Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi: Kaznapped!
Release Date: November 20, 2005
Buy 'HI HI PUFFY AMI YUMI: Kaznapped!': GBA
Anybody watching Cartoon Network in the past six months or so has invariably come across an unassuming show by the name of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi. HHPAY is the story of two J-Pop singers (Ami and Yumi, the members of a group formerly known as just "Puffy," hence the name - just don't ask me where the "Hi Hi" comes from) and their probably-fictitious manager, Kaz. Naturally, Ami is the poster child for Shibuya girls everywhere (roughly, the Japanese equivalent of a Valley Girl in America), and Ami is a goth-dressing, spiked-collar-wearing metalhead. This, of course, causes nothing less than what is scientifically known as "wacky hijinx."
HHPAY is a show so blatantly riding the coattails of America's recent craze with anything and everything Japanese, so shamelessly flaunting its Eastern influence (for the record, while the group is very much a real J-Pop group, the cartoon is of decidedly American make) that it's very easy to overlook that the show, while being far from original or deep, is quite well-written, and quite entertaining at times. Likewise, it's very easy to overlook Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi: Kaznapped! for the Game Boy Advance as Just Another Licensed Game, but if one gets past the fear of ridicule from controlling two cartoon J-Pop singers with bubblegum-colored hair, s/he will find a game with a surprising amount of depth and playability.
Kaznapped starts with Ami and Yumi's biggest fan, a little girl with an enormous head named Harmony, who wants to go on tour with the girls. Now, any rock star knows better than to bring along roadies that formerly stalked you, so the two make the obvious choice to refuse. Harmony won't take no for an answer, though, and steals both the band's manager, Kaz (hence the "Kaznapped" name, obviously) and all of the band's instruments (read: a whole mess of guitars, except for the one guitar Yumi actually uses), claiming if they won't go on tour with her, she'll go on tour all by herself. In order to reclaim their manager, their instruments, and ultimately their fame, the duo sets out over, well, a lot of side-scrolling levels.
In these levels of the game, you've got a now-rare form of game – the puzzle-platformer. Similar to The Lost Vikings or the Genesis and SNES incarnations of Animaniacs, your goal isn't just to get from point A to point B while avoiding certain doom; you also must figure out which girl to use at which time to get where you need to go. Each of the girls has separate but distinct skills, and will be vital many times while questing for dear manager Kaz.
Ami is the proud bearer of her microphone, which she can wrap around hooks and use to swing across gaps, or can use like a helicopter to slow her fall. She also possesses the reality-bending triple-jump, a move oft-used yet rarely explained in platform games, except one better. Yumi, on the other hand, does all the work. She can use her guitar to break large blocks, drag small blocks around, moves at a rate that isn't slower than a snail, and is strong enough to punch Harmony's mechanized Kaz clones into scrap metal. She'll pretty much be the one you'll consistently use if you don't need to swing across a gap or jump really high.
Along the way, you'll run across the aforementioned robots, along with paparazzi and even more psychotic fans. The robots are disposed of by a few punches or smacks with the guitar, but you can't hurt the actual people – that's bad publicity and loses you points. Instead, you hit them with a blast of music (a few power chords from Yumi's guitar, or an odd bit of singing by Ami which sounds exactly like a few power chords from a guitar) to stun them temporarily. There are also natural hazards – bulls, goats, dinosaurs, etc. – that can't be defeated, and must instead be avoided. Naturally, the girls have a super-team-up move that clears the screen, wowing the fans, destroying the robots, and just causing the other beasties to vanish for a time.
In between stages, the girls hop into their tour bus which inexplicably goes soaring through the skies to their next destination. These stages are similar to shooters like R-Type, or more accurately, Darius, right down to the odd attacks by robotic fish from nowhere. If you've played a ship-based shooter recently, you know how it goes. You shoot a near-endless stream of enemies down, collecting health, oddly Christmas-ornament-shaped bombs, and beating a big baddie at the end. There's one shooter stage for every three platform stages, allowing both to keep fresh while still being familiar enough to get progressively difficult without the player feeling like he's in over his head.
The difficulty is well-balanced ... for a kid's game. Older gamers will find it easy to beat on Normal mode, and will have few problems even on Hard, with infinite continues. There's a fair bit of replay value behind the game in the form of various unlockables, ranging from a Time Attack mode, to alternate costumes for the girls, to pictures of their real-life counterparts. Most of these are trifles at best, but the game takes a fair bit longer to completely max out than the majority of recent GBA titles.
The graphics are simple and probably could have been done for a Super NES launch title, but they do their job well. The backgrounds are crisp and sharp, if oddly stylized, and it's easy to make out details even on a non-backlit GBA. The sprites, on the other hand, are a bit stiff in their animations, seeming oddly jerky at worst and vaguely robotic at best. In addition, the musical notes you collect in every stage occasionally blend into the pastel backgrounds, making collecting the 99 notes in every world troublesome for those without keen eyes.
Sound, on the other hand, is forgettable. It's not that the music is ambient, that it blends in with the gameplay, no. It's that the background music is, at its best, so bland that you'll hear it and then forget what you listened to a minute later. At its worst, ear-grating notes melt the speaker of the GBA, demonic overtones meant to portray a rendition of the HHPAY intro music. The sound effects are cartoony and practically non-existent, so don't feel like you're missing anything by playing this one muted.
In a post-apocalyptic GBA market saturated with reason after reason to "just buy a Nintendo DS, already," Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: Kaznapped! is a surprisingly solid breath of fresh air. If you can shake off the stigma of playing a game based off a show that is essentially cashing in on America's Japan-fever, you'll find that Kaznapped, while not being the perfect GBA game, is good enough to warrant a spot in any platform gamer's heart. It's certainly a fair bit more enjoyable than the slew of movie licenses the handheld is seeing lately. Just play it with the sound off.