There are 2 things which are guaranteed to skyrocket my excitement: SNES game remasters and Tengo Project. Not only have they brought back some of my favorite SNES games to modern consoles, but also they’ve done so in a way that is respectful to their legacy and improved for modern audiences. To this day, Wild Guns Reloaded remains a game that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone willing to listen. Now it’s time to add another SNES classic: Pocky & Rocky.
I’ll admit that I didn’t play much of the original Pocky & Rocky, but I definitely put a lot of hours into the sequel Pocky & Rocky 2! There was something about the game that charmed me from a young age. Between the gameplay, the crazy boss designs and the raccoon Rocky, I was glued to my seat from start to finish. Now it’s 2022 and I have a different seat, but let’s see if the glue still holds.
Developer: Tengo Project
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: June 24, 2022
Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a top down multi-directional shooter where you have total control over your movement. Unlike other shmups where the screen scrolls by itself, Pocky & Rocky gives you the opportunity to move at your own pace.
Every stage has its own particular obstacles that need to be overcome, but not everything is a threat. You will also find items to increase your power, secret chests with 1-ups and even seemingly pointless characters that transform into a sage which will let you play an item roulette.
In Pocky & Rocky you play as Pocky, a shrine maiden on a quest to stop Black Mantle. The entire game draws heavy inspiration from Japanese folklore in both environments and enemies.
Most of this thematic flew over my head when I was a little kid, but now that I’m an adult with knowledge about these ancient creatures and demons I can appreciate the flavor of the game even more. Like knowing that the silly tortoise is actually a kappa.
Even better when you realize just how beautiful the pixel art is for this game! While already being par for the course, Tengo Project’s way of upgrading old SNES graphics is as wonderful as with previous games. Pocky & Rocky is incredible to look at and it would be amazing if this game was just a remaster, but it is much more than that!
There’s one question which needs to be answered before continuing this review, and that’s whether Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a remake or a remaster. To answer that question we just need to look back at Tengo Project’s previous work. Just like Wild Guns Reloaded, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined builds upon what the base game offered, but with a modern additions. You will recognize the stages and the enemies, but they’re not quite the same. The best way I can put it is that it’s the game you remember through rose-tinted glasses. It might look the same but it’s not, it’s better.
Or at least that’s the idea until you reach level 3. At this point, it diverges wildly from the original game. Although there are callbacks to the original stages, the way the plot continues and the way stages are presented delivers a unique way of re-experiencing the game! Rather than being a definitive version, it becomes an entirely new entry in the series.
And you can definitely tell that they had fun re-imagining the game! With each passing stage the encounters and bosses become even more extraordinary, with the final battle being one of the best encounters I’ve experienced in a while!
Pocky & Rocky & ….
One of the biggest changes is that there are more playable characters this time around. The full cast rounds up at 5 different characters. The story mode does a good job at slowly introducing them. Rather than playing the entire game with a single character, different stages will be played with different characters depending on the story. But if you prefer to play as a single character all the way through, then you can do so in the Free Mode!
What’s intriguing is that the characters are not just re-skins, but rather they all play in completely different ways! Pocky & Rocky play in the same way as you remember them, but the new additions are where things get a bit more creative. Hotaru Gozen plays as a melee character using a naginata to poke enemies in close range. Lady Uzume floats over pits and water and also has 2 options that can be moved around. Each of them have specific play styles that give it a very welcome dose of variety to a classic game.
Freedom in combat
What makes Pocky & Rocky stand out from classic shmups is the freedom of movement it provides. Most shmups are auto-scrollers where you slowly traverse a stage and defeat enemies as you go along. In Pocky & Rocky you don’t have the auto-scrolling element, so you are free to travel the stage at your own pace. You can backtrack to a certain degree, but for the most part sections becomes unavailable after you pass them.
Just like your movement, the freedom extends to your attacks as well. Rather then firing straight ahead, this game feature an 8-directional fire. Enemies will appear from all sides, so there needs to be more finesse to your offense as you tackle threats from every direction.
By rapidly pressing the shoot button you can also activate a special attack that is unique to every character. Its usage is different for every character, further cementing the unique play style they offer. For example, Pocky will summon mirrors that target enemies when you attack them, while Rocky becomes able to shoot and strafe for a period of time.
Despite sounding like an additional layer of complexity, it is this 8-way shooting and movement that makes Pocky & Rocky a unique shooting experience.
Purifying the enemies
Despite all the positives about the freedom of movement, I gotta say that moving is incredibly slow. You cannot fly in between projectiles or dodge at the last minute. Instead, this game equips you with a reflect and a dash.
