January 27th, 2003 | Feature
Vacation Sim Showdown
Japan's fastest-growing new genre (ahem) inspires this Crunk battle royale. Which game is prettier? Controls best? Will confuse you less? It's time to find out, chunky!
It’s the dead of winter, and unless you’re over 60, you’re not going to have a lot of time nor energy to take a trip. So while Vegas fills up with geriatrics, you’re braving the horrendous dry cold to go to work. Or grocery shopping. Or another mindless party your friends expect you to attend. But luckily, you’re also a HARDKORE GAMUR with a 5-foot stack of import games and a couple of half-full Cheez-It boxes surrounding your computer. So what better way to dissipate the cold than to curl up in front of the TV, wrap your shoulders in a blanket, maybe put on a Hawaiian shirt, and play a nice vacation sim?!
Ah, but what’s a vacation sim? Well, they really don’t call them that in Japan. It’s just one of those gaijin terms that seem to stick. Basically, a vacation sim is an adventure game that takes a character and puts him / her / it in an unfamiliar location away from home. From there it’s up to the player to decide what to do, where to go, who to talk to, etc. etc. etc. Full of beautiful photorealistic graphics, a vacation sim is like the perfect game for a backwoods Minnesotan living in the big city. Or to put it another way, it’s a lot like a survival horror game, just not violent and cool kids won’t play it. All right, are we cool? Cool. That said, here are three vacation sims for the PlayStation 2 that have been released fairly recently, with enough information to help you decide if one (or hell, why not all) are made for you.
But first, the usual disclaimer: these games are all in Japanese, meant to be sold to Japanese people, and thus won’t play in your system unless you’re absolutely positive they can (of course we think you’re smart, honey!). On top of that, you can only get them at a store, online or off, that sells import games. Just be warned that you might have a tiny bit more trouble finding them since vacation sims aren’t exactly a widely-accepted genre here. Don’t ask us why.
Toro to Kyujitsu
(Holiday with Toro)
Click to enlarge
The rub: Toro, the flagship digital cat of Sony’s PocketStation killer app Doko Demo Issyo (currently with his face on five times as much merchandise as Garfield could ever aspire to) stars in this low-key romp through a common Japanese burg.
Story: Not much of one. We know that Toro’s on vacation, but the point of the game is to educate Toro on just where the hell he is and what he’s doing there.
How it plays: A strictly point-and-click affair. Like other vacation games, just get Toro to have a fun day before it gets late. If you have no knowledge of Japanese, prepare to get pissed when you start clicking on things and Toro wants you to tell him what it is. You have to navigate a series of lists to narrow down the object in question. After all, you don’t want Toro to think a manhole cover is a beer keg, do you? Well, maybe you do.
Graphics: 3D Toro and friends interact on top of high-quality FMV scenes of the town and cast accurate shadows to further the idea that these things exist. The usually overcast weather doesn’t make things that pretty. All it tells you is that this isn’t a normal vacation.
Points of interest: Toro’s more than just a cat that makes funny faces: he dances like he means it, he makes hilarious doodles of himself in his diary, he goes to pubs, he calls you a perv if you touch his ass…I could go on and on.
Complaints: This game would have so much more lasting appeal if you could guide one of Toro’s other friends around as well as him.
Is it worth it?: Toro to Kyujitsu is certainly more fun if you know Japanese due to the menus, but is still a somewhat shallow game for us more hardcore types. Don’t expect meaty grandeur but do expect a goofy trip with a goofy cat.
Boku no Natsuyasumi 2:
Umi no Bouken Hen
(My Summer Vacation 2: The Sea Adventure Chapter)
DEV: Millennium Kitchen
Click to enlarge
The rub: The first Boku game was a pioneer in vacation sims. Two years later it made a triumphant return, aided by the enhanced power of the PS2. The gorgeous new island locale and a heap of new characters cements this series as king of the vacation sim.
Story: In August 1975, a boy named Boku experiences an unforgettable summer vacation at his aunt and uncle’s inn. A wonderfully-crafted nostalgic memoir of not just a little boy but the people around him as well.
How it plays: Players live through 31 game days exploring the land and just plain having fun. Fishing, swimming, bug collecting and beetle wrestling make up the activities. Otherwise you go around, talk to people, learn about them etc.
Graphics: Still a prerendered escapade, but still a wonderful depiction of rural life (except now there’s a harbor). The wonderful digital paintings that make up the backgrounds are expectedly higher-res and still striking.
