The release of Cho Aniki on the Virtual Console is the first time this PC-Engine side-scrolling shoot’em-up is available for purchase outside of Japan. I remember reading about it nearly 20 years ago now in EGM and raising an eyebrow given the game’s subject matter: big muscled men.
Indeed, this weird Japanese game is all about bodybuilders in Speedos. The story: an Emperor who achieved ten consecutive victories in the Great Galaxy Bodybuilding contest faces an ever decreasing supply of protein and starts invading neighboring star systems in order to replenish his supply. Your own planet is in peril and so you fly out in space and start shooting.
As you can guess, the whole appeal of the game is the novelty of playing a bodybuilder-themed shmup to then be able to tell friends: “let me tell you about this messed up game I played” and then discuss how crazy the Japanese are.
And so initially, I was disappointed by the relative lack of bodybuilders and generally just how tame the levels were. Sure, a wacky circus-like music played during boss. Sure, the music is weird and full of voice samples. Sure, you fight giant chess pieces and floating guys wearing helmets 10 times their size. Sure, your ship’s options are cherubs or muscled men that shoot “manbeams” out of a hole on the top of their head.
But perhaps due to being exposed to really weird stuff on the internet, I was expecting something even crazier. I was expecting to guffaw constantly at whatever new off-the-wall crap the game threw at me. Instead, I was… kind of bored.
I kept playing, however, and something happened: I discovered a decent shmup beyond that disappointing not-so-wackiness. The mechanic of releasing a powerful beam when you let go of the autofire button is an interesting one and adds some strategy to the game. I also appreciated the 3 levels of difficulty, with an easy setting that meant this would be a shmup I can actually finish. And upon completion I actually got an ending, and not a “now try the normal difficulty” message. Thank you, NCS.
There are some problems, however. First, the game is pretty bad at giving players feedback. Sometimes you’ll shoot enemies and they won’t flash, therefore you won’t have any way of knowing if you’re actually hurting it or not. And as you keep collecting power-ups, you have little indication that you’re actually getting stronger.
Also, you can press the - button to toggle your speed, but there are seven different speeds, and it is simply not possible in the heat of the action to let go of the shoot button or directional pad long enough to cycle through them.
In the end, those looking for a weird off-the-wall game may be disappointed, but still find an okay shooter. Shmups are a dime a dozen on the Virtual Console, however, and while you could do worse, you could also do a lot better. Shmup novices will appreciate the reasonable challenge the game presents, but even then it is hard to recommend the game to those gamers due to the 900 pt. price tag.
It doesn't build up when you don't shoot, it gets released when you stop shooting.
Yeah, I found myself kinda enjoying it past the 3rd level or so (out of 5). Plus, the muscled men show up pretty late in the game. That's when I got what I paid for. Now I'm half considering getting Cho Aniki Zero on the PSPgo, probably once it's on sale.
About the manbeams, it's even funnier when you consider that when you pick the girl as your playable character, she shoots a splashwave or something (I need to check the manual again, but it sounded so overtly sexual...).