Wacky Games of April
A Bazaar of Bizarre Games
on Thursday 23 April 2009
by Areala author list print the content item create pdf file of the content item
in Editorials > Video Game Editorials
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Areala digs up the dirt on some games that left her scratching her head.

While April is almost over and I didn't get a chance to write the joke column for Intelligent Gamer that I had been planning to write (no spoilers; it may show up next year), I figured the least I could do was put together something to make IG's readers scratch their heads and utter a collective "WTF?!" So to this end, I offer up the following video games that are not April Fools jokes but are, in fact, 100% real creations that somebody somewhere was convinced that someone else would spend actual money on.

I've no idea what Enix (creators of the obscenely-popular Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior series) was putting in their employees' cafeteria meals, but it had to have been something utterly mind-bending to have caused their designers to come up with Astronoka. As should be completely obvious from the title, Astronoka is about growing vegetables and protecting them from predators. Yes, you read that correctly: the entire point of this game is to plant seeds and watch them grow while keeping away the ants. When Shigeru Miyamoto looked to his garden for game design ideas, the world got Pikmin. When the designers at Enix did, they just saw a bunch of turnips. In Final Fantasy VII, you could breed Chocobos as a fun(?) and exciting(??) side-game. In Astronoka, you can cross-breed different strains of seeds to see what they produce in the hopes of winning contests like "Growing the Largest Pumpkin" or "Producing A Vegetable That Makes Sounds and Smells." One of those two games listed is a multi-platinum killer app for the Playstation, the other never made it out of Japan. I leave it to your own to struggle out the reason why this is the case and fate cursed and crapped upon the other.

Perhaps hoping to build on the success of Sega's popular Ecco the Dolphin, Sony themselves produced Depth, a game where you play as a dolphin roaming the ocean in search of...um...well, nothing really. For a game with the title of "Depth", it was extremely one-dimensional. There wasn't any sort of story to speak of, and while it was rather interesting and Zen-like to allow your dolphin to roam the entirely blue screen that was "the ocean", there really wasn't anything to do. Well, that's not entirely true...the point of the game was technically to swim around and connect musical notes, stringing them together so that you could make some funky, custom music and then fly through space(!) because that's what dolphins do all day. But with no mazes to navigate, no bosses to fight, no enemies to evade, no friends to be found, no level design except "lots of blue", and no real way to win or lose, "Depth" was almost doomed to sink before it was launched in 1996. (Note: European gamers might recognize this game as "Fluid," which was released in 1998.)

You really have to give Minds-Eye Productions credit for having the gall to proclaim that the video game they had just created boasted a complete lack of artificial intelligence, but made up for it by the inclusion of a staggering amount of virtual stupidity (I am NOT kidding). Sheep was released in 2000, and was touted in the press as being something of a distant cousin to the enormously popular Lemmings series that was popular around ten years earlier. The concept was simple: you were an alien farmer attempting to herd his (or her) alien sheep from point A to point B. Unfortunately for you, between points A and B were all manner of nasty creatures, pitfalls, explosives and other hazards to your health that conspired to pick off your herd one by one. The virtual stupidity came into effect because, naturally, your flock was attracted to each and every single thing that was capable of doing it harm so you really had your work cut out for you if you wanted to complete the level. This is in complete contrast to Lemmings, where they weren't stupid so much as mechanical, marching in the same direction until they encountered something that made them turn around or fall to their deaths. It's certainly worth playing, and it was released for a bargain price back in the day, but be warned: it is truly one of the more frustrating games you can play. Make sure you remove all small children and breakable objects from the house before you attempt Sheep, and you might just keep your sanity intact.

Mainichi Neko Youbi
Long before Nintendo unleashed Nintendogs on the world, Bandai had come up with a similar formula in this game, the title of which translates as "Every Day is Cat Day". The concept of this deep and involving (note: not really) simulation game is that you find and adopt a stray cat with the intention of keeping it alive for the next twenty years, at which point (SPOILERS!) it dies. But unlike Nintendogs, where the gameplay was just really meant to be cute and fun, Mainichi Neko Youbi was deadly serious: if you mistreated your animal or neglected its need for food and milk, the cat would run away from home or even get sick and die. Fun for the whole family, and a great way to explain the concept of serious illness and death to small children. There's a really deep-seated cultural reason why this was never released outside of Japan, but I'm having trouble putting my finger on it.

Za Conveni II: Zenkoku Chain Tenkai da!
The development studio Human really pulled out all the stops to this game, the sequel to Za Conveni. Translated as "The Convenience Store II: Make A National Chain!", your job as manager of the convenience store is to make it grow from a simple corner market into a dominant force in nationwide convenience store retail sales. Essentially, your assignment is to completely take over Japan, prefecture by prefecture, ever expanding your inventory and profits by deciding what to stock where and trying to capitalize on trends when they arise. While this sort of thing wouldn't make you bat an eyelash today in the PC world, which is awash in the likes of Mall Tycoon, Pizza Tycoon, Big Business Tycoon, Deep Sea Tycoon and other wannabe products, back in the mid-90s this was quite honestly one of the most bizarre things you could see in the world of simulations. What gets me is that a game that was basically "Sim Village Pantry" managed to sell enough copies to leave no doubt in the minds of management of the financial viability of a sequel. I bet Wil Wright is still kicking himself for not thinking of this idea first. Then again...maybe not.

Poy Poy
Konami's answer to Bomberman's multi-player hijinx was this game, only instead of playing as robots, you played as stark-raving nutcases who were thrown together in a sparsely-decorated arena filled with rocks, logs, and explosives with which you are to set upon one another until only one of you is left standing. While this may sound entirely too easy, there are additional hazards such as rampaging dinosaurs and homicidal androids that wander through the playing field making life miserable for everyone involved. It's a great party game, especially if you can find three like-minded sociopaths to enjoy it with, but it clearly stands as one of the weirdest games to ever see the light of day.

It never ceases to amaze me what game designers can come up with when faced with a truly off-the-wall theme. Of course, we all have to remember that not every designer is Miyamoto, Wright, or Romero. Come to think of it, though, maybe that's a good thing...

Around our house, "Every Few Years is Bury a Pet Day". I'm running out of room to stuff the bodies. Fortunately, so far they've been of the smallish variety. I'd prefer to keep it that way, never having bought any large earth-moving equipment.
Current tally:
1 dog
2 cats
2 hedgehogs
1 iguana (a real shame as I hear that once they are large enough to get some real meat on their bones, they're quite tasty)

[ Comment by GPP Mk7 :: 21 May : 18:52 ]

The descriptions for the games are funny in a sarcastic way. There are a couple of titles there that I've never heard of before.

[ Comment by KasumiKiss :: 15 Aug : 21:22 ]

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