The credit for kickstarting the modern-day music/rhythm game boom that, after a good 7 years, is only now starting to taper off, would have to go to Konami for their Dance Dance Revolution series. A personal favorite of this reviewer, its popularity and rep is well deserved, but after so many iterations, even the most devout fan must wonder: what else is there? And where did it all begin? The pre-dancing heritage of the musical genre becomes fuzzy, its lineage difficult to trace down to a single progenitor…
11 more years in time must we go back before DDR put the groove in games and the phenom in phenomenon, and we find Otocky.
In 1987, from Sedic and ASCII Entertainment Software, the unusual and endearing Otocky was released for the Japan-exclusive Famicom Disk System. While its graphics and sound are those of a standard NES title, Otocky takes advantage of its home peripheral to make some of gaming’s sweetest music ever – with you.
To define the nature of Otocky, I would have to say, in utter paradoxical fashion, that it’s hard to define. The game merges the appeal of making music with a typical, side-scrolling space shooter, where the player is the
quick-reflexed conductor of the exceedingly cute, bulbous-bodied musical instrument – a bright-eyed ship of red, white and blue, with legs and arms. We will assume he is the titular hero and henceforth refer to him as Otocky. As the world scrolls by, Otocky has the ability to acquire different musical instruments, and, using the attack button and the directional button, he fires a springy string of balloons to attack the bubble-like enemies or gather the two different types of powerups -
one, bearing musical notation, to fill up your level progress gauge; the other, with letters, will change your instrument or upgrade your special attack.
It’s the firing that forms the crux of the musical aspect of Otocky, since for every different direction he can fire, a different note is pumped out of the current instrument – be it organ, piano, electronic piano, clarinet… the list is plentiful. The background music serves as a percussion/rhythm track to accompany whatever sounds you make Otocky make, and the resulting effect is music to the player’s ears. Hit the other button, and Otocky will perform a special attack, spewing mini-balls in different, kill-all patterns depending on what powerups you’ve obtained. Whenever you get a whole new note filled, the BGM will change, leading to yet more fun as you mix it up. Once you get enough full music notes – which also requires not getting hit, as that will diminish the gauge toward the next note – Otocky will be warped to a giant, hole-filled, note-shaped boss who’s just begging to be schooled. It’s up to you to pump that sucker full of all the music you’ve amassed till its holes stop spewing enemies at you, which can, despite the absurd-sounding nature of the situation, prove a challenging task.
The best thing to which one can liken Otocky is a killer keyboard, except no matter what you do, Otocky will sound really, really cool. Although the sounds of the instruments themselves are fairly inaccurate approximations (to give you an idea, the clarinet sounds more like an electric guitar), when they’re laid down against the game’s own soundtrack, even button-mashing with total disregard for aiming at incoming enemies will produce an auditory delight. Such negligence of safety measures, however, is not highly recommended, as the game WILL kill you for it. The level will continue indefinitely until you’ve got the ammo needed to beat the boss, so collect anything and everything that bounds or floats your way, and don’t touch the baddies. Your life is only as good as the size of your balls in this game – I’m serious, they shrink whenever you get hit, and if you spin out when they’re at their teeny-weeniest, it’s curtains for Otocky. Such is the only way you can discern your remaining life force, and it forms one of the only complaints I have about the presentation of this game.
Graphics actually take a backseat to sound in importance where a game like this is concerned. But rest assured, the visuals are fine in their own right, although some of the color schemes for level backdrops are a tad on the retina-burning side – not unlike the game Fantasy Zone, with which it shares some similarity in appearance. But compared to that game, Otocky is (thankfully) less colorful, and the blockier visuals are actually easier to distinguish. Extra, extra, EXTRA cute points must be awarded, mind you, for your ability to tilt Otocky around on the title screen and before the level begins.
So all in all, although Otocky might not be the first music game, or an exceptional game, or even a sensible game, it’s a fun game. The Famicom Disk System slept right under our noses… well, a world apart in Japan, but you can easily come by its games, as with most anything nowadays, due to the miracle of the Internet. Thanks, Otocky, for being one of the better cobblestones in the road towards music gaming excellence.
+ Pros: With no learning curve or practice required to become a maestro, Otocky is pure melodic fun right out of the box. No higher a praise can a music game be bestowed than that.
- Cons: Surprisingly, the difficulty of the cutesy game will catch you off guard, especially as each level significantly ramps it up. Slightly longer breaks in the action for longer jam sessions and a more permanent visual cue as to Otocky’s remaining health would have been nice.
Overall: So all in all, although Otocky might not be the first music game, or an exceptional game, or even a sensible game, it’s a fun game. The Famicom Disk System slept right under our noses… well, a world apart in Japan, but you can easily come by its games, as with most anything nowadays, due to the miracle of the Internet. Thanks, Otocky, for being one of the better cobblestones in the road towards music gaming excellence.
Written by Katie Montminy.
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