The Asian Weird


Observe! My right hand rests on a stack of Bibles. A polygraph cuff encircles my left arm. My brainwaves are being audited by noted psychic Raoul Mitgong. So as you read about these surpassingly unlikely Asian electronic games, keep in mind I am not making this up. These games actually exist and are, or have been, actually for sale to the public – but only in Asia.

Boong-Ga Boong-Ga (“Spank ‘Em Spank ‘Em”)
Year: 2001
Category: Proctology simulator
In this coin-op arcade game from Korean publisher Taff Systems, you jam a finger-like plastic nozzle up into a recess between a pair of jeans-clad buttocks. Onscreen, you choose a dislikable butt-owner – “Ex Girlfriend, Ex Boyfriend, Gangster, Mother-In-Law, Gold Digger, Prostitute, Child Molester, Con Artist” – and watch him or her react in anguish to each thrust. “The funny face expressions will make people laugh and relieve stress,” says a Korean sales brochure. “After detecting your power with a sensor, a card will come out. It will explain your sexual behavior.”

How well did Boong-Ga penetrate the market? Not too deep. The following year (2002), Taff Systems pulled out and lined up a contract to design a Vulcan Automatic Cannon Simulator for South Korea’s Infantry School of the Army. In 2003, Taff sold a majority of its shares to Korean netbiz firm NeoWiz, which said it would refocus on “game development based on more stable management foundation.”

Roommania #203
Year: 2000
Category: Roommate coaching
From Sega of Japan, a game that casts you as a heavenly emissary sent down to straighten out the life of college kid Neji Taihei (Japanese for “terrible screw”). By clicking around his apartment, you get him to wash, iron, clean the room, bleach his hair, and converse with friends and even (wow!) a girl. Roommania #203 was weird until The Sims became a megahit, whereupon this game became retroactively ordinary.

Cambrian QTs (cuties)
Year: 2004
Category: Sailor Moon meets Burgess Shale
If you were devising a unifying theme for a Magical-Girl anime knockoff about venturesome young things fighting evil, the first place you’d turn for inspiration would be – yes! say it with me! – Cambrian-Era fossils! Cambrian QTs beat you to it. Originally a one-page manga strip in the overstuffed monthly Japanese anime magazine Megami, Cambrian QTs became a webcomic, then a PS2 game from Global A Entertainment.

The leader of the group, the Nice Girl archetype, is Princess Karis, a derivation of Anomalocaris. Golly, aren’t she and her friends cute? – I mean, aside from the tentacle feet and the tentacle hair-hands and the bulb-tipped demon-mouthed tails. A machine translation of the Japanese website offers this lucid backstory:

“From now before approximately 530,000,000 years, the living thing of the puzzle which inhabits in the Cambrian period. Already those which are the expectation which is exterminated, were accidentally discovered in the last year south Pacific Ocean, just the female among those succeeded in merchandising as a pet.”

The game is sort of “Tamagotchi meets Sea-Monkeys,” with the difference that QTs are Tamagotchis you can, uh, date:

“Using voice kindly, if you raise, you understand the word of the human eventually, you reach the point where it [the QT] can enjoy also date.”

The Large Beauty
Year: 2004
Category: Woman of Mass Destruction
In this PlayStation 2 “scramble action game” from D3 Publishing, you send tanks, choppers, and fighter planes to attack a bikini-clad babe. It’s a fair fight because she’s 48 meters tall. Peter Jackson, are you listening? Japan has your next Kong right here!

Cho Aniki (“Super Big Brother”)
Year: 1992-2003
Category: Homoerotic platform shooters
For weeks, I’ve tried to write jokes about the Cho Aniki games. Ultimately all commentary pales. Here is a plain summary: In Ai Cho Aniki (“Love! Super Big Brother!”), the sequel to the 1992 Turbografix side-scrolling shooter that started the series, you control a thong-clad flying bodybuilder, Samson, who fires white blobs of fluid from the top of his bald head. He fights onrushing legions of huge bald musclemen, as well as the occasional fairy with her boat of thonged men. Samson can also sprinkle enemies with fairy dust.

Ai Cho Aniki‘s cult popularity spawned (if that’s the word I want) 1995’s Cho Aniki Bakaretsu Rantou Hen for the Super Famicom (i.e., Super Nintendo). This Street Fighter imitation starred Samson, as well as Botei (a pink berserker in a thong), Mami 19 (a phallic pink aircraft), and Sabu (a flying Elvis cyborg-ship, complete with dancing geisha). Backgrounds include a field of daisies and a church filled with giant purple men doing squat thrusts.

