Whilst reading a Super Nintendo magazine ( probably Super Play ) in the nineties, I saw a review of a game that looked like it would totally be my cup of tea! It featured a weird looking little chap who fired darts from his hair at all manner of freaky ghosties & beasties! Tagging along with him was a little eyeball with a body, which reminded me of a character I had created in my own rubbishy comic strips called Eye-vor!
I really wanted to play that game, but not having the cash for a pricey Japanese import, it wasn't until years later that I red-discovered it through emulation of the game on ZSNES. You can read what I though about if further down this page, but a few years later I discovered there was another game on PS1, and this led me to research exactly who this dart-haired character was and whether there were any more games based around him....
Kitarō started life as a Kamishibai story from 1933, told by various storytellers who travelled around on bikes from village to village, entertaining the locals with their tales. One such Kamishibai artist was as interesting as the old stories he drew and told...
Shigeru Mizuki had fought in Papua New Guinea during WWII. Having seen his friends die from various wounds and diseases, he himself contracted malaria...all of which obviously affected him greatly. And then during one allied air raid, he was caught in an explosion that blew off his left arm.
Being left-handed, Shigeru had to relearn to draw and write with his right hand. After spending time as a prisoner of war, he returned to an occupied Japan, hoping to go back to New Guinea where he had been befriended by the locals, but was prevented from doing so mainly due to his injuries and also the fact that his brother had been convicted as a war criminal for killing prisoners. Aster working as a movie theatre operator for a while, he decided to revisit the Kitarō Kamashibai stories as a manga series...
Hakabi Kitarō ( Graveyard Kitarō) was created in 1959 and ran for a few years as a rental manga, but it was considered a wee bit too freaky for children, and so Shigeru lightened the tone and eventually in 1967 it became GeGeGe no Kitarō ( Spooky Kitarō ).
Kitarō himself is a small boy who was born in a graveyard, and apart from his father, the aforementioned eyeball-with-a-body, is the last living member of the Ghost Tribe. His hair-covered eye is in fact missing, and as stated earlier he has the ability to shoot darts from his hair. His main ambition it seems, is to fight for peace between the humans and the Yōkai demons. Proving popular in Japan, the manga series has been adapted over the years into various anime cartoons, a live action movie, video games and even has a street in Japan filled with Shigeru's characters! 2008 saw the latest game and anime series, so as you can see it's still going strong...
But it's the games we're mostly interested in today, so lets have a look and see how they've turned out! I'm not sure if any of these received a proper Western release, so import or emulation is the only way you'll be able to try these out....
GeGeGe No Kitarō - Youkai Dai Makyou (NES) :
This game actually did make it to the west, although it was a bit butchered, re-skinned and renamed as Ninja Kid. The original though is definitely a Gegege game, with our hero Kitarō shooting his darts at evil yōkai in a horizontal scrolling platformer.
Occasionally, you'll find yourself controlling Kitarō in the skies too, but mostly you'll be on the ground collecting pickups and racking up the points by blasting the baddies back to oblivion. There's a decent range of weirdos to kill, with some familiar faces popping up from the manga, and various other influences (see the mini-Frankenstein monster above..)
You access the different levels from an over-world map, and this appears to have different randomly chosen layouts to help keep things fresh when you start a new game, which is a nice little feature! I always like a little random factor!
The occasional boss pops up every now and then too, like this giant eye below, which will take a few extra hits to defeat. It's all pretty straight-forward, typical platforming stuff. Unfortunately it's also very tricky for the most part, and you'll quickly lose your paltry three lives as you're bombarded by enemies from every side.
Some levels are easier than others though, and the random map helps you to see a bit more than you would otherwise, so it's not completely devoid of fun. It's just a fairly average, tricky little platformer that's only really worth playing to see Kitarō's first foray into video games!
GeGeGe no Kitarō 2 (NES) :
His second NES adventure takes the form of an RPG, this time only released in Japan. Luckily someone has gone to the trouble of translating it into English, and so with a little searching online you can find a translation patch and fire it up on an emulator.
Again, unfortunately this is really damn tricky. Even with the translation, it has the same problems as a lot of early RPGs in that it doesn't give you much of a clue as to where you're supposed to go or what you're supposed to do.
On top of that, you seem to start the game extremely under-powered, and it won't take many hits from the enemies until you kick the bucket and end up transported back to your house. It's a shame, as it would be nice to get a bit further and experience what the game has to offer. There'd be plenty of fun to be had in a decent RPG based on Gegege Kitarō, but this one is just too annoying to stick with for long...
GeGeGe no Kitarō: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou (SNES) :
And so we come to the game that started me along this crazy path to Yōkai land! And yet again it's the trickiness that lets it down. What would otherwise be an enjoyable shooty platformer is again hampered by not being able to get very far before running out of energy and having to restart the level.
The enemies always seem to be just out of reach, and when you get a bit closer so you can hit them with your own projectiles, that's exactly when they start hitting you and rapidly eating away at your health.
Despite this, the enemies are varied and weird enough to warrant a bit of your time exploring the levels, and once you've worked out some of their patterns you do seem to be able to get a little further into the game.
And of course, it's all in Japanese so you won't really have any idea what's going on plot wise. So what we're left with is another disappointingly difficult but somewhat charming adventure, that's fun to try and get to grips with but ultimately a bit frustrating. A bit of a pattern forming here....