Reflecting is your main way of dealing with projectiles. By pressing the B button you reflect enemy projectiles back at their source. Even though you can’t reflect every projectile, you can still reflect most of them. Every character also has a unique action they can perform by charging the reflect button. For example, Pocky summons a reflective barrier while Rocky turns into an invincible tanuki statue.
If it’s distance you want, then dashing is the way! Dashing will send you flying a fixed distance rapidly. It’s good when you need to reposition, but it also takes some practice as the set distance could send you running into an enemy if you’re not careful. Dashing doesn’t give you any invincibility like most games, so you gotta mindful about dashing. Lady Uzume is the only one with invincibility in her dashes.
New game, old gameplay
Despite the offensive and defensive options present in this game, the gameplay overall feels a little outdated. Depending on the situation, there is a mixture annoyance in enemy patterns, sluggish movement or a lack of precision.
The main culprits in my opinion are the shooting and the dashing. Shooting is married to movement, so it is impossible to move in a direction and aim in a different unless you’re Rocky. This lack of strafing certainly plays a key role in the design of the game, but that’s part of what makes it feel a little outdated. Even worse if that there is a very minor degree of strafing present. If you shoot in a direction and switch directions, you will shoot for a very brief time in the previous direction before turning around. This means you can’t strafe, but you can’t do quick movements either. The worst of both worlds.
For dashing I feel a severe disconnect to what I’ve been used to in modern gaming. I’ll admit that this is more of a personal gripe, but it just feels too weird to not have any invincibility on a dash. It wouldn’t be too bad if you had some sort of control over the distance you dash. As a result, the effectiveness of dashes is severely reduced and they are only viable if the path to one of 8 static points around your character is clear. I would have loved to see at least some form of control over the distance by holding the button, but most likely this is a result of respecting the source material.
Watch for Yōkais!
Another thing that stood out to me was how some of the enemies are over-aggressive. They will home in on your position or appear next to you. For the most part, it’s one of those things that will catch you off-guard on your first playthrough. Over time you learn to be more careful and mindful of your own steps.
This, of course, ends up slowing the pace of the game dramatically as you carefully draw the attention of the enemies one at a time. I wish there was a way to get a better flow of the game, but its own mechanics are what forces a slower pace if you want to be safe.
Nonetheless, the more you play the more you realize that every enemy was designed with a counter tactic in mind. While I can’t speak too much for the original game, I can say that this intentionality does leave a great taste! I can always stand by a game that doesn’t devolve into unwinnable situations, but rather has a clear way to beat the game without being touched.
The game modes
In terms of ways of playing the game, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined doesn’t offer much more than the basics. You can either play the story mode or play the free mode with 1 or 2 players.
The story mode will take you through all the stages to experience the story of the game. Unlike arcade experiences, you can save your progress between stages, so you don’t need to beat the game in one sitting. You can also retry if you run out of lives! This is definitely the way to experience the game if you are a first time player (or even a returning player because free mode is unlocked by beating story mode).
Free mode is where you will most likely spend the rest of your time in the game. In here you can play through all the 8 stages, one after the other, with a character of your choice. You can pick the difficulty and have fun! However, you can’t save your progress, so you have to make your runs count. Thankfully the game isn’t too long, with an average playthrough taking ~50 minutes.
I want to take a moment to discuss hard mode. Even though I played it and 1CC the game on my first try, I didn’t really enjoy it. There’s more enemies and they take longer to kill. Also, some of them return fire upon dying like Ikaruga. As a result, I just felt like it took a slow game and made it slower. Some bosses and mini bosses had new attacks, which were much welcome, but sadly the experience as a whole didn’t feel better. Pocky & Rocky isn’t a hard game anyway, as I was able to 1CC both difficulties on my very first playthroughs.
If you’re looking to play Pocky & Rocky, but you aren’t a fan of digital releases, then you can rest easy knowing that there is a physical version of Reshrined available to purchase. ININ games will be responsible for the boxed version in Europe, so if you are a collector then you definitely want this in your gaming shelves.
You can also opt to get the Limited or Collector’s edition of the game at Games Rocket: https://gamesrocket.com/us/Pocky-Rocky-Reshrined/
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how Reshrined turned out to be! Wild Guns Reloaded and The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors have made me expect a certain degree of quality from Tengo Project. Thankfully, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined can proudly stand among its peers as a SNES classic that somehow became even more fun to play in the modern era!
There are still constraints from a different era that I would have preferred if they were updated, but it just takes some getting used to and then they become trivial. Despite that, the gameplay is incredibly solid and as a whole, Reshrined is a game that I can fully recommend to anyone looking for a slightly different shmup with an amazing theme and solid gameplay!