You ever play a game that’s just… odd, almost to the point of making you uncomfortable? If so, then you’ve probably played the game I’m talking about today, Ai Cho Aniki. It’s viewed as being “gay” and just all kinds of weird. But that’s a very shallow way of looking at the game. Is there anything beneath its sweaty, half-naked-man laden exterior that could be seen as beautiful? Could Ai Cho Aniki just be misunderstood? Could it actually be a brilliant and fun game? I think it’s time we gave this game a chance. It’s 2014, after all! Let’s try new things and new experience. Who knows? You just might like it…
Console: PC Engine Super CD
Publisher: Nippon Computer Systems
Release Year: 1995
The entire Cho Aniki series is notorious for being “gay,” and it’s not hard to see why: It’s teeming with sinewy, half-naked men, phallic imagery offends the eye on practically every screen, and the word “protein” is used an excessively uncomfortable amount of times. I can’t really blame anyone who doesn’t like this series just by looking at the cover. But, for those of you who are secure in your masculinity and measure Japanese-gaming greatness on campiness and absurdity, then Ai Cho Aniki may be the game for you! I know I freaking love this game!
“I’m going to go burn my contacts.” – My wife after I made this picture.
Ai Cho Aniki (ACA) is the second game in the Cho Aniki series, both of which were created by Masaya for the PC Engine, the Japanese counterpart to our TurboGrafx-16. ACA‘s a horizontal Shmup that was released on the Super CD format in 1995, which was the final year any licensed PC Engine software was released. Almost all text is completely in Japanese, as it didn’t get a release elsewhere, and, consequentially, the game has a bit of a language barrier. This really isn’t a problem because it’s an action game with most of the in-game speech spoken in English, but, unless you can read Japanese, you’ll miss out on the game’s plot (which I assume is in the manual) and the text-heavy, picture-less ending.
As you’ve probably gathered, I can neither speak, nor can I read, a word of Japanese. Therefore, I have no idea what ACA‘s plot is. However, I’ve been told “Ai Cho Aniki” roughly translates to “I Love Super Big Brother” or “Super Big Brother Love,” (the latter being rather disturbing) and, thanks to the Wii’s Virtual Console, I know the story to Cho Aniki, ACA‘s predecessor. Basically, Planet Builder, a planet that holds muscular prowess above all else, is running out of protein and decides to rage war on other planets in order to steal their protein and appease their muscles’ needs. Two warriors fight back with the help of Samson and Adon (the two dudes hugging on ACA‘s cover), and the Universe is saved.
The peasants rejoice…with nipple rings!?
Though that doesn’t exactly help me with its sequel’s plot, I can at least make it up as I go, which I did. So here’s my made-up plot synopsis of Ai Cho Aniki:
The Evil Builder Dynasty has been overthrown, and peace has returned to the Universe. Everyone was happy, muscley, sweaty and fabulous again, and the two warriors from the first game got married and went on their honeymoon. All was well, until an evil 20-Story-Tall Woman came during the warriors’ absence and started converting the Muscle Men of Steroidia into boring, unhappy meat heads with her nightly raves, including Adon – Samson’s boyfriend. Now, it’s up to the bulky, perpetually speedo-clad Samson and his gratuitous amounts of protein to stop the Woman, rescue Adon, and win back all the men, restoring them to their former glory!
Meanwhile, in Japan…
Anyway, the plot really doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a Shmup, and Shmups aren’t really coveted for their narrative. They’re known for their fast-paced action and rage-inducing difficulty. So does ACA deliver? By Shmup standards, not really. It’s not even close, actually.
ACA is definitely a Shmup, but it lacks a few essential things that are associated, if not synonymous, with the genre. First and foremost, there’s no rapid fire. You can’t hold down the “Fire” button to continually shoot. Masaya decided that shooting things with a single button was lame. Instead, players need to perform Street Fighter-esque D-pad commands if they want to shoot things, making for some very awkward controls.
Secondly, there are no power-ups. You have the same moveset throughout the game. There are also no options to assist you, and there aren’t different weapons to obtain. It’s just Samson, his muscles, and his glitter versus the world!
Thirdly, it’s slooooow! The game seems to crawl at times. Not only are the enemies slow, but they hardly seem to fight back. Very few enemies fire at you, and most don’t seem to even acknowledge your existence. It’s like they’re doing their morning commute, and then, all of a sudden, some naked dude comes up and shoots a glob of protein in their face (that sentence will make sense soon enough, unfortunately). It just feels wrong attacking them.
Lastly, the game’s easy. Its slow pace and slower enemies make this game a cakewalk. To make things easier, Samson also has a spin move that allows him to pass through solid matter without taking damage. But even with the low difficulty, ACA doesn’t come without its frustrations.
As I mentioned earlier, Masaya decided to utilize Street Fighter D-pad and button combinations in order for Samson to do his moves. This conflicts me. On one hand, this creates the most awkward and unwieldy controls to ever grace a Shmup. But on the other hand, Samson’s moves are some of the greatest attacks in video game history! Straight from the instruction manual, they are as follows (I’ve taken the liberty of naming them):
Samson releases a glob of protein (seriously) from the hole on top of his head. The glob homes and slams into the nearest enemy. This sounds useful (and awful), but it’s firing rate is intolerably slow, and the glob always hits the nearest enemy, making targeting very difficult.
Samson spins around a couple of times with a lustrous flourish! This is how you dodge things in the game because Samson’s too damn big to do any evasive maneuvering. If you flip the Turbo switch up for the I button, you can hold I and go through the entire level without being touched. If there are any consequences for doing this, I haven’t found any.
Samson thrusts his arm towards his assailant and gives them a sprinkling they’ll not soon forget! I estimate the glitter to be at least 1.5 times as powerful as the Happy Homing Man Glob and, in skilled hands, twice as fast. The glitter can be shot above, below, and to the sides and can go through enemies, resulting in hits on multiple targets. This is easily the most practical move in the game.
Samson opens up his arms, releasing a short-ranged sparkle attack. This can be shot to the left and right and is Samson’s most powerful standard attack. However, it’s stupid slow and requires you to be right up on the enemy, which, more often than not, results in you getting hit in return. Not only that, but you’ll accidentally do this instead of Lucky Very Man Glitter about 50% of the time. Simply put, this move sucks. I’d say don’t use it, but you will whether you want to or not.
This is the greatest attack in video game history! Samson flexes his arms, showing off his sculpted pecs and killing everything on the screen. My diagnosis: they die from a combination of jealousy and over exposure to Awesome! In actuality, the move is only as powerful as the glob, but it does hit everything on the screen. And “Death By Flexing” is something everybody should aspire to get on their Death Certificate.
Translation: “This beam is a most honorable killing!”
This is the second greatest attack in video game history! Samson unleashes his entire manly load out of the top of his head in one gigantic beam that spans the screen. It can be shot to the left and right and is the most powerful attack in the game. It does have a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, it has to build up after every shot before it can be shot again. All you have to do is watch the hole on Samson’s head. When it’s glowing at its brightest, then the time has come to release. Premature releasing is not an option for a Man’s Man like Samson, so you have to wait until it’s time. Thankfully, you can do all your other attacks while you’re waiting. Secondly, Samson is very vulnerable while firing. Unleashing the Man Beam takes time, so make sure there aren’t any enemies that can sneak up and get you from behind before you shoot.
I have a quick confession: I have no idea how to do the Man Beam. My tactic is to circle the D-pad 3 or 4 times, stop my thumb in the direction I want to shoot, and press II. About 75% of the time I’ll fire the Man Beam. The other 25%? Happy Man Sparkle-san, of course.
And those are the controls for ACA. They’re unique, and they suck. But they’re not the only thing that sucks in this game. What can really make this game frustrating is the lack of any continues. Here’s a quick screen shot:
The guy in the moon’s name is Adam, and ACA is his debut. He becomes a staple in the franchise and in my heart.
What I want you to notice are the hourglasses at the top of the screen and the little hearts beneath them in the top-left corner. The three hearts represent your life. You have three hits, and then you’re “dead.” When you “die,” instead of restarting the level or from a checkpoint, you respawn right then and there with full life. However, you also lose an hourglass. The hourglasses show how much time you have to play the game. You lose one each time you die, and they deplete gradually as time passes. I don’t know what the hourglasses represent. It’s probably counting down to some sale on speedos or something.
Anyway, the only way to get more hourglasses is by beating a stage, which awards you 3, or by collecting them from some chick that flies down from the top of the screen every so often. If you run out of hourglasses, it’s game over, and there are no continues. It sucks, and it sucks hard. Thankfully, there are only 5 levels in the game, making the blow less painful.
This is my favorite boss in the game. More beautiful than the beloved painting it’s parodying? I like to think someone thinks so…
So, all I’ve mostly written about thus far are the negative things about this game. You’re probably thinking, “I thought he said he loved this game?” Though the game may be too easy and have terrible controls, it also has a plethora of redeeming qualities.
The graphics are pretty great. For a 1995 CD release, the sprites are big, colorful and detailed, many sprites can be seen on-screen at a time, and there’s some nice parallax scrolling, especially in the forest level. And all this without a hint of slowdown, which is a must in any Shmup (Are you listening, Super Nintendo?). But it’s the music that steals the show. It’s just outstanding in both quality and substance, creating the perfect soundtrack to accompany this crazy, abstract, Japanese odyssey. Here’s the first level’s music. It accentuates the game’s campiness perfectly, as does the rest of the soundtrack.
I suppose what really makes this game great is its uniqueness and ridiculousness. There really isn’t any other game like it (excluding its sequels), and I always get a good laugh every time I play it. The enemies are off-the-wall, the attacks are outrageous, and the homo-erotic overtones just add to the humor. I love the atmosphere and mood that the environments and music create, and I love flexing things to death! Despite all its flaws, ACA is fun, and it’s an experience, to say the least.
So let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Ai Cho Aniki gay? I suppose my answer is another question: Who care? Or rather: Does it matter? I guess it does for some people, but not me. To be honest, I don’t think the creators meant for this game to be construed as gay. I view it as a satire on action games. The manlier the men, the manlier the action, right? And what’s manlier than body builders? I think the creators were trying to show that too much virility can be a bad thing. In any case, I’m sure Freud would have fun with this game.
Thanks for your Playing! Have any of you played a weirder game than this? If so, I wanna hear about it! Let me know in the comments below!
It sure is.