8-bit manzai

Paul’s Big Adventure is a weird game. In fact, it’s hardly even a game at all. This Sega-developed parody of 8-bit platforming is currently only available in Japan, and my guess is that it’s likely to stay there. Now, to be fair, I don’t think it’s bad, necessarily. I played through it to the end and definitely laughed a good deal doing so. However, the comedy is clearly aimed at a Japanese audience to the extent that the game often feels like an experimental performance of manzai, a Japanese 2-person comedy act that consists of a tsukkomi, who is something like a straight man, and a boke, who says absurd or stupid things. However, in this case, the bizarre 8-bit game itself is the boke, while a tsukkomi narrator expresses confusion and exasperation with the game’s absurdity via audio commentary.

[[image:cg_paul.jpg:Pipes are filthy.:center:0]]
While I enjoyed it as comedy, Paul’s Big Adventure is definitely not a great example of 8-bit platforming. It’s created to be incredibly easy, allowing you to quickly complete it and experience all the jokes. For example, there are numerous cheap deaths that parody counterintuitive elements of 8-bit gaming, such as times when you are suddenly killed by what seemed to just be part of the background. However, the game is designed to prioritize humor over challenge, and both check points and extra lives are abundant. One particularly cruel joke is reminiscent of the sadistically difficult original Japanese Super Mario Brothers 2; in the final level you can accidentally warp back to the very start of the game. Luckily, a stage select feature means that you can quit and go back to where you left off. So, while the game is often outright mean spirited in its humor, it is it is rarely difficult.

For players unsatisfied by a game with no difficulty, the game does allow you to play through a more difficult version of the game after defeating the finale in typical 8-bit fashion. However, I honestly can’t imagine why anyone but a masochist would want to struggle through this hard mode. After you’ve already seen the jokes once, playing through Paul’s Big Adventure with added difficulty is essentially an all too accurate recreation of 8-bit kusoge.

Some of the jokes also seem like a bit of a potential PR disaster for a non-Japanese audience. For example, one running gag throughout the game is that the mushrooms, patterned after the super mushrooms in the Mario series, have a different effect every time. For example, the first one makes Paul so big that he can no longer fit on the screen and dies. In later level, it completely transforms his sprite from an early 8-bit generation style mishmash of pixels into a late 8-bit style cartoon like appearance. Another makes Paul bigger, the difference is barely noticeable. Late in the game, though, one of these mushrooms gives Paul a raging erection. Yes, you read that right. You eat a super mushroom and spend the rest of the level watching Paul run around with his enormous, pixilated phallus bursting to get out of his pants. There is a bit of lowbrow wordplay involved too, as “mushroom” can be slang for male genitalia in Japanese. This mixture of childish slapstick and blatant sexuality seems like it would make the game somewhat difficult to market to the English speaking world.

For the most part, though, the jokes are just absurd. The chiptunes are suddenly replaced with some dude singing along badly. The 8-bit background suddenly becomes photo realistic. Paul picks up an item with a point value multiple orders of magnitude greater than your current total score, making all previous item collection seem pointless. While in the final level (in outer space, of course), Paul accidentally blows up the earth. Paul eats a strange looking power up, then dies moments later when an alien parasite crawls out of his stomach. So, while Paul’s Big Adventure is by no means a fun game to play, all this variety means that it’s a unique experience as a work of experimental 8-bit artistic design.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think it’s a tremendous loss to English speaking gamers that Paul’s Big Adventure is incredibly unlikely to be localized. At the same time, I was really happy to see an attempt to use the genre of 8-bit platforming to create a comedy, with little to no regard for gameplay balance. I don’t think Paul’s Big Adventure is necessarily a success, but I’m glad to see it boldly ignoring assumptions about what a platformer can be.

22 thoughts on “8-bit manzai

  1. It’s always neat to see someone dickering over the transliteration of a foreign language rather than discussing the actual substance of an interesting post! Stay awesome, Internet!!

  2. Your article was well-timed — I was just joking with some friends about putting 1-up mushrooms on pizza. This was way funnier.

    Now all we need to hope for is that downloadable stores start smelling the “long tail” and releasing interesting niche software for cheap without fear of liability.

  3. Pole is nonsense, Paul is a name. The katakana could be read either way.

    Since there is no official English translation, I’m going to go with the one that kind of makes sense.

  4. The official site is pole.sega.jp.

    I agree that this issue is pretty immaterial, though. Thank you for telling me about this video game!