One other thing I discovered just as I was about to stop playing the game was that by choosing the second option on the title screen, you appear to start a 2-player game with this little Yōkai demon chap below as the second character. Not having anyone handy to play as the second player, I've no idea if this would make it any easier, but it might be worth giving it a go if you have someone willing to help you out!
Things get a bit spookier and even more confusing with the PS1's first GeGeGe game. Again it's all in Japanese, so the plot is a bit tricky to decipher, but it would seem that after pressing start on the first menu option you take control of a schoolgirl, and view the game in first person from her viewpoint. Here's my experiences with trying to comprehend what's going on...
Starting off in a classroom and fumbling around trying to work out what buttons did what, I managed to find my way out in to a corridor, where someone starts talking to me in Japanese. As they move forward it becomes apparent that they are in fact some sort of brain-suckin' zombie fiend!
After succumbing to a hideous end in my first attempt at escaping this undead annoyance, on my second try I ran back into the classroom and discovered I could hide in one of the lockers, in a Clock Tower style fashion! The zombie entered the classroom and had a quick nosy around for me, but being a bit dense, couldn't work out where I was...
After the zombie left the room, I clambered back out of the locker and went back into the corridor where I found a key marked 1A. Checking the doors by pressing the circle button. I found room 1A, but couldn't see anywhere to use the key inside. So out I went again wandering around the school, trying to find out what the hell I was supposed to be doing. The only thing I could find was lots of locked doors and a crow on a desk in one of the rooms...
Checking on Youtube to see if that held any secrets, I could only find one video of the game. It did show me that other areas could be accessed by clicking different options on the start screen, so I chose the second banner and went back into whatever game 2 had in store.
This time I appear to be Kitarō himself, and after leaving a small cabin I'm in the middle of a large wood! After heading through a maze of trees I discovered this set of three statues that appears to have some sort of food sitting on it. I pick this up...
After wandering around for a bit more, I discover a tree house that some old big-nosed, big-mouthed resides in. Unfortunately I can't show you a picture of this as I don't have any way of capturing the screens (the others come from that Youtube video) so you'll just have to take my word that she's there! After ranting at me in Japanese for a while, she eventually shuts up and by clicking on various items it would seem that it's a shop she runs. Having no idea what to say or do, I leave and wander around for a bit more, getting hopelessly lost and going round in circles! Time for the 3rd choice on the menu!
Selecting the third option on the menu screen takes us into another area where again we seem to be someone else, waking up as Kitarō and his father leer over us. In the intro that just occurred there was a spooky doll, so maybe that's something to do with something....
Nope, it appears that there's quite a few of these dolls around and none of them seem to do anything. In the room with the one above, I found some spooky old pictures on the wall and clicking on them starts Kitarō's dad talking about something, but I've no idea what.
I find another rrom with a phone in that seems to be some sort of save point, then head back to where I started. Upon re-entering the first room Kitarō's father starts talking again, but then I can't work out what to do next at all..
So there you have it! An interesting but completely incomprehensible wander through the game! If anybody else decides to play this and can get any further and drop me some clues in the comments, please do so! It does seem like it would be a great little game if I could only work out what the hell was going on! Still, it was fun trying to work everything out, and it probably seems a bit spookier because I was absolutely clueless!
GeGeGe no Kitarō: KiKi Ippatsu! Youkai Rettou (GBA) :
Ah! Now this is the one I got a bit further with! It's another platformer, this time on Gameboy Advance, and despite being in Japanese yet again, it does have the occasional handy button-prompts posted on boards around the levels, so you can learn at least some of the moves!
It starts with the origin of both Kitarō and his father! Apparently a blood bank worker visits some Yokai who are after some blood for different means than we humans would use it... But after his mother and father die before he is born, the blood bank worker buries the mother. Something weird then happens ( as if it wasn't weird enough already) and Kitarō's father's eye pops out of his decomposing body and somehow retains his memories! Then it grows a body and hops outside to rescue Kitarō, who has just been born in his mother's grave!
After controlling Daddy Eyeball for this sequence, we appear on a map screen and after a bit of button fiddling manage to get into one of the levels.
It's standard platforming action yet again, but t's done rather wonderfully, with nice graphics and some slick controls. It's also a lot less difficult than previous entries in the series and it's a lot easier to progress.
In fact the most trouble I had was navigating the menus and actually getting Kitarō to land on the first level on the map screen! But yeah, a nice little platformer, and probably the most instantly accessible game in this post.
Of course it is still in Japanese, and so you still won't have much idea of what's going on. but it's definitely the easiest one to get to grips with and so it's the one I recommend playing if you're not likely to be a Kitarō fan and just want a new platform game to mess around with for a while!
GeGeGe no Kitarō: Gyakushuu! Youkai Daichisen (PS1) :
The last game I'm looking at isn't the last GeGeGe no Kitarō game. There are others on PS2 and other machines. But it's the last one I can actually play, not owning machines capable of playing the remaining few. And it's yet another rather difficult platformer, taking it's style from the SNES and Gameboy Advance titles.
You should know what to expect by now. It's enjoyable but once more the fact it's in Japanesemakes it difficult to know what options to choose, and the difficulty makes it more annoying than it probably should be. But it's still worth picking up if you're a fan, or want to experience something a bit different on your Playstation. You even get a nice version of Kitarō's theme song to sing along to!
So I hope I've interested you in Kitarō at least a little by checking out these games. Even if you think you'll just find them too frustrating, or you don't like importing or emulating games, you can always check out the manga or anime series! But for now, we'll leave Kitarō in peace and let him get back to what will probably be a rather busy next few days battling demons!
Further Gegege reading......