Mameda no Bakeru | Review | Switch - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, December 22, 2023

Mameda no Bakeru | Review | Switch

It’s not very often that a Goemon-like game hits the console market, but that’s exactly what happened with the release of Mameda no Bakeru on the Switch. With the original franchise buried on Konami’s shelves somewhere, Good Feel is giving gamers pretty much what the Goemon series would offer minus the franchise name. It also makes sense, too, considering that Good Feel is helmed by Etsunobu Ebisu, who worked at Konami for years and was the producer for the Goemon series during his tenure at the company. Has Ebisu’s familiarity with the series and the skills of the team at Good Feel brought back the Japanese hero to the next generation? That’s exactly what we’re here to talk about in this review. 

Otogi Katsugeki Mameda no Bakeru: Oracle Saitorō no Sainan, or Mameda no Bakeru for short, puts players into the role of the tanuki, Bakeru. Taking the form of a young man, Bakeru teams up with Japanese folk heroes to take out the evil Omatsuri Gundan (Festival Corps.) as they try to cause problems all over Japan. The game offers over 50 stages featuring on-foot mission, vehicle based missions and giant robots. It’s a pretty simplistic and somewhat silly story, but that is the general gist of it.

Gameplay - On-Foot Missions
Mameda no Bakeru is a 3D action game that puts players in a variety of levels. These last anywhere from five to twenty minutes each. Combat is pretty easy to grasp. Bakeru can attack foes with his taiko drum sticks with L or R, dodge with Y, jump with B and block with ZR. The block can also be used to deflect projectiles back at enemies if timed correctly. A charge attack is also available by simply holding L or R (or both) to deliver a more powerful attack. This is also necessary to unearth lanterns to make progress in the stages (more on this later).
A transformation mechanic is introduced early on in the game that can be enabled with holding ZL and the corresponding button for the transformation. Four are available that give Bakeru the ability to shrink, shoot projectiles, use fishing lines (like a whip) and a more powerful attack. These cannot be used indefinitely - there is a gauge and small, colorful emblems that need to be collected for continued usage. The game is pretty generous about scattering these about the stages. 

The transformations are obtained by fighting Japanese folk heroes, such as Momotarō, Kintarō and Urashima Tarō. All of these can prove pretty useful throughout the adventure and are pretty well balanced. The shrinking mechanic allows Bakeru to enter smaller doors or cracks, but he is unable to attack enemies. The Kintarō armor adds more potency to his attacks, but is a bit slow. The fishing lines are great to use to take out groups of enemies at a distance, but don’t work so well on single foes. The projectiles from Momotarō are super powerful and great in almost any situation, however, Bakeru is literally on roller skates which makes movement a bit tricky. 
The gameplay loop is also pretty simple and feels pretty good. Players are placed in 3D stages and have to make their way to a huge, towering taiko drum. When first starting the stage, this is locked. Unlocking this requires players to find and destroy three colorful lanterns that are spread throughout the stage. These are sometimes hidden, protected by enemies or in plain sight. There are usually more than three of these, so players shouldn’t have a hard time unlocking the taiko drum at the end of the stages. All in all, these stages usually can last anywhere between 10-20 minutes. On top of the action, most stages also offer some platforming elements are often not too complicated.

Gameplay - Vehicles
Although on foot missions make up a majority of Mameda no Bakeru, two other gameplay styles are also on offer - vehicles and a giant robot. The vehicular stages put players in either a car, boat, snow mobile or in the air. While on the ground/water/snow, you can accelerate with A, brake with B, drift with L or R, and perform tricks by pressing both L and R simultaneously. The flight sections are quite a bit different and are similar to what you might find in a Star Fox game. You can shoot with L or R (or both), roll with Y, shoot bombs (three per stage) with ZL and a laser beam (with limited use) with ZR. All of these stage types are quite a bit shorter than the on foot sections, typically lasting around five minutes or less. They are simple and provide a break from the regular on-foot gameplay adding a good mix to the overall game.
The giant robot sections are limited to boss fights and are super epic and enjoyable. These work like a mix of a fighting and boxing game. Players punch with L or R, block with ZR, dodge/boost with Y and release a powerful flurry of attacks (once charged) with ZL. Like the other vehicular levels, these are pretty short, but feel great. The robot is a bit cumbersome to control, but connecting with one the lumbering punches feels very satisfying. Undoubtedly, this aspect of the gameplay is definitely one of the most exciting, eye catching parts of the game. 
Traversing the overworld of Japan in Mameda no Bakeru is pretty simple. When first starting out, you will be on foot, however, not too long into the game, you will gain access to an “airship” shaped like a kettle. This allows players to explore the country from the air. Not only this, but they can also use a warp feature to go to different parts of the country more quickly. The ship can also be upgrade to increase the health, power and strength of the robot.

