Buying the home conversion of an arcade game back in the early nineties was a risky and unpredictable game affair: Entire stages may be skipped, less popular characters mysteriously absent, voice samples were more often than not thrown out at the earliest opportunity, and if a unique enemy or particularly large boss just wasn’t going to work on relatively puny consumer hardware then it would just have to go, perhaps replaced with a recoloured repeat of an earlier opponent with twice the health to fill in the gap. These were what we once called “accurate” ports, clearly lesser home releases that at least could be claimed to be visually similar to their arcade counterparts, so long as you didn’t look at them too closely. Others reused nothing more than the name of their fancy forebear and then creatively reimagined the concept to better suit its new home – if they had been given the time and freedom to do so, that is – some poor souls were given nothing more than the license to use the game’s title and likenesses and told to get on with making a working program that’ll be complete in time for the lucrative holiday season.
We’ve been trained over the years to look at arcade ports only in relation to how accurate they are(n’t) to the original, every minor change or omission a point or three docked off a home version’s score – but what about the Mega Drive version of Chiki Chiki Boys, a port that changes things on purpose? And what if those well thought out tweaks end up making the game play so much better (and yes, this is even taking into account the Mega Drive port’s lack of multiplayer Chiki Chiki’ing)?
It all revolves around zenny, Capcom’s classic game currency seen in many of their most famous titles (including Monster Hunter). In the arcade game you’d collect coins big and small by whacking suspicious parts of the scenery – a short dead end, a cave wall, an empty platform that can only be reached by a high jump – to reveal hidden treasure chests, scooping up all the shinies within to increase your score – and who doesn’t want to end up at the top of the high score table in an arcade (what do you mean, “Nobody in the past twenty years“)? But at home these coins have a more practical use as they’re now spent in the between-stage shop, allowing players the opportunity to buy an extra continue, refill their health or magic, and purchase permanent upgrades to their sword and shield – the one power up that’s been removed from the regular stages. This small feature completely rebalances the game by introducing a small but incredibly important amount of decision making to what was originally a pretty straightforward arcade platformer – decisions that can only be made by those who put the time and effort into acquiring as much zenny as possible in the stage before and are then skilled enough to keep it (using a continue halves your current zenny, as per gaming tradition). Do you dare skip buying a precious continue to afford a sword? Are you happier prioritising attack or defense? Do you think you’re good enough to defeat the next boss without a full compliment of magical “bombs”? Are you sure you can remember where that hidden recovery item was in the next level – and can you reach it? Best of all there’s no punishment for using these services either: Your fourth continue costs no more than your first, and the sword upgrade you were saving up for isn’t suddenly more expensive just because you didn’t buy it before round 3.
But even though health refills are always cheap and bosses can often be quickly bomb-spammed into submission (stock allowing) Chiki Chiki Boys is going to feel like a tough challenge from the very first stage. You have just one life, and although you can buy a fresh continue from every post-stage shop you can only do so if you haven’t already got one – and only one – in reserve. The good new is the game’s always fair: That continue may have to last until at least the next shop screen but at least if you do need to use it you’ll find yourself carrying on from the exact same point you died, even if that was in the middle of a boss battle. Many projectiles – including most thrown by bosses – can be slashed away with your sword, and the game’s more than happy to place several semi-hidden health items around the stage, often somewhere just before a boss battle or just after a tricky health-sapping part. So while Chiki Chiki Boys isn’t so laid back you can just blunder through without thinking it also isn’t so harsh that you have to play perfectly to make any progress either. Oh and while we’re talking about the game’s challenge: although holding down A+B+C on the title screen to access the game’s difficulty settings and sound test is often mentioned in various internet places as a cheat, this is actually listed as just another feature in at least the Japanese manual – why they didn’t include the usual game start/option menu is beyond me, but whatever the reason this menu wasn’t intended to be something you weren’t supposed to find or use.
As welcome as those changes are it’s great to see the graphics stick so closely to the arcade game they were taken from – even the animation-heavy brothers retain their unique looks, the blue 1P twin sporting a tuft of brown hair and a breezy heroic skirt while the red 2P twin wears a decorated helmet and the loose trousers of someone who likes to save kingdoms in stretchy comfort. Graphical details like these really make the game feel like you’re off on a cartoony adventure, the exaggerated “ouch” faces on enemies and heroes alike (all the way up to a flag-waving game over animation) never fail to raise a smile, and the desperate Wile E. Coyote style scrabble before losing hold of a vertical surface (the twins are far more athletic than you’d imagine the cute-n-chunky cast of a 1990 arcade-originated title to be) is not only funny to watch but useful visual information as well. The game’s packed with astonishing little touches that were impressive in arcades never mind at home, from landscapes that wibble with the heat when walking through a lava-filled cavern to our heroes wearing a snorkel as they swim or donning a very cute winged ducky hat when flying in the clouds. The areas these gorgeous flourishes are found in are presented as often as possible as one continuous scrolling stage, or if there must be a break you can rely on a short visual transition as a cloud at the end of one area carries you up to the next, or exiting a watery area through the gushing mouth of a large stone gargoyle – it’s not much but it’s enough to suggest you really are walking deeper into a monster’s castle or swimming beneath the sea.
Sometimes simple old platformers are too simple and too old to really be worth spending any time with now for reasons other than nostalgia or novelty, and while it would be dishonest to call Chiki Chiki Boys relevant – platformers barely exist at all at this point in time, never mind as anything that could even be tenuously traced back to this game – it is still honestly worth sitting down with purely on quality alone. There are no Ghouls ‘n Ghosts style second loops to waste your limited leisure time slogging through here, and hint fairies can be found along the way (in both the English and Japanese versions of the game) so you don’t have to miss out on the one thing you need to secure that all-important good ending either. No it’s not arcade perfect – and you won’t mind one bit: The game serves as a great reminder that although arcade-accurate ports should always be as widely available as possible, slavish loyalty to the source material isn’t automatically the best and only way to bring these coin-guzzling games home. Thanks to some good ideas and Capcom’s willingness to allow their use, it doesn’t matter that you can now probably run this through MAME on a smart fridge, or several Capcom Classics collections have gone and made the “real thing” easily and cheaply available – this almost thirty year old Mega Drive cartridge still has something truly unique and enjoyable to offer.