Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Asmik's Asmik-Kun Land, which represented on the Famicom in Japan in 1991, a palindrome.]

And Now For a Personal Anecdote

Kwirk kicking back with the guy from NARC, Wizards and Warriors and some dude from Double DribbleOnce, when I was little, I chose two Game Boy games. One was Kwirk, which featured a punk rock, shades wearing Tomato who solved puzzles. It was boring. Kwirk later found himself on the Acclaim TV show Video Power. There may be a reason that Acclaim went out of business. The other game was Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World. The cover featured a pink dinosaur rendered in a carefree illustrated manner, with overlapping eyes, thick black outlines and colors that refused to be contained within. Hopefully, this was to be a gateway to some sort of Doodleville. It ended up being a poor puzzle hybrid. Oh, to buy games based on their box art…

Warp forward to 2006 with various Hong Kong-ish sites offering dual Famicom/NES compatible clones (of questionable legality.) A Famicom cartridge appears with said little pink dinosaur. This is the game I wanted.

Fond Fossil Found

Great SceneryAsmik-Kun Land was Asmik’s late, 1991, entry into the 8-Bit mascot war in Japan. (Now, why they wouldn’t release Boomer, a pink dinosaur who attacks with what appears to be gentle flatulence [OK, it’s a tail-whip] to a generation of strapping young lads who were mesmerized by Sonic’s ‘tude escapes me.) It does give entry to Doodleville, my translation for Asmik-Kun Land. The pastel skies are filled with band-aids, eggs, cutlery, crayons and their sketches that cement the game’s artistic nature. Environment effects include pollen that makes poor Boomer sneeze, interrupting whatever he’s doing, and tomato juice pools that turn him all red and disallow him the use of his items until he washes in some water.

Items can be purchased at any time via the select button using the egg currency Boomer picks up from enemies he’s tail-whipped/farted on. Boomer’s repertoire is a varied, if typical, skill set including rolling attacks, flying, time freeze, an air bubble and the very useful ‘1-OK’, that allows a preventative hit point before a premature ice age. Now, with Boomer being a light weight one-hit kill, coupled with game’s ur-physics (inertia and gravity playing token roles), you get an uprooted 2D platformer where the control approaches the uncanny. Enemies are as bizarre as the surroundings, and are plentiful, with each having their own unique trick to master. Combined, there is definite challenge with the little pinko dino.

Attack of the Band Aids boomer6.jpg

Random Rock Paper Scissors

The game unfolds on an island map, where you can pick which stage you want to play. Each stage is 2 levels long and usually consists of the age old “go as far right as you can” progression, with some horizontal challenges, an underwater level and one in the air. Each stage ends with a boss battle. Boomer doesn’t appear to be capable or willing to take these guys head on, so they play games of Ro-sham-bo (aside: easily the worst minigame in The Rub Rabbits), mixed in with a game of Mother May I and some other random elements hidden in those Japanese glyphs. Pro-tip: stick with scissors, feather the run button, and save your eggs; messing up depletes your stock and when you hit zero, it's back to the beginning of the stage. With luck, perseverance, and some big ovaries, you can clear all the bosses to unlock the challenging final stage, and finally the disappointing all-text ending.

Crayon Sky Power Ups

In the end Asmik-Kun Land is a unique platformer with a clever aesthetic style, a fossil of the popular cel-shading we see today. The somewhat random and anticlimactic boss battles are a barrier for those lacking in Japanese knowledge, but there is a wave of satisfaction in wrestling through this black box’s internal logic into victory. Not an upper echelon title that the West missed out on, but worthy of inspection and play.

[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]