So it took Natsume three years to publish this?! That’s probably the first thing I said after I started playing Chulip. This game which had first been presented to me at least three years ago at E3, and then delayed and delayed and delayed, had finally been translated and published, and I get…this?
Well, okay, I will admit that this sentiment didn’t last throughout my gaming experience, but honestly, while Chulip is a fun and quirky title, I honestly don’t think that Natsume needed to take three years to bring this out. But more about that later, on to the review.
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Chulip is the story of a young man who moves into Long Life Town with his father after not being able to make it in the big city. Upon reaching the town, the boy has a dream about a girl who he kisses under the Lovers Tree. Soon, he discovers that the girl lives in Long Life Town, and the Tree exists! Unfortunately, he’s too much of a loser to get a kiss from the girl, and gets smacked down.
Yet, our hero, undeterred, attempts to write a love letter to show his true affection towards the girl. However, his attempt is halted by the mysterious Mr. Suzuki, a strange underground resident of Long Life Town, who proceeds to teach him about love and what he must do to win it. Hilarity, and oddity, ensues.
Chulip’s story is quirky in that way only Japan can make it. It’s a land full of scathing caricatures, out of this world creatures, and lots of scatological humor. To call this game anything other than “very Japanese” is to lie to yourself. That doesn’t make it a bad game, however. The situations are humorous, the dialogue often frank and off the wall, and the characters themselves range from the hilarious to the bizarre. Examples of residents are a utility pole with a face and legs, a Shinto monk with a head covered in writing, and a conductor with a bell for a head (and those are the more normal ones).
The one big problem the story has is something which some might also call it’s biggest strength; it’s VERY Japanese. There are tons of references to Japanese culture and a lot of in-jokes that many western gamers just won’t get. Add to that the fact that there are quite a few instances where the humor is totally lost on a western audience because the Japanese text has not been translated. That steamed me more than anything else, as I kept getting the excuse that the game was being delayed because they were translating that stuff. If you can get past that, however, you’re in for a quirky, silly, and downright strange title that is as innovative as it is weird.
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Gameplay is simple and interesting. Part of your quest to kiss your girl involves kissing everybody else, or at least lots of other people. But hey, you can’t just kiss anyone anytime! You have to do something to make them happy before you can pucker up and smooch. The kissable people fall into two categories; above ground residents and underground residents. Throughout town there are cracks in the ground, and when you look through these cracks, you’ll get to see the underground residents. These residents come out only during certain hours of the day, and you have to kiss them when they are happy, which often is a very short window. If you miss, you’ll get smacked or otherwise humiliated, and lose hearts. If your heart meter goes to zero, you die, and it’s game over.
For a cutesy game, this title is HARSH. You are frequently not warned about circumstances that will totally kill you in one blow, and I saw the game over screen more times than I can count. This game requires quick timing and good reflexes to kiss all the people you need to, and that’s definitely something younger gamers do not have.
The other big problem with gameplay is that many of the requirements to kiss residents are not easily ascertained through normal play. To remedy this, Natsume provided a rather extensive FAQ which really is a complete walkthrough of the game, right in the instruction manual. The walkthrough includes requirements to kiss people, when underground residents come out, even how to solve the plot puzzles. The downside to this is that the FAQ is incorrect at certain parts, making the information kind of useless and misleading. With some better translating and tweaking of the penalties for being wrong, I’m sure the gameplay would have scored higher, but due to its difficulty it gets an 80%.
Musically, Chulip does pretty well. While there isn’t much in the game, what is there is clever and stylistic. You’ve got two central themes upon which most of the tracks are built, and the variations include Louis Armstrong-esque scat and quartet. The music was cute and catchy, and although it was sparse, it was nice.
Sound effects were not incredibly remarkable, but the characters all spoke in Japanese gibberish. For those of you who have played Fur Fighters for Dreamcast, you know what I mean, but basically they took Japanese speech, broke it up, and mixed up all the parts, making this sort of alien repeating Japanese language akin to the Sims’ “simmish” language. The result is silly and strange, but it fits very well with this game’s theme, that I couldn’t imagine it with anything else.
So overall, music gets an 85%.
I see a little silhouetto of a man
The graphics in Chulip look a bit dated, but honestly, this game came out in 2002, and so for that era, these graphics are in great condition. Not only that, but the character design is so weird and eccentric that I’m willing to forgive a little age. Everyone has a giant head, and many residents are borderline insulting Japanese stereotypes (but hey, it’s a Japanese game, so it’s okay, right?) There are strange and wacky creatures all on seemingly normal Japanese backdrops, such as a little Japanese suburb and a factory. The juxtaposition makes the contrast even more evident and does it in a way that will put a smirk on your face. So good job, studio Punchline!
Too late, my time has come, sends shivers down my spine
The controls are good most of the time, but not always, and when they’re off, they can cost you a kiss and lots of hearts. In a game in which timing is extremely important, Chulip does okay, but not great. Controls get an 80% from me.
Any way the wind blows….
So in the end, how does Chulip stack up? Not as well as it could have, that’s for sure, and definitely not worth a three-year + wait. Honestly, this is a game better worth renting, as it’s pretty short and you should be able to beat it in a week with the in-booklet walkthrough. While part of the fun is in exploration, I just found it very difficult to figure anything out. Add to that a translation that is at times pretty bad and, at points, incomplete (parts of text are just cut off and missing), and you have a game not worth a purchase. Oh, and apologies to Freddie Mercury for use of his lyrics (whoever owns the rights to them, please don’t sue!).