Next was Cho Aniki Kyukyoku Otokonogyakushu, another side-scroller, this time for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. This 1996 game, now quite rare, uses animated digitized photos of live actors, which means some real person actually had to act like Samson. In the game, bodybuilders ride other bodybuilders upside-down like pogo sticks. One enigmatic screenshot shows a human pyramid of thong-clad Japanese men.

The most recent entry (if that’s the word I want) is 2003’s Cho Aniki Seinaru Protein Densetsu (“Legend of the Holy Protein”) for the PS2. You play a legendary blob of protein that can confer a perfect build on a bodybuilder with a perfect heart. Your two favorite candidates, Samson and his special friend Adon, shield you as you shoot construction workers, shark-men, and others who desire the ultimate body. Salvaging protein from defeated enemies, you increase Samson and Adon’s “Men’s Gauge” power. If you max out their Men’s Symbol, they let loose a stream of, uh, manhood.

Did I mention I’m not making this up?

Familiar Weirdness
This list is Asia-only, but some strange Japanese games have made it to America. In years past you may have seen Akira Sato’s Mister Mosquito (buzz around and suck blood from the innocent Yamada family) and Yoot Saito’s Seaman (raise a bad-tempered human-faced fish to adulthood). And you’ve at least heard of Masaya Matsuura’s rap-music simulator Parappa the Rapper, right?

Of course, the reigning Champion of Odd is Keita Takahashi’s Katamari Damacy. In this PlayStation 2 game, a little-bitty alien Prince of the Cosmos rolls everything in the world into a gigantic ball to create new stars. The original Katamari sold okay by odd-game standards – over 150,000 copies in Japan and over 120,000 in America – prompting publisher Namco to issue a new sequel, We Love Katamari.

What’s next, weird-wise? Hard to tell. On April Fool’s Day 2004, Sony Japan announced a forthcoming Happiness Controller, where you supposedly must make 100 people happy, including a businessman, a bar hostess, a manga artist, and other despondent types. (What about writers on deadline? That could work.) From the GamePro preview:

“You take on the role of the controller, distributing happiness that is shown by either a heart or skull mark. If a person is very happy, the player can “suck” some of that person’s happiness (or sadness) and give it to some unhappy sod by rapidly hitting the circle button. When over 71 people are happy, a 101st person appears, whose mission is to do nothing else than making others miserable […] When the 101st Rastafarian guy attacks, the game enters a mini-game mode where the player fends off attacks by rapidly hitting the circle button.”

Great screenshots, but Sony still hasn’t published the game, and it’s not yet clear this morale-building exercise is anything but a joke.

Strange Virtue
Is weirdness worthwhile in itself? Though Katamari has passionate fans, most of the games in this article are more fun to read about than to play. Obviously, everyone wants every game to be good, but if you had to balance Conventional-Good and Weird-But-Only-Sort-of-Okay, how would you set the proportions?

A certain seasoning of oddness probably helps keep a field healthy. Offbeat games can indicate new gameplay or new potential in existing forms. If nothing else, playing these games can expand your horizons. Once you play a side-scroller with fey bodybuilders shooting white globules at enemy proteins, you may justly say, “Well, now I know anything’s possible.”

More to the point, an authentic quality of strangeness can help a game survive, at least in memory. In a field that routinely bulldozes its past into the afterlife landfill of dead platforms and abandonware sites, weirdness can linger. It marks that quality that is rare and valuable in any creative field: an individual perspective.

Writer and futurist Bruce Sterling made a famous speech at the 1991 Computer Game Developers Conference, subversively titled “The Wonderful Power of Storytelling” (a “power” the speech derides and debunks):

“Follow your weird, ladies and gentlemen. Forget trying to pass for normal. Follow your geekdom. Embrace your nerditude. In the immortal words of Lafcadio Hearn, a geek of incredible obscurity whose work is still in print after a hundred years, “woo the muse of the odd.” […]

You may be a geek, you may have geek written all over you; you should aim to be one geek they’ll never forget. Don’t aim to be civilized. Don’t hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird. Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird and don’t do it halfway, put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it. […] Working seriously, improving your taste and perception and understanding, knowing what you are and where you came from, not only improves your work in the present, but gives you a chance of influencing the future and links you to the best work of the past.”

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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