Welcome to the Pocky and Rocky Shrine!

You may not know about the Pocky and Rocky game series, but they’ve had four titles under their belt with a new one that just came out!  They’re 2-D shooters, but they don’t auto-scroll (think Ikari Warriors or Commando), but it’s the theme that makes them stand out.  The games have a Japanese myths and legends motif.  They’re really fun games, but also really hard!  Or maybe I just suck at them, I dunno.  Anyway, since the new game just came out, I thought I’d be your tour guide in this shrine featuring all the games in the series!  So let’s begin!

KiKi KaiKai (Arcade)

The first game in the series was an arcade game by Taito and it never left Japan.  In fact the first time I think you could play it in the US was on one of the Taito Legends collections.  In the game, you play as Sayo-chan, a Japanese Shinto shrine maiden.  You threw cards like bullets at enemies and could also wave a special rod to swat away bad guys and projectiles.  You fought in locations like Japanese temples and battled all manner of Yokai, which is another word for mythical Japanese monsters.  Because the game was so heavily steeped in Japanese culture, that’s probably why it never left that country in arcades.  Like most arcade games, I found this one really hard.  And since it wasn’t the first game I played in the series, I wasn’t very impressed with the graphics either, even though I’m sure they were all right for 1985.  The game got some home ports in Japan, like on the Famicom and MSX, and I think some even added things to it, like a lot of arcade conversions did back then.  But they were mostly the same game.

Pocky & Rocky (SNES)

The next game in the series was on the SNES, and it was brought to the US by Natsume.  I actually didn’t know this was really the second game in the series until the Internet came along and I could learn more about arcade games I didn’t know about.  The big thing this one brought to the table was two-player simultaneous play.  The first player controlled Sayo-chan, now called Pocky in the US.  But the second player controlled Rocky, a tanuki.  He threw leaves instead of cards, and used his tail to swat away stuff.  Did you know that Rocky was actually the final boss of the first game, but since then he’s now friends with Pocky the shrine maiden?  The graphics were also greatly improved and the levels were more varied.

I rented this game a time or two back in the day.  I never got very far because the game was still pretty hard.  I knew it had a Japanese setting because of the buildings and music, but I didn’t know that the monsters were all from Japanese myths or that Rocky was a tanuki.  The game called him a raccoon.  Back then, the Internet wasn’t really around so if you wanted to learn about Japanese myths, you had to go to the library and hope they had a book about that (the libraries in my town sure didn’t).  I would make the connection a while later that games like this, Super Mario Land 2, and Kirby’s Dream Land 2 all had the same one-eyed, one footed umbrella monsters, but that’s about it.

Pocky & Rocky 2 (SNES)

The sequel also came out on the SNES a couple of years later.  I never played this one until I dabbled in emulation when it first came on the scene when I was in college.  But when this game first came out, it wasn’t at the video rental places, and I don’t remember seeing it in any stores either.  And even if I saw it in a store, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford it because I was just a teen or college student with a limited income.  I think it was even a super rare game back then!  So I don’t know much about this one.  I know there was another playable character or two, there were some new moves, and the graphics were even better as it as a late 16-bit title.

Pocky & Rocky With Becky (GBA)

I was first excited to play this one on the GBA, as I was hoping for a portable game that resembled the SNES titles.  But it actually looked more like the original arcade game, so I was disappointed with that.  You could play as Pocky, Rocky, or new character Becky, who was just another shrine maiden.  Maybe a little younger than Pocky.  I read she was also in the Famicom version of the first game.  So yeah, overall I was kind of disappointed with this one.

Pocky & Rocky Reshrined (Switch, PS4)

This is the newest game that came out.  It feels like a reboot at first since the levels and enemies seem the same, but it’s a new game with more playable characters and levels.  I won’t go into it much here since my full review of it will be up in a couple of days.  But it’s still fun yet very hard.  But it’s the good kind of hard where you feel like you can go a little further each time.  The sprite based pixel graphics are also beautiful.  Sometimes I just want to pause and admire the visuals, like the fallen leaves on the pavement in the temple and such.  Anyway, make sure to check out my review when it posts in a couple of days after this.  I wish I would’ve ordered the special edition of this game because it comes with an adorable Rocky plush!


I thought I’d conclude this blog with a few Pocky and Rocky cameos and other bits and facts.  Like Namco, Taito has been around for a long time and likes to put cameos of their classic characters in games.  Pocky and Rocky is no exception.  Pocky aka Sayo-chan has appeared in other Taito games like Space Invaders DX, Pop & Pop, and Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders.  I’m sure she’s appeared in more than that, but I don’t feel like listing them all.

There was a shooter game series in arcades and on the Wii called Castle of Shikigami and it was published by Taito.  One of the playable characters is a shrine maiden who throws cards.  At first I thought it was the same character as Pocky but it’s really not.  The shrine maiden archetype is just more common in Japan.  But who knows, maybe they meant for it to be at least a reference.  Laika, aka Time Gal was a character in Castle of Shikigami 3, and Time Gal was an earlier laserdisc game from Taito, so it’s entirely possible that was a reference, too.

It’s true that the Wii had way too many mini-game collections.  But some were actually kind of fun.  One of them I liked was Furu Furu Park.  It was from Taito so some of the mini-games were references and cameos to their classic titles.  They also had a DS companion game called “Turn It Around,” where you used the touch screen to rotate an imaginary dial.  That one also had Taito classic game references.  But in Furu Furu Park on the Wii, one of the mini-games was based on the gameplay and characters from Kiki KaiKai aka Pocky and Rocky.  It played like a level from the game, just with 3-D graphics.  It makes you wonder if they could’ve done a Pocky and Rocky game on the Wii.  But that never happened. Or did it…?

Heavenly Guardian

Back in the Wii days, a company I think called UFO was going to make a couple of games based on classic Taito properties.  But that never happened.  I heard two reasons behind this.  One was that Taito wasn’t happy with the quality of those games.  The other reason I heard was that this was about the time that Square-Enix bought out Taito and they canned those projects.  But UFO changed some things in those games and released them anyway.  The first game they released was originally based on Chuka Taisen, or Cloud Master.  It was a horizontally scrolling 2-D shooter featuring a monkey riding a cloud, so it was based on the Journey to the West story.  And the enemies and backdrops looked like old Japanese art.  They didn’t have to change much with this game since it was based on a story that was in the public domain anyway.  But the other game they released was originally based on Pocky and Rocky!  They changed the name to Heavenly Guardian and it starred a young lady with ice powers named Sayuki.  She shot out ice balls instead of cards and they changed some of the levels to fit the theme, like the first level being all snowy and such.  Many people say this is the spiritual successor to Pocky and Rocky, and yeah I can kind of see that.

Anyway, that’s about all I know about Pocky and Rocky.  Have you played any of the games in this series?  Do you have a favorite?  Let me know in the comments section, and make sure to read my full review of Pocky and Rocky Reshrined when it posts in a couple of days from now.  Later!  –Cary

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