  5. I am well aware of the URL and that most other English sites call it Pole. However, lots of wacky romanization decisions are made in words when they are romanized for Japanese audiences. (i.e. Gaps in romanizations for names on Japanese Final Fantasy characters vs. their official English equivalents.) Any English speaker would hear this as Paul, and that’s what I’m going with until the (extremely unlikely) event that it is officially translated.

  6. Apparently there’s a write-up in the new Nintendo Power which lists it as Pole. But seriously, who cares? I may have to start handing out punches again.

  7. I take it you can choose not to eat the mushrooms? It ruins some of the fun, I’m sure, but is that option present?

    I had kind of hoped this one would be some sort of side-scrolling Wild Gunman, but I like the actual concept quite a bit. How much did it cost to download?

  8. Also, yes, you can not get the powerups. They’re just place in power-up boxes for you to pick up or ignore, like in Mario.

  9. I feel like this game could come to the United States. The planets aligned to get Cho Aniki onto the VC at some point. The big obstacle is if Nintendo views new mature/offensive content to be different from old mature/offensive content. The chance is unlikely, but not out of the question.

  10. I don’t know, I’d still like to play this. Just from the videos I’ve seen, I like the theme, setting, music, all that fun little stuff.

    For five bucks, I don’t think it would be too difficult to market, though I imagine they could theoretically localize it where necessary.

  11. I downloaded this a couple nights ago, and have been loving it. I’m on world 6 now.

    This game solely exists for comedy. It’s a trip down memory lane, and for 500 yen, I can safely say it’s been one of the best 500 yen I’ve spent on WiiWare. Probably the best, actually. I’ve been laughing a lot, and it behooves you to go out of your way to find different gags. Jump up a couple floors in the Japan level, and you can steal some panties from a window, and get a comment from the voiceover guy. So, I haven’t cared at all about the difficulty. The part in world two with the jumping fish, just jump in the water, and they miss you completely.

    I hope it doesn’t get a localization in the US. Same goes for Ryu Ga Gotoku Kenzan and 3. A lot of Japanese games lose a lot of their charm if you put them in another language. After playing MGS in Japanese, David Hayter’s voice sounds ridiculous to me.

    I know that sounds elitist, but if I can’t be elitist about video games on this site, I don’t know where else I could.

  12. Yeah… I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with “screw you” on the sentiment of not wanting more people to be able to play an awesome game, sorry. (And I’ve played games in Japanese! That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather play a lot of them without struggling to understand them with my limited Japanese skills.)

  13. Wow, I despise the notion that this site is a haven for that sort of jackass elitism. Clearly you took a wrong turn while looking for Insomnia.

  14. Anybody else reminded or the Karoshi Businessman games? Specifically Karoshi 2.0, what with it’s knack for completely subverting expectations regarding the typical habits of videogames.

    Seriously, anyone who’s not familiar, I urge you to at least play through Karoshi 2.0.

    And the idea of hoping a game won’t be translated because the translation would not do the original justice is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.

  15. I imagine one the most fun job you can have in game translation is in fact working on an “impossible” humor translation like this. There are plenty of original, unique people with jokes to slam your gut working the field and giving them free reign on a project like this would definitely yield interesting results. I think people who “prefer games in Japanese” should go play out their I-wish-I-were-Japanese fantasies on Persona 3 or 4 or TWEWY OR cultivate a little more imagination.

    Playing a game in Japanese sure strokes my great big language ego but that doesn’t mean other people should miss out on work or product.

  16. Well, I apologize if I offended anyone. No one ever responds to my comments anyway, so I figured no one would this time either.

    However, I just feel that a lot of Japanese games come out in English, and an overseas audience doesn’t appreciate it in the same way people do here. And this doesn’t apply to all games. MGS and Biohazard don’t apply to my rant. But games that are inherently ‘Japanese’ lose a lot when translated. Takeshi’s Challenge is coming out on VC later this month. Does that game really need to be translated to English too?

  17. Yes. Some people who genuinely appreciate various niches of Japanese culture have not yet mastered the language. Is that such a bad thing?

    Granted, some games that are very saturated in a particular local culture may lose a lot when translated; some companies do a better job at localizing those hard-to-translate games than others. I don’t see that as a reason not to try.

    Game Center CX was a game based on a *very* specific Japanese setting, filled with tons of in-jokes from a Japanese show. And yet the English version is still awesome.

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