The Japanese have a reputation for producing bizarre videogames from time to time and Let’s Zenryoku Hitchhike!!!!!!!!! (yes, nine exclamation points!) is a perfect example of one.
At its heart this is a virtual board game, a genre that appears to be well-represented on the Japanese service. In fact as of this writing a WiiWare version of Game of Life has been the number one downloaded title for a few weeks now and an original board game title with a pop-up book format is also in the top 20 download list.
Given the niche genre this game occupies, it needs to be evaluated a little differently than your normal videogame. After all there are no scores and no leaderboards, any more than there would be for a game of Monopoly or Cluedo: you play until you win, full stop.
The premise (keeping in mind I have next to zero comprehension of spoken Japanese and my reading comprehension is good for kana pronunciation and transcription only) seems to be that a group of four people were having dinner together when suddenly dinosaurs and UFOs showed up out of nowhere. Leaving quickly (as you would) they neglected to pay their tab and the enraged (and psychotic) restaurant owner/chef is pursuing them through a series of four areas.
At the start you choose your character from a selection of people (all of whom have cubes for heads for some reason): a girl with ginger hair in pigtails and an extremely whiny voice, a woman with green hair and three red pom-poms, a young black man with a purple pompadour, a 70’s era sports coat and flares and a middle-aged balding man with a bad comb-over.
The game board consists of a start and goal space linked by a series of face-down “cards” which are turned over after every move. Your character moves one space at a time at which point the game shifts to hitchhiking mode since this is the means of getting to your destination (presumably the diners left their own cars behind in their haste).
After a couple of turns the chef will show up on the board and pursue your character at a rate of one space per turn. If he lands on the same space as your character (or vice versa) it’s game over (though you can restart the level); so your hitchhiking becomes more about fleeing him than getting to any particular destination.
Hitchhiking consists of two parts: using the pointer on the wiimote to choose some form of transport (choice varies from area to area), each of which has a rating in stars which reflects the number of spaces you will travel if you succeed in hitching a ride. There’s a time limit of a few seconds to select from the number of transport options and the transports have small target areas for displaying their stars rating, so you need to choose quickly. After making a choice your transport will move over from the background towards your character.
At this point your character will mime an action with the wiimote and you will have a few seconds in which to try to duplicate that action three times. Each time you get it right you’re assigned a success percentage which causes a gauge to fill under the stars rating for the transport. Your highest rating out of the three attempts will be chosen to reflect how impressed your chosen ride was with your movements. The higher the rating, the more stars fill up and the further you travel. Transports range from 1-5 stars and the wiimote actions vary in difficulty. Of course all this is compounded by wiimote motion detection issues generally, but it works pretty well and means there’s always a bit of uncertainty as to your performance.
After success (or failure) you return to the board view and your character moves ahead (or not). In addition to normal spaces, you may turn up one of two card draws: move card draw and event card draw. In either case you have a choice of five cards to select with the pointer. A move card will result in your character moving forwards or backwards from 1-5 spaces or not moving at all; other cards will either stop the chef from moving or move him an extra space. On an event space you may turn up dinosaurs or UFOs which will then appear in the next hitchhike attempt and get in the way of your pointer when trying to flag down a vehicle.
Reaching the goal means going to the next area and repeating. There are four areas in total: farm, Japan, Dinosaur Island, Moon and the transition is accompanied by a cut scene with dialogue showing the group running to the next area. Each area has different transport choices: trees, cows, tractors and 70s muscle cars on the farm, rikshaws, taxis and police cars in Japan, styracosaurs, tyrannosaurs and pterosaurs on Dino Island and Space Shuttles, UFOs and Ultra Man on the Moon. Reaching the Finish means another cut scene which shows that somehow you’ve won a cash prize; the chef apparently gets paid and in the completion of the circle you’re back in the restaurant and everyone’s happy. The final scene is that of the chef looking psycho again, so is everything truly okay?
The actions in the game range from simply holding the wiimote vertically and thrusting it out in front of you to spinning around 5 times. Clearly the game is going to work best with more than one person and the card draws differ with human opponents: some move draws allow you to move your opponent, whereas one of the events allows you to “paint” the screen during your opponent’s next hitchhike attempt, obstructing their choice of vehicle.
Completing the starting level unlocks an additional difficulty level and completing that one unlocks a 3rd. Each increase in difficulty adds extra spaces to the game board and more challenging motions in the hitchhiking section as well as causing the chef to appear on the board earlier and giving him extra movement spaces. Your game can be saved between areas enabling a game to be picked up later via a choice on the initial menu screen. Furthermore you can play any of the individual areas by themselves on any of the difficulty choices.
The price of 1000 points seems a bit steep for a title that has no more replay value than a game of Monopoly and less possible outcomes, but for the sheer novelty value alone I think it’s worthwhile.