Final Round. – Rakugakids

In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1998’s Rakugakids

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Year of Release – 1998
Developer – Konami
Publisher – Konami
Platforms – Nintendo 64

The Nintendo 64 is held in high regard for a number of reasons. It introduced us to the exciting new world of 3D platforming in Super Mario 64, it took The Legend Of Zelda to a whole new level in The Ocarina Of Time and Majora’s Mask, and it even redefined what a co-op multiplayer FPS game should be like with Goldeneye. One thing that the Nintendo 64 was not really known for is 2D fighting games.

With the exception of the legendary Super Smash Bros., the Nintendo 64 had a measly handful of poor fighting game ports and a disappointing Clay Fighter sequel to its name, but in 1998, Konami released a game that was touted to bring the beloved Capcom-style fighting experience to the console in the form of Rakugakids.

Available only in Japan and Europe, Rakugakids (a portmanteau of the japanese word rakugaki, which means “doodle”, and “kids”)  follows the same formula as Clay Fighter 63 1/2 in that it is a 2.5D platformer, using 2D character sprite movement on semi-3D levels. The control layout follows the classic arcade fighter layout, with three types of punches and kicks, with taunts available for each fighter. As is to be expected of a game of this type, there is also a ‘crayon meter’ that fills the more you attack your opponent – when it is completely filled, you can pull off a devastating special “magic” move.

A unique feature of Rakugakids is that Story Mode can be played by using Battle Mode. This mode automatically plays the game for you using your trained up characters from Training Mode. If you’ve trained enough, your character will react to opponent attacks in the same way that you yourself would. While this AI may not exactly match up to the abilities of a real-life player, it’s an interesting way to change up the difficulty level on a bespoke basis, and encourages players to improve.

Roster

It stands to reason that a video game that looks like a kid’s cartoon has to include a story that is only acceptable in a kid’s cartoon, and Rakugakids is no exception.

Set in the peaceful city of Twinkle Town, it was school holidays, and the Twinkle gang of schoolkids sailed to an island where they found a cave with crayons hidden inside. They split them among the group, but before they had finished, a bully came and stole the pack along with the last two crayons! He drew a mischievous-looking character, who came to life and said “Let’s cause trouble!”. Twinkle Town was terrified of the bully and his crayon character, so the Twinkle gang decided to draw their own superheroes to stop the bully!

The concept brings to mind one of the best episodes of Spongebob Squarepants, “Frankendoodle“, where Spongebob uses a magic pencil to bring one of his demented drawings to life, but Rakugakids predates the episode by almost a full four years. The character designs, both for the kids and their respective doodle characters, are fantastic, and their attached animations are brilliant too.

Another interesting point to note about the characters animation is that they are paper thin. As found in more well known games such as PaRappa The Rapper and Paper Mario, the lack of depth on each fighter’s visual style really works well with the game’s concept of them being drawings that have come to life.

Astronots

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Created by Andy, Astronots is the main protagonist of Rakugakids story and is heavily inspired by pulp sci-fi comics and classic b-movies of the 1950s. This Buck Rogers-esque astronaut is essentially the “shoto” of the game, and has a number of lockdown attacks, uppercuts and stronger zoning than many of the other characters, thus making him an ideal choice for new players to pick.

Captain. Cat. Kit

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DDJ creates Captain. Cat. Kit., a DJ/rapping cat (much like PaRappa The Rapper) that utilises musical instruments, basketballs and boomboxes as weapons (because, ya know, stereotypes).

In addition to being one of the faster characters, C.C.K is most effective at poke attacks, so he’s ideal for players that want to push the tactic of backing their opponents into the corners of the stage in an effort to curb any offensive attacks from them.

Marsa

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Nola’s contribution to the game is a chicken hat-wielding (that has a mind of its own) witch called Marsa. The only fighter in the game that has a triple jump (the “Marsa Jump”) in her move repertoire also uses her hat as a defensive projectile weapon. Ideal for players that favour defensive maneuvers over all-out assault methods.

It also seems that her hat is the character we see in the menus.

Robot C.H.O

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Jerry’s character in Rakugakids is Robot C.H.O, a robot that can morph into various metal objects such as a car, garbage can and a rocket.

Robot C.H.O is the bruiser of the game’s roster, and is able to dish out huge amounts of damage in fewer attacks, but his strength sacrifices his speed, as he is also the slowest character in the game.

Beartank

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Clione’s entrant into Rakugakids is Beartank; a bear that is also a tank. This self-explanotory sleepy teddy bear/death machine is the technical fighter of the game as many of his specials involve shooting out tiny Beartanks, to take control of more stage space. He can also make a body-double that makes it easy to trap an opponent.

Beartank castlevania

Beartank is also one of the more interesting additions in Rakugakids as he has been featured in a number of different Konami games over the years. The first cameo appearance is in 2001’s Gameboy Advance title Castlevania: Cicle Of The Moon as a secret character. Equipping the Bear Ring and activating the Black Dog and Pluto cards transforms the game’s main character Nathan into Beartank, who has an incredibly high offense stat, with an incredibly low defense stat.

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Beartank would pop up again as a hidden character in the 2001 Gameboy Advance racing game Konami Krazy Racers, a game that fell into obscurity due to it being overshadowed by Mario Kart: Super Circuit, despite it receiving some favourable reviews across the board and being one of the handheld console’s launch titles.

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The final game in which Beartank makes a cameo appearance is the 1999 Nintendo 64 game Goemon: Mononoke Sugoroku. While our favourite stuffed mammal/war vehicle hybrid isn’t technically a playable character in the game, he instead shows up as one of the equippable attack cards, displaying him snoozing away in the background.

Cools. Roy

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Roy’s creation in Rakugakids is the masked cowboy Cools. Roy. This Lone Ranger-ish character fights with honour (his taunt is a bow to the opponent), and has a variety of zoning options that makes him one of the best characters to use if you don’t want your opponent getting in close. His speed isn’t too impressive, but he makes up for it with some extra oomph behind his attacks.

Mamezo & Inuzo

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Val’s contribution to the roster is Mamezo, a caped villain who can transform into a whole manner of different objects, such as scissors (the pinking shears type, because why not?), a spoon and an iron. His cape also seems to be alive, much like Doctor Strange’s cape in the comics and movies.

Mamezo’s special attacks are all projectile-based, therefore making him the most effective keep-away selection in the entire game. His special “magic” moves are also hilarious too, as one in particular sees him spawn a phonebox, order a pizza and get the opponent run over by the delivery driver’s scooter.

Inuzo

Inuzo, the creation of Val’s dog Mudgas (a typically stinky name if there ever was one), is simply a colour pallette swap of Mamezo, but is slightly faster and slightly stronger than the original. This EX version of Mamezo is the game’s sub-boss, and is an absolute pain in the ass to fight. One of the most annoying Rakugakids characters, but that’s kinda the point, isn’t it?

Darkness

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The big bad bully of Rakugakids, George, creates the final boss of the game, a psychotic ghost dog named Darkness.

Darkness’ speciality is controlling the flow of the match, baiting his opponents into committing errors, and punishing them as soon as the window of opportunity appears. He can also teleport to different areas of the stage mid-fight, and also possesses a slash barrage attack. Despite these intimidating factors, Darkness is quite easy to defeat, thus making players feel a little bit short changed.

Each character has two special EX attacks at their disposal, and are probably one of the best aspects of the game. The entire range of these insane attacks can be seen below…

Levels

There are eight levels in the game, and are specific to each character. These stages also implement a 2.5D effect when moving to either side of the screen.

The levels are as follows;

  • Mama’s Factory – Clione’s room, with a strange mirror effect.
  • Grand Hall – The hallway of the mansion in Twinkle Town.
  • Viva!! School – The pathway of the local school, complete with a big yellow schoolbus.
  • Rocket Park – The sandbox of the Twinkle Town playground.
  • Twinkle Beach – The entrance to the Twinkle Town beach, complete with surfboards.
  • Sky Hoop – A graffiti-covered basketball court.
  • Orange Bridge – Situated on the walkway beneath the Twinkle Town Bridge.
  • Rough “B” Rock – A warehouse alleyway.

While the characters in Rakugakids