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 NaNaOn-Sha and SCEI's Vib Ribbon, alongside a quick look at its spiritual sequels, Mojob-Ribbon and Vib Ripple. It was released in 1999 for the PlayStation.]

The Lure of Vectors
Flash has changed the Internet. From intros to the ubiquitous skip intro button, lively animation has been twisting and tweening over CAT5 for years now. The power of pure unadulterated math and a coordinate grid has given rise to quick, crisp, scalable, if simplistic animation. Games, too, were once ruled by the vector graphics. Even today, if you chance upon an Asteroids machine or score a Vectrex on eBay, you can see the cause for appreciation of the elastic, monochromatic dancing light rotating, scaling and glowing on the screen. Shooting an asteroid and watching a diminishing trail of light following your bullet still gives mild heart palpitations, and Mine Storm's explosions have been known to make some tear up.

vibThe Masaya Matsuura-designed Vib Ribbon embraces the vector decor for a tandem arrangement: all the graphics are being created procedurally, and the seed of that procedure is generated from music CDs the player puts in. Thus, the game has to load its entire program set into RAM, where textures and the like gobble resources like Pac-Man in a ball pit.

Through this restriction, an amazing kinetic art is made. Our little spastic rabbit friend reminds me of Fiver, of Watership Down fame, caught in a constant shaking seizure, with a dash of Roger Rabbit bravado. (No cross-dressing Bugs in sight.) The music derived landscape is just as frantic, with shifting pits flipping into towers and an impossible circumference that brings forth images of the Little Prince's B612 asteroid, (which hopefully survived the onslaught of Asteroids...)

The Only Truly Interactive System is a Pacemaker

vibSo, Vib Ribbon lets you put in your favorite music (or use the supplied J-pop tracks from Laugh & Beats which, at the very least, are deserving of a listen and a laugh, as their name implies), generates levels based on amplitude, bass levels, and whatnot. All of those visualizations plugins for your favorite software media player work on the same principle, and it's nothing particularly new. Atari sold, or attempted to sell, light glasses in the early 80s, and it has been Jeff Minter's vocation for awhile. Vib Ribbon brought an implied level of interactivity. However, I see interactivity as a two way street. While the music plays out and the player attempt to navigate that killer bass line, the player isn't affecting the music. To be fair, successful navigation gives little bleeps, but they aren't fit to the tempo like the chord shooting of Otocky. And failure will stop the song, but this simple binary operation is as complex as a flowchart and hardly qualifies as an immerse interactive experience.

A Discouraged Magellan

no alt textDespite my meta-critique above, Vib Ribbon is a charming game, much like Matsuura's predecessors in the Parappa The Rapper series. While the Gaijin Restoration looks at games that didn't cross the oceans, Vib Ribbon made its way to the UK, and even at a discounted price, but alas, like a reluctant Magellan, never made it to the new world.

Some spiritual sequels were produced for Japan: Mojib-Ribbon, which featured such innovation as uploadable rap lyrics, but remains an exclusive pleasure as it requires writing Kanji with analogue stick, with all the stroke, order and penmanship needed to succeed in the competitive cram schools of japan. In other words, not import friendly. I've yet to get my hands on Vib Ripple, which allows you to upload digital pictures and explore them, but the colorized graphics, while well done, don't have the feeling, of taking guilty joy in the obsolete and the stark.

Anyone interested in Ribbon family should check out the following: the Vib Ribbon opening which is both adorable as well as informative, the Mojib-Ribbon opening which is tantalizing and the mirror of the old GIA Vib Ribbon worship page, with mp3 downloads and more video. And for good measure but bearing no relation, another Japanese ribbon game, the king of one button games, SFCave.

[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.]