Take Arnold Schwarzenegger. Careful, don’t mess the hair. Dress him in full tough-guy Terminator regalia: cool shades, black leather jacket, and even some pants — unless you want some major manliness flopping about. Hand him a gatling gun (loaded), some manner of experimental jetpack, then toss him into a sidescrolling shooter and let him wreak havoc with burly Arnold gun and brawny Arnold fists. Sounds pretty cool, right? Toss in a twin brother (no, not Danny Devito) for some two-player simultaneous action. If you’ve played Forgotten Worlds, you have some idea what I’m getting at here. Basically, I’m talking an airborne Contra, with multi-directional attacks and hand-to-hand combat.
Nice idea, but that’s not quite what NCS-Masaya, the folks behind the fantasy strategy game Langrisser, had in mind. What was their idea? First, tear off all Arnold’s clothes — even the jetblack shades. Go ahead and slip on a dainty thong; no need to anger the prudish censors. Next, break out the electric razor, shaving away ALL of his body hair! Don’t let Arnold hide his bone-bald head (the one atop his shoulders) in shame, because you’ll be needing to drill in there. Grab the power tools, bore a gaping hole straight through his skull, and Voila! Meet SAMSON and ADON, the bold and beautiful masculine, ripped, hole-headed protagonists of Ai Cho Aniki (adorably translated as Love! Super Big Brother).
Now, if you had a huge gaping hole in the top of your head, what would you do with it? Would you adorn it with an attractive beret? Or perhaps even cram a brain somewhere in there?
HEAVENS NO! Stop thinking for yourself and just let the Langrisser people do their thing. The buff, empty-headed twin bodybuilders in Ai Cho Aniki use those holes for a variety of far more useful ends than as mere braincases. First and foremost, the head’s orifice serves as a point of discharge for blazing balls of light, the heroes’ primary means of eliminating phallic fish and Bare Naked Men.
Another use for the hole? As shown in the opening cinema, one of the bodybuilders (Samson — he’s the one wearing the thong) attentively prunes some flowery houseplants that are sprouting from his loincloth-clad partner’s cranial vase.
The shrubbery has nothing to do with the game. It’s just there. The major use for the odd little orifice is to crush opposition and incite lamentation. However, the homing orbs of light that drip from the hole are rather slow and puny, often requiring three or more blasts to take down opponents. That’s where strength comes in — there’s a reason that Adon and Samson are ripped to the limit!
Flex to the right, flex to the left, flex up, flex down, flex flex flex! With each showcase of steroid power, enemies will EXPLODE in awe of such muscular magnificence. Pump those pecs to build up testosterone, and eventually you’ll release a climactic stream of pure, white . . . light . . . incinerating walking venus mantraps, butterfly-men, and airships (operated by naked engineers), while capricious carnival medleys and fast-paced dance numbers pipe through the speakers.
With eight or so special Flex Attacks, there are plenty of methods for mayhem. At first, some of these seem a bit difficult to manage. To launch a Stream of Shooting Stars to the right, you have to press Left, Right, then Button II. Nothing too complex (just like a thong-clad Guile’s sonic boom), but still not a sequence that lends itself to repeated use in a shooter. The developers must have caught this during playtesting, because if you hold Button II, you can then just tap left/right, left/right, and launch stream after stream of Shooting Stars! As you discover such nuances, things become much easier to handle.
If you still have trouble fighting while avoiding shiny bullets, don’t fret! Samson and Adon aren’t just bodybuilders — they’re trained in nude ballet! Tap the other button, and your adept alter-ego performs a pirouette. While twirling, any bullets or oncoming enemies will simply slide off his oily, nearly-naked body. This might sound dumb: “Can’t you just spin through the whole damn game?” SILENCE! Stop questioning the Langrisser people! There’s a time limit — you must kill a set number of foes to end each stage, and if you waste that precious time tra-la-la spinning in circles, you’ll never kill anything. You’ve got to be offensive, but being able to dodge compensates for the main characters’ ridiculously huge size.
Take the Cosmic Ballroom, for example. See those two naked men holding hands on the rolling iceblock? Yeah, you could try to shoot them down with your Sexy Shots. But being fairly large, the Masters of the Nudie-Dance can take a lot of pounding before they collapse. However, if you shoot the lovers as they approach, then spin as they crash into you and fire a Shooting Star up their backsides, then you’ll beat them down Big Brother style. All while listening to a remarkable (for many reasons) CD soundtrack.
Carnival and techno ditties are only the beginning. Fly through the parallax-laden Redwood forest (trees with faces!) and listen to Gregorian-style chants in the background (“Aaaaa-ni-kiiiiii”). The mid-boss is the fancy type of foe you’d expect to see in a Treasure title: a Robin Hood lookalike surrounded by a spinning sphere of shrubbery. Twirl to avoid his vicious Autumn-colored leaves, and lash back with muscular spasms — accentuated by sharp, masculine grunts (a stark contrast to the vocal operatic piece flowing from the speakers). There’s track after track of excellent, diverse music here, and it all fits the unusual mood.
And of course, there’s no shortage of skin in Ai Cho Aniki. There’s enough flesh here for a thousand fantasies! …not that I fantasize about mens’ flesh, or anything. All four levels — each made up of three stages — are decked out in steroid-buff graphical, musical, and creative glory. It would have been nice to visit a few more locales, but the underwater swim, the city streets, and the asteroid belt left me sated.
One logical question remains: “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???”
It would be easy to write this off as “lol Japan”. The enemies are often sexually suggestive, and the hole-headed heroes in this exciting game are clearly phallic . . . not that the phallus (human or otherwise) particularly excites me. In fact, nothing would bore me more than to see male genitalia everywhere I turn, be it mixed in with the supermarket zucchini, flopping across the boss’s desk, or subliminally inserted into mainstream motion pictures. But here, it’s cool, funny, and refreshing.
Refreshing? Yep. Ai Cho Aniki may be quirky and filled with innuendo, but it’s also a celebration of male beauty, disguised as a beat-em-up/shooter hybrid. Sure, that sounds a little strange, and it’s funny to see in action, but that’s because we’re not used to seeing such things — especially not in the sexy-babe, big-breasted world of videogames. This time around, it’s a hunky-dude, big-chested world. Ai Cho Aniki is absolutely one-of-a-kind, and that alone gives me reason to hang onto it. That and the “Happy Headlock” cover art of Samson and Adon holding each other . . . just don’t let judgmental friends see it.
DO THE MUSCLE!!