Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker (Under the Skin)

Hiroyuki Kobayashi's "Itazura" game is a riot.


The Lowdown

Pros: A unique game that maintains a good sense of humor.
Cons: Few stages and a limited number of pranks means you can see everything the game has to offer really fast.

Purchase at Play-Asia
The creator of Viewtiful Joe made a big splash in the console gaming world with the stylish game. Hiroyuki Kobayashi's latest product, Meiwaku Seijin is just as creative. The game puts you in the shoes of a tiny blue alien called Kozumi. To prove his manhood *ahem* alienhood he must complete the traditional rite of passage for aliens of his age. His planet isn't a violent one that conquers galaxies, its a comical one that likes playing pranks on people. Kozumi flies to a strange planet, that just happens to be Earth, with the goal of causing as much chaos as he can.

On Earth people don't react to blue aliens with open arms. Kozumi needs to assume the guise of another human being to pull pranks off. At the start of each level Kozumi assumes the form of a random person in the stage. Kozumi can capture an extra human by pressing the X button to shoot his laser beam. He can change into the new human by running underneath one of the moving spaceships. Each person that Kozumi assumes has five different pranks to use. You can rotate different pranks by pressing L1 or R1 and execute pranks by pressing circle. When Kozumi pulls a prank off like singing terribly, dropping tacks by peoples feet or turning into a giant superhero alien people drop coins. You can chain pranks, by timing them one after another, to make people drop even more coins.

Collecting coins is the games way of assessing if you've completed a level or not. The first level, CoCo Town has Kozumi collect 500 coins in a ten minute time limit. In the Casino level you compete against a rival alien to see who can get the most coins in the ten minute time span. The Resident Evil inspired Raccoon City level, makes players drain all of the coins from Nemesis in ten minutes. The Raccoon City level gives you an extra alien on your side to help you out. There are a couple of other levels that include a western level and a haunted house area complete with zombies! Besides different goals each level has occupational hazards. There are rival aliens that pull pranks on Kozumi, grim reapers that chase you in the haunted house level and a robber that steals coins from Kozumi in the casino level. Pulling pranks has its own hazards too, if you annoy people too much they'll chase Kozumi's human form down and hit him. After two hits Kozumi will lose his human "skin" and revert back into an alien. When he switches into an alien he drops a lot of hard earned coins and can't pull any pranks. Players will need to take the heat off Kozumi by constantly changing human forms.

The variety of stages and the variety of pranks is what makes Panic Maker such a fun experience. In what other game can you throw pies at a casino waitress, exorcize zombies and use spring loaded punching gloves to knock people into walls? The quirkiness of "Under the Skin" goes far. The lack of levels and the inevitable lack of pranks doesn't. With only eight levels Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker is a short playthrough. There are three levels of difficulty to complete, but what gives the game the most replay value is its two player mode. In the versus mode you and your friend can select from a number of different aliens and stages. Each time you beat a stage you'll unlock that stage and alien for use in two player mode. Competing against a friend to see who get the most coins is pretty entertaining. There's just something satisfying about calling a Tyrannosaurus Rex to chase down another player. The pranks are so ridiculous, that make them more enjoyable with a friend.

Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker sticks with a graphical style similar to Viewtiful Joe. You have cel-shaded sprites with some real weird cartoon animation. Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker good use of bright colors adds to the cartoon detail of the game. All of these things complement Kozumi's cartoon style and cute looks. Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker has some really good art direction. Dark and dreary Raccoon City makes a great translation into the style of Under the Skin. There is a decent amount of voice acting in Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker. You'll see clips before every level explaining what hazards are there and what goals are present. You also have a couple of movies with Kozumi, that feature the game's quirky humor.

Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker offers something new and something different for gamers that are tired of blowing up monsters or jumping over bottomless pits. Is this game going to create a whole new genre of "Itazura" (Japanese for prank) games? Maybe, but even if it doesn't Under the Skin can hold its own ground against other big name titles.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 3

You can enjoy the gameplay without any language knowledge and the game is simple enough to play without the instruction book. However, you will miss out on mission goals and the quirky humor if you don't know any Japanese.

US Bound?

Meiwaku Seijin: Panic Maker has a planned US release for October 26.

Overall

Capcom's latest innovation of a prank game is something fresh, something fun and something people of all ages can enjoy. Now if it was just a little longer, it would be more than a diversion.