like she was wading through treacle for the whole event. I put my success down to all those art lessons at school where they taught me to walk across the room, pick up a picture and put it down somewhere else.
Hone your reflexes in this next minigame, because as the teacher plinks away at the piano one of the buttons will be displayed on screen. Be the first to press that button and you'll score five points, press it too slowly and you'll only get two, don't press it at all and you'll get no points but at least you won't suffer the embarrassment of being placed centre-stage with nothing but a tambourine to play. No one chooses to watch the tambourinist, but at least the audience are making and effort to enjoy this performance of that famous staple of the classical repertoire "Grieg's Piano Concerto Plus Three Guys With Tambourines."
I'm enjoying it too, because for all its simplicity this is one of the more enjoyable minigames even if the sluggish speed of my reactions only serves to remind me that the yawning void of the grave draws ever closer.
Okay, what I think is happening here is this - the characters participate in some kind of RPG. You choose some food from a grid at the start, and that seems to determine your stats. Then you fight some monsters.
Beyond that, I have no idea what's going on and to be honest I don't care. The cow is dressed as a vampire now, that's all that matters. I shall call him Count Beefula, and he will suffer the agony of a thousand stake / steak jokes.
Your memory is also put to the test with a friendly game of "dig up the flags of the world's nations that have been buried under these paving slabs." Granted, it could do with a catchier title, but that's what you're doing here - a flag is displayed and you have to find a match hidden under one of these bricks. The challenge comes from remembering the grid's layout, because it doesn't change and obviously knowing where each flag is gives you a significant advantage. Or you could just do it my way and randomly uncover blocks until you find the right flag.
A later variant of this game replaces the bricks with ice and the flags with words, words that are thankfully in English but are missing one letter. In the example above I clearly should have gotten the points for completing the word "goon" but apparently that's not the specific word the gaggle of shifty-eyed penguins had demanded, and so I received nothing but an appropriately icy stare.
Sweet, some football action. Now I'm back in my comfort zone. Penalty kicks are the order of business here, and you get three attempts to score goals by kicking the ball either to the left, right or down the middle. Once your three shots are up you take your place in the goal and try to save you opponent's shots. Having two goalkeepers might seem like it gives the defending team a substantial advantage, but that's only because it does. Still, I managed to score three out of three penalties despite facing two keepers as well as the added disadvantage of having this guy staring out at me the whole time.
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then this weirdo has a pair of patio doors looking out onto a dark and eerie desert. And what the hell is that animal supposed to be? Smug cat-rabbit? This whole scene is getting a little too sinister for me, on to the next game.
Oh no, he's back? Well, at least this time I get to shoot him as this is another of the shoot-em-up-sections. This time you have to shoot the filthy and barbaric English letters he shouts at you so that they turn into glorious, pure Japanese characters which you can then collect for points. He's also in a UFO, which goes some way to explaining his enormous eyes if you assume he's a grey alien wearing the skin of a human face as a mask.
Not content with saving the Earth from space invasions, the characters of Kingyo Chuuihou are ecologically-minded enough to spend their spare time cleaning up the beaches. The waves roll in and bring with them rubbish that can be collected for points, as well as beach balls that you can throw at your opponents, stunning them momentarily and reducing their score. Get to close to the waves and you'll be dragged out to sea and docked a chunk of your score, so don't so that.
This is one of the most enjoyable events, thanks in no small part to the decision-making aspect. Do you rush to collect the garbage and therefore the points, or do you head for the balls in order to slow the opposition down and cancel out their hard work? I mean, I always go for the latter option because I'm kind of a dick, but the choice is there and that's the important thing.
Back into space now as this school's position as a rural, run-down establishment is revealed to be a lie - they've got orbital space-lasers, and those things don't come cheap. Maybe the cow's father / ranch owner is obscenely wealthy and has donated vast sums of money to the school. I imagine it'd take quite a substantial bribe to get grazing cattle enrolled.
This is another fun one, your mission being to figure out which part of the Earth the giant monster is attacking by checking the top-right window, and then firing a laser from your satellite to destroy it. Because the Earth is rotating you have to lead your target a little, and it's generally best to wait for your competitors to have a go, wait for them to miss and then use what you have witnessed to produce an accurate shot.
The final type of minigame is kinda like Bomberman but without the indestructible blocks: a mysterious man places bombs in the room, and you have to avoid the explosions and strike the bombs to send them towards your opponents. Five hits and you're out, last person standing takes the points. Another fun and hectic round, and it seems that Kingyo Chuuihou has saved the best minigames for the end. Well, mostly, there are still plenty of quizzes even at this late stage.
After thirty-six minigames, mainly quizzes and Tetris variants and with mercifully few finger-destroying button mashers, the high school days of these three individuals have come to an end. I have the most points, and therefore I win. Let's hope this is the Japanese version of UCAS, because I surely have enough points to be accepted by the most prestigious universities in the land. Just don't tell them that I got most of these points by randomly guessing at quiz answers and being relatively good at non-regulation football penalties.
My reward for victory is a diploma. I guess that means my character is an adult now. A pink-haired midget dressed as a sailor, but an adult none-the-less. Sadly, the angry cow came last, and now his future comes down to either working at McDonalds or being a McDonalds.
As this is a a Jaleco game I am probably guilty of judging it before I'd even started - average with the occasional flash of something more interesting is the Jaleco way, after all, and that's a good description for Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen. For once, though, part of that is down to me for not speaking Japanese and for being an antisocial shut-it. I get the impression that played with friends and with a full grasp of the language this would be a neat little party-game title, enlivened by some excellent graphics and music, like this track that plays during the quizzes.
If, unlike me, you have both friends and a working knowledge of Japanese, then you could probably squeeze a fair amount of enjoyment out of Kingyo Chuuihou! Tobidase! Game Gakuen, and even if you don't it's still a pleasant spectacle. And hey, you can play as an angry cow! You don't get that in your Grand Theft Auto V's, now do you? Saints Row, maybe, but not GTA.