There are some games I play on my PC Engine that just boggle my mind. The PCE is known for its weird and quirky games, but there’s a particular game that’s in a league of its own. Oh, the quirkiness is there, but it’s not the same kind of strangeness found in most bizarre, Japan-only releases. The game’s bonkers; there’s no debating that. However, this game severely lacks that “Japanese” feel. In fact, the game doesn’t even take place in Japan at all. The good Ol’ US of A is where our hero resides, and everything about this game caters toward Western sensibilities. Sure, there’s tons of wacky shit going on throughout, but it’s all in a context that the average cheeseburger-eating American can easily relate. This raises the question, “Why wasn’t it released in the West?” The TurboGrafx-16 was starving for games over here, and I doubt translation would have been very difficult or time-consuming. Well, after playing through the game, the answer to that question becomes hilariously clear: it’s teeming with Copyright Infringements. Ladies and gentlemen, I extend an invitation for you to join me on the insane, copyright law-shattering trip that is… Gekisha Boy.
Console: PC Engine
Release Year: 1992
Before I get started, I just wanted to say that this was a very “meta” review for me. The game revolves around Photograph Guy (I can’t read Japanese, so that’s what I call him) going to specific locations and photographing all the weird shit going down. For this review, I had to take screen caps of the stuff about which I wanted to talk. So, in essence, I was taking pictures of a game about taking pictures.
Gekisha Boy is a platform-like HuCard game released by Irem way back in 1992. Irem is probably best known for R-Type, but they have some pretty decent platform-esque titles under their belts, such as Hammerin’ Hero, Metal Storm, and Legend of Hero Tonma. Gekisha Boy is probably my favorite game from the company, mostly because it’s balls-to-the-wall fucking daffy. From its signature character design to its spontaneous and unpredictable situations to its blatant disregard for copyright laws, Gekisha Boy tickles my fancy in only the way something imported from Japan can.
So, what’s Photograph Boy’s, PG for short, motivation? Why is he out amid all this ridiculousness taking pictures? It’s simple, really. Using my limited (read: zero) knowledge of the written Japanese language, I have discerned, by looking at the still shots in the opening, that PG’s parents have died, probably due to trauma caused by PG taking lame pictures or something. Now, it’s up to PG to redeem himself by taking kick ass pictures to avenge his parents’ deaths and restore honor to his family.
Gekisha Boy is sort of a platformer, but pigeonholing it is doing it a disservice. Though it does start out looking like a typical platformer, it quickly tosses that formula out the window. PG is on the left of the screen, and he advances right to complete a level. There’s also some jumping involved to avoid hazards, but there are no chasms to hop over or platforms to navigate, whatsoever; each level is a straight shot. Being a PCE game, there are only two buttons in which you need to concern yourself. Button I jumps, and Button II shoots pictures. Keep the turbo switches down and you’ll be just fine. The D-Pad moves both PG and the camera’s crosshairs simultaneously, and that’s where the game gets tricky.
In the above picture, you can see PG stalking about uncomfortably. Below him you can find your score and the amount of film you have left (in this instance, 10 rolls). If you look around the middle of the screen you’ll see your camera’s crosshairs. Moving PG in any direction will move the crosshairs in the same direction, except the crosshairs can move all over the screen. This makes for some awkward gameplay, especially for a generation of gamers who’ve been raised on dual analogue sticks. This control scheme isn’t unmanageable, but it can lead to some frustration. Sometimes moving to a safe position will force you to miss getting precious points, like when I was trying to capture the Moai from Gradius.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t power-ups to be had. By taking pictures of certain things, orange power-up boxes will drop for you to collect. Boxes with numbers on them increase your film count by the number indicated, boxes with SPD increase the speed at which your crosshairs travel, and boxes with a crosshairs make your crosshairs larger, making picture taking much easier and lucrative.
Now that the game is afoot, one must know the rules, and the rules to Gekisha Boy are simple:
1.) Take pictures of things to get points. Do this by placing your crosshairs over something and pressing Button II.
2.) You pass a level by getting a predetermined amount of points by the level’s end. This quota is given to you by the editor before the level begins. It’s easy to find because it’ll be the only thing he says that you’ll understand.
3.) More points are rewarded if you take pictures of cool things or pictures of cool things failing.
Acquiring the points to finish the level isn’t exactly about just getting the best shots. You have to make it to the level’s goal, and there’s a ton of crap for you to avoid. Depending on the level, you could be dodging bouncing balls, paper airplanes, garbage, crabs, arrows, skateboards, and all kinds of random junk on the street. Avoiding can be done simply by jumping over the junk or taking its picture, which makes it disappear for some reason. Because video games, that’s why!
You’ll definitely want to avoid all this junk. Every time you get hit you lose 5 rolls of film. Considering you only start each level with 10 rolls, 1 roll is consumed every time you take a picture, and zero rolls equals game over, this is devastating. To add insult to injury, after getting hit and losing film, you become stunned momentarily and can’t snap pictures. This is extremely frustrating when the perfect shot of the DeLorean can’t be snapped because you’re still dizzy from getting hit by a basketball.
And, yes, that’s most definitely the DeLorean from Back to the Future, but more on unlicensed IPs later.
The presentation is very impressive for an 8-bit HuCard game. As is standard for PCE games, it’s very colorful, the sprites are nice and well-defined, and there’s no slowdown. But, it’s the game’s art style that gives it a lot of charm and personality. I love the constant barrage of over-the-top situations surrounding you, and the character models remind me a lot of Nickelodeon’sDoug, one of my favorite cartoons as a little kid. However, I do find it rather odd how Black people are depicted in the 2nd level, which I’ve dubbed the “Ghetto Level.” It’s “unfortunate,” to put it mildly. Here. I’ll let you be the judge.
Why the developers decided that this is what Black Americans look like is beyond me. I’m thinking a Black person did something to the lead character designer and pissed him/her off. Maybe he was mugged by a black person? Perhaps an African American stole his car? Or maybe some Black people were being too loud at the theater? Hey, don’t look at me like I’m the racist. I didn’t make the game. I’m just throwing out some hypotheticals in order to gain some insight. They did make Michael Jackson look good, though.
Racism aside, Gekisha Boy is still a great game. Too bad it’s super short. There are only 9 levels, 8 of which are auto-scrolling. The 9th level? Some stupid-ass Whack-A-Mole game you play with the editor. Not a good way to end such a unique and hilarious game.
Normally, I’m not a fan of auto-scrolling levels, but it actually suits this game very well. It adds to the hectic nature of the game, which in turn compounds the lack of control you feel while playing. This lack of control isn’t a terrible thing; in fact, it adds much to the game’s theme. You’re a guy trying to capture the best shot, and by keeping pressure on the player, it can make shots much more difficult to get. Memorizing levels is a must in this game, but it’s not too overbearing. Each level is only about 5 minutes long, so the game definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Gekisha Boy is one of my favorite games on the PCE and should be played by any gamer who doesn’t mind a little frustration and loves a spectacle. It’s a quick ride, but the sights you’ll see on your way are worth the time and effort. It’s the kind of game that you want to play just to see what will happen next, and I guarantee you’ll be laughing a great majority of the time.
And, now, without further interruption, I leave you with a compilation of all the pictures I’ve taken that I’m sure are breaking all manners of copyright laws. I don’t know if I found everything in the game, so feel free to let me know if you’ve found anything exciting that I may have missed. Enjoy!
T-800 isn’t very photogenic.