Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Urusei Yatsura: Endless Summer Review

I've had a weak spot for Urusei Yatsura as a TV series and manga ever since I first encountered it through the fan video tape trading groups in 1990 and '91. It's a fun, silly series, and I like the character designs. So, when I saw that Bic Camera had a used copy of a UY game for the Gameboy DS, I kept an eye on it hoping that the price would come down from 1,300 yen to 950 yen (about $10 USD). A week ago, UY: Endless Summer (2005) showed up in the 950 yen bin, but still had the 1,300 yen price tag. I was hoping that Bic had forgotten to change the price, but the clerk pointed out that the sign says "From 950" yen.  Heck, if that was the case, every single game in the store should go into that bin. But, since I already had it in my hand, I bought it anyway. It's just that I know better now, and I won't make that mistake again if I see something in the 950 yen bin that isn't specifically marked at 950 yen.

(Title screen with Ryuunosuke and her father.)

I've decided to use both of my cameras to compare the difference in image quality between the Canon PowerShot pocket camera and the new Nikon CoolPix. And yeah, there's a pretty noticeable difference. Anyway, Endless Summer is a "girl capture" game (or in the words of Ataru Moroboshi, "girl hunt"). The idea is that Lum wants Ataru to fall in love with her, so she's using her family's UFO tech to build a super simulation game. You play Ataru as he's being run in Lum's sim over the course of August during summer vacation. The day is split up into 5 parts, morning through night, and the clock is advanced whenever you enter a building or talk to someone. So, you wake up in the morning, and if you talk to Lum, then when you finish talking it's now noon. Enter your house, and even if no one is there, it's now afternoon. At midnight, Ataru automatically goes to bed and wakes up the next day.

The goal is to increase the affection levels of each of the six or so main female characters (Shinobu, Lum, Sakura, Yuki, Benten, Ryuunosuke and Ran) by talking to them, picking them during some of the key events in the game, or giving them presents you receive when talking to all the other characters from the series. As you do this, you can unlock 6 minigames, pictures of the manga covers, key CG images, and pictures of the girls wearing different outfits. While you only get one play on the minigames within the story, you can go to the Extras screen when you first turn the game on and play the minigames as much as you like once they're unlocked The two I've played so far each have 5 difficulty levels, and beating the game's default high score on each level will unlock more illustrations.

(Sakura, modeling one of the presents she received.)

So far, it's a frustrating game. I'm not good at dating sims, and a lot of the gifts you need to get from other characters seem to be handed out at random (and I can't find a good online walkthrough). There are 5 districts on the main map (home, school, shrine, Mendo's estate, the beach), and an average of 3 houses or buildings you can visit in each. Most of the time, the buildings are empty, and characters stand out on the street where you can see them. The conversations tend to be the same throughout the day, and there's little connection between what one character says, and the next one you talk to, even if the first one mentions the second one. That is, if Lum says she's looking for Sakura, finding and talking to Sakura next doesn't cause anything special to happen.

Overall, the artwork is great, and I do still love the character designs. But, there's no way to skip long dialogs, or events that only have one outcome. There are about 5 big days on the calendar - a school outing that turns into a murder mystery on Friday the 13th, a remedial study day when Ataru gets attacked by a giant cicada, a day at the beach, and an Obon festival. Some of these big events allow you to pick who to share the event with, with up to 12 combinations in one case. So, it's best to save the game the night before that event day, take notes of which choices you've taken so far, save the game the next day to register any specials you may have unlocked, then power cycle the GameBoy to replay that event day again with the next set of selections.

(City map, with a close-up of Ataru's home neighborhood, at night.)

This is a fun game in small doses, but after a while the randomness in getting presents makes it feel like I'm spinning my wheels on it. So far, I've finished it twice, and Lum is still angry that Ataru hasn't fallen for her. That is, I haven't found any of the true endings yet. Plus, while I've unlocked all of the manga covers, I still have at least 80% of the other stuff that I haven't unlocked yet.

(Conversation mode, with Lum.)

One of the "features" of the game is the "touch system". Generally, when you're talking with someone, you progress the conversation by pressing the X button. But, you can tap the character with the stylus. The hot spots are the head, chest and hands. Where you touch, and who, can result in radically different responses. Although, in most cases it's the same - the character boots you to the moon. I'm not sure yet if the touch system impacts the presents you can get from anyone.

(Conversation mode with Mendo.)

Endless Summer is only available in Japanese, kind of limiting it's marketing appeal. On the other hand, I'd only recommend it to hardcore fans of the series, anyway. I give it a B.

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