Pocky & Rocky Reshrined Review – Maiden ‘n’ Racoon Connection

    Title: Pocky & Rocky Reshrined
    Developer: NatsumeAtari/Tengo
    Release Date: June 24, 2022
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: ININ Games
    Genre: Arcade

Although the game has been out in Japan for quite some time and import friendly, all things considered, it’s nice to see an official worldwide release of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. The franchise itself may not have enjoyed the same mainstream success as other IPs from the same era, but these were always highly acclaimed games, and the latest is a remake of the most popular SNES entry. Mixing old-school shooting gameplay with a superb modern presentation, this is right up there as one of the most playable modern retro releases in 2022.

The original Pocky & Rocky on SNES was a top-down shooter, where the gameplay resembled something like Ikari Warriors, but with more emphasis on chaotic enemy patterns and nuanced gameplay systems. The latest Reshrined release is a remake of the SNES classic and so much more, and while it may retain the overall style, themes, and even enemies from the original, the experience really feels like a completely new game, thanks to new gameplay systems and even new playable characters that join the original duo of heroes.

Surprisingly, the game has a fun story that is presented in detailed cutscenes. Pocky the shrine maiden and Rocky the raccoon find out that various ghosts and ghouls are up to no good, even though they totally promised they wouldn’t cause trouble. It turns out that an evil overlord has gotten all the creatures to go wild, and so our duo and their new friends set out on this adventure.

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As a top-down shooter, the primary attack is a constant projectile where each character can move and attack in eight directions. Then there’s a screen-clearing special attack, which definitely comes in handy, as things get crazy in a hurry. There is a slide maneuver that can cover a large distance and can prove useful when dodging enemy attacks. Surprisingly, the most useful maneuver is, in fact, the deflect.

Represented by a sweeping motion, deflecting projectiles and certain enemies is what will help you more than playing an aggressive offensive. Deflecting projectiles is a surefire way to prevent damage from being taken, and sending projectiles back to enemies inflicts some high damage on them instead. If you want to get through this game smoothly, then get used to hitting that deflects button more often than the fire button.

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The campaign, much like prior games in the franchise, takes under two hours to complete … that is if you know what you’re doing. To start things off, you will need to complete the story mode on your own before being able to play the “free” mode with two-player coop.

Alternatively, you may also unlock this arcade mode by collecting a certain number of coins during story mode, but this is no small feat itself. Either way, you’re going to have to brave through story mode on your own before you get into the couch multiplayer shenanigans. Still, as mildly disappointing as this may seem at first, you will have a lot of fun regardless.

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This is unquestionably a tough, old-school game, so much so that Reshrined demands you to collect a certain number of coins just to unlock the easy difficulty setting. Like it or not, you’re going to have to learn things the hard way as you brave through seven jam-packed stages before facing the epic final boss.

Along the way, you’re going to slowly but surely grow accustomed to the level design, get better at responding to enemy patterns, and make use of all your skills to best the many boss battles. As a top-down shooter, it doesn’t get any more fun and chaotic than Pocky & Rocky, and Reshrined is perhaps the best possible modernization of this demanding gameplay style.

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Like any old-school game, there are limited lives and the dreaded game over screen, which usually sends you to the beginning of the stage, but thankfully the story mode of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined has checkpoints. Sure, they’re widely spaced, but it’s better than not having them at all, and they usually activate after a major mid-boss encounter. Checkpoints work even after a game over screen, making the process of unlocking the arcade mode a little easier.

The cool thing about the story mode is how it acquaints you with each of the playable characters, where each of them, including the titular Pocky and Rocky, has their own nuanced special abilities.  Joining the main duo are Ame-no-Uzume, Ikazuchi, and Hotaru Gozen. They may share the same basic controls, but in execution, they are vastly different in their special abilities and techniques, and this lends itself to a more enjoyable two-player coop experience later.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is just such a fun game to play, and its graphical style is a big part of the entertainment value. The sprites are colorful and detailed, and this is a game with a lot happening on screen. The stages and enemy designs look great, and everything has a charming and comedic look.  This is more than just a remake of a retro game, as the graphical style packs a serious punch and fits comfortably in the modern gaming landscape.

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Pocky & Rocky Reshrined is a fantastic remake of an acclaimed classic which deserved a wider audience, and this latest release is a great way to bring in new and old players alike. The story mode provides a satisfying and challenging experience where you come to grips with a diverse cast of characters and play styles, before diving into the endless replay value of two-player coop. Modern or retro, this is just a fun game to come back to again and again.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!