Points of interest: The puppy love relationship between the two neighbor kids that Boku inadvertently sparks is almost good enough to be a game itself! Okay, not really, but I’m a sucker for that kind of thing.
Complaints: The game is awesome and everything, but when will they realize that analog control is actually a good thing? The X button is pressure sensitive here, I mean come on, you’re so close!
Is it worth it?: In almost every way, yes. Even if you know zero Japanese, the artistic value of this game must be appreciated. Plus, if you’ve played the first game you’ll find a suite of welcome improvements to the formula.
Nan no Shima no Monogatari
(Country Living: A Southern Island Story)
DEV: Polygon Magic
Click to enlarge
The rub: A painfully obvious effort to steal some thunder from the Boku series. Except this time you play a teenage girl in modern times.
Story: Tomoko, our spunky heroine, is the main character in this one. She spends a two-week break in March on — get this — an island!! The hook is that it’s ever-so-much like Okinawa, to give players a taste of how they do it down south. The story is pretty linear; I defy you to miss any plot points. On top of that, this game also features two of the abso-fucking-lutely longest cutscenes in video gaming. Seriously, even Square won’t step.
How it plays: Surprise! You walk around and see what happens to you before bedtime. There’s also biking and swimming, but both are very limited. At night, Tomoko can play her grandpa’s sanshin (an Okinawan banjo kinda thing) in a rhythm game activity that is actually pretty fun, if not really short.
Graphics: Completely 3D as opposed to the other two games here, with heavy use of sprites to illustrate grass / flowers / etc. Automatic follow-cams are used a lot, just in case you’re dumb and keep thinking it’s all prerendered.
Points of interest: A nice little always-heard soundtrack and a neat opening and ending theme as well (by Okinawan folk group BEGIN).
Complaints: Holy cheese, something is seriously wrong with the running control. Tomoko can tire out when she runs too much, but getting her to actually begin running seems to work about 2 out of 20 times. There has to be something I’m not getting. Also, with this game being on CD, there are some excrutiating load times. And that’s something I’m usually not bothered by, so be wary.
Is it worth it?: Victor’s always releasing bizarre and unique games, but Sony beat them to the punch with vacation sims. Inaka’s a good companion to Boku 2, but definitely not a replacement.
So who wins?
Geez, isn’t it obvious by now?! OK, guess not. In a nutshell, if you’re a newbie and you want the triple-A experience, it’s mandatory you go with Boku no Natsuyasumi 2. If you’ve had your fill of little boys in short shorts, try Inaka Kurashi and play a 15 year-old girl in short shorts. Your friends will still look at you weird, just not as weird. And finally, if you like touching cat asses, may we suggest Toro to Kyujitsu? You can probably find it cheaper than the other two regardless.
Rest assured, whichever one you choose, your girlfriend will no doubt become compelled by it. But we’ll talk more about that in our next rockin’ feature, Crunk Games’ Guide to Getting Your Mate to Play More Than Puzzle Bobble and Eventually Dangle Her Lightly From Your Hands Like a Puppet.
What does the future hold?
As stupid as I feel forecasting vacation sims, it’s tough to tell what’s next with it being so early in the year, so all we have right now are our own imaginations. There could very well be a Boku 3, but the question is how much more can they expand on the idea? There’s potential for a second Inaka Kurashi as sales were almost on par with Boku 2’s, but time and money will tell, won’t they? And although it likely has no gameplay relation to Toro to Kyujitsu, Sony plans to release a new PS2 Doko Demo Issyo game called Watashi na Ehon ("My Picture Book"), which we affectionately call Toro 2: Yoshi’s Island.
And what of the West? Will either of these games be translated? Will any vacation sim? The short answer: nnnnn maybe. The problem is that the three games featured today all take place specifically in Japan. And as you are no doubt aware, Japan is one cracked out country even when we’re not referring to games. Sure, we get stuff like Goemon that’s chock full of cultural references, but those are exaggerations or parodies to begin with. A vacation sim is based in reality (for the most part), a reality that simply confuses the average American. So don’t expect Fresh Games or anyone else to make your wish come true unless the next vacation sim coming out features a girl with impressive cleavage or is turn-based or something.
Well, hope you all have a safe winter. Concentrate on warm thoughts, it really works. —Ray Barnholt
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