So there’s a law that every Japanese developer, at some point, is obligated to do a video game interpretation of The Journey to the West, right? Well, here’s Capcom’s: Sonson. Coming from 1984, Sonson seems like their way of getting it out of their system right up front.
On its surface, Sonson doesn’t really offer too much — it’s basically an auto-side-scrolling shooter in which the vertical movement of hero (or heroine? Son Son has appeared in recent games as a female) is restricted to six horizontal channels. It’s somewhere between shooter and platformer.
It’s fun enough, I suppose. Enemy patterns grow increasingly complex as you advance through the stages, with tough “bosses” (see image above) to add a little tension to the action. Plenty of point-rich bonus items appear (and the game is, after all, about the score) to entice players into risky maneuvers. It’s fast, moderately difficult, and reasonably entertaining.
However, the real appeal of Sonson has more to do with its historical role. Look at those enemies up there! Those guys are direct antecedents of Ghosts ‘N Goblins’ iconic baddies. Here at the beginning, you can already see Capcom’s design tracks taking form: Vertical shooters like Vulgus and 1942, and platformers like Ghosts ‘N Goblins, Bionic Commando, etc. Sonson sows the seeds for future classics: A simian shooter that would set down roots and evolve into the arcade masterpieces the company would become known for.