Gameplay - Other Aspects and Thoughts
One thing you will need to know before going into the game - there is no lock-on mechanic. While this sometimes can make combat a bit intense, this seems to be a very deliberate choice. You typically are not swarmed by enemies, and even if you are, it will usually be by ones that don’t pose much of a threat. While the lack of lock-on is the case for most of the game, the Momotarō shooting form has an auto locking system for enemies when they are in range. This is pretty useful and sometimes a bit over powered when taking on some of the more powerful enemies in the game. 
Speaking of enemies, Mameda no Bakeru ramps up at a pretty generous pace. Enemies in the early stages are simple and don’t have as many attacks at their disposal. As you progress, you will encounter stronger foes, enemies with projectiles and more. Thankfully, you have an opportunity to give Bakeru some enhancements along the way via a traveling tanuki sales…tanuki named Uriko. While there is no hub world or town, Uriko offers players one-time-use and one time per stage use items. These range from increasing your speed and power, to other things, like bombs that can take out numerous enemies on screen. A permeant health upgrade is also available. The one time use items are assigned to the d-pad, while the rest will just take effect immediately. I didn’t make use of these too often (outside of the power and speed), but some of the items can be useful. 
Each stage is home to a number of hidden items in the forms of souvenirs and something called Unchiku no Unchiku. The souvenirs are all based on things that can actually be found in the prefectures (in stylized form) or areas where the missions are taking place. Three of these are located in each stage and are locked away in capsules that need to be broken. On top of this, five little golden poos (yes, poo) are hidden in various part of each stage. This is a character named Unchiku (unchi being a cute word for "poop" in Japanese) and its “Unchiku no Unchiku.” This wacky character provides players with factoids about Japan and other random bits of information. These are usually pretty funny or interesting and are clearly aimed at (Japanese) kids. Additionally, tanuki are sometimes hiding in some of the stages. Finding them allows for more upgrades to your “airship.”
The camera is serviceable through most of the experience but come with one limitation - you are not able to position the camera low behind Bakeru. This usually isn’t a problem, however there might be some times when you are just trying to get a better look at your surroundings or just sizing up what is on offer in the level but just can't. Additionally, although Mameda no Bakeru is a 3D game, don’t go into the experience thinking this is completely open. Invisible and visible boundaries limit where you can go. This usually isn’t a big deal, however some of these are not so clear. For example, some areas might prevent you from falling to your death while others, which appear somewhat similar, don’t. Since dying only takes some money and starts you back at your last check point, this isn’t a huge deal, but a little annoying.

Visuals, Audio & Performance
Traveling around the whole country of Japan in this adventure gives players a look at some really cool, stylized versions of real-life areas around the country. Not only this, but the enemy design is great with a focus on a Japanese festival aesthetic. The stages here are varied and are really a visual treat. Character models and environments are somewhat simple which likely enables the game to run at a relatively consistent framerate, typically around 60 frames per second. While generally pretty stable, there are some instances of the game chugging a bit. Very rarely did I experience this impacting the gameplay, but it will be noticeable to some.
On top of the fantastic art design, audio is also top notch featuring themes with Japanese instruments and occasional one liners from Bakeru. There is some voice acting in the game in the cutscenes, but by and large, most of what you will find here is text based.

Note on Japanese
Being so reliant on Japanese tropes and folklore, Mameda no Bakeru might be a bit intimidating for those that aren’t familiar with the Japanese language. Although there is a lot of text in the game (and some voice acting), knowing how the gameplay works will likely be enough for most people. Of course, you’ll be missing out on the story and the tidbits of information provided via the Unchiku no Unchiku (golden poos), and translation apps might have a hard time giving accurate translations of some of the more colloquial Japanese. Simply put, you won’t get the FULL experience of Mameda no Bakeru, but you can still get a hearty amount of enjoyment out of it. 

Mameda no Bakeru really does feel like a modern 3D Goemon game in every sense of the phrase. The aesthetic is absolutely fantastic and those who are interested in or love Japanese culture will find a lot to like in this game. The available play styles are pretty fun, however the camera can sometimes be a slight hinderance on the gameplay and the framerate does have some issues.. Not only that, but the amount of Japanese might turn some players off from taking the plunge. Still, if you’re looking for a fun, old-school Goemon-like game, Good Feel has made something special with Mameda no Bakeru.

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