Two hours. At most, three. That’s all the time you’ll need to blaze through a trippy video game hallucination that zips players through everything from old-school NES games through Akira and Sailor Moon. It’s probably the most otaku thing you’ll do all year.
Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day is the video game component of Short Peace, an animated anthology helmed by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo that assembles a team of Japanese pop culture all-stars. We’re talking people who shaped the look of top-shelf anime like Tekkonkinkreet, Mobile Suit Gundam and Tsukumo. Short Peace pulls together four short movies from those creators, creating a document that showcases the wide range of animations styles and sensibilities coming from Japan. (Both the movie and the game hit the PS3 this week.)
So where does Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day fit in? The video game project spearheaded by Goichi “Suda51” Suda pretty much tries to mash those styles and sensibilities together. Suda’s best known as the man behind otaku-centric games like No More Heroes, Lollipop Chainsawand Killer Is Deadand, when they work, his games tend to be triumphs of style rather than substance. Longest Day is a perfect project for Suda, then. It lets him move stylishly through a bunch of different visual approaches and tropes in a way that frees him of having to create any kind of logic throughout the experience.
The game’s lead character is a 17-year-old schoolgirl who’s also… Actually, it’s not all that clear what her alternate identity is. First, she seems like a sexed-up secret assassin. (Ranko strips down to nothing in the first ten minutes so, yeah, Suda’s pervy creep overtones are in full effect here.)
At first you’re told that she’s going to kill her dad to avenge the death of her mum. But other random plot points get dropped in out of nowhere that make no sense, too. Later, she referred to as a Key of Babylon — don’t worry, it never gets explained — and transforms into a freaky magical creature. Cutscenes go from magical-girl-styled goofs to horror-tinged surrealism and manga-esque action panels. The story, visuals and *snicker* plot all feel like they have been slapped together, a bunch of different tastes that congeal into an invitingly sloppy confection.
And the gameplay in the middle of all of this? It too fuses disparate sensibilities. The main chunk is sidescrolling slash-and-dash combat, spread out along 10 levels. In most of them, Ranko’s getting chased by a giant marauding entity. First it’s a slavering demonic legion, then a giant pomerianian. If your forward progress slows down too much, the big thing swallows you up. You do have a gun that keeps it at bay, though, but only collect ammo for it by killing enemies in stylish combos.
The various mechanical parts of this design create a simple but effective chain of ideas: Run + Jump+ Slash+ Shoot. Complications come by way of the multiple paths, occasional roadblocks and hidden collectibles in the game’s levels. Screw up too many wall jumps, gaps or locked-room, kill-em-all battles and you’re done for. But there are also levels where you have to shoot down a giant girl-turned-dragon from a side-scrolling perspective and where you have to jump around and attack your luchadore-mask-wearing dad on a set of platforms that matches the layout of the original Mario Bros.
Is it style over substance? Yes. But, damn, such style. It’s to the point where I’d recommend people play it just for the soundtrack and cutscenes alone. However, the core game is solid enough where such qualifications aren’t necessary. It also helps that I was able to blow through the thing in less than three hours. Longest Day‘s slashing and shooting feed into combo-centric combat where you’re supposed to chain moves together, coming together to create an old-school feel manifested in timed levels and simple go-forward-and-kill-everything directives.
Ranko Tsukigime’s Longest Day marks one instance where Suda’s superficial manchild impulses work well, acting as a survey of the clichés that have clearly informed his creative obsessions. The game invokes beloved Japanese cultural creators, while simultaneously lampooning and embracing everything you make fun of when you make fun of Japanese geek culture. The hoariest manga/anime tropes all get stroked lovingly here, like having a motorcycle-driving, mecha-transforming brother of a best friend show up for a sequence.
The constant reference to karaoke, cutscenes that make fun of cutscenes, trite observations on the extreme rapidity of modern life, glances at idol culture… It all feels oddly personal, like a playable diary of the pop cultural artifacts he’s never let go of. Suda could grow beyond this queue of adolescent fascinations, one supposes, but after playing this bite-sized game, you get the sense that he doesn’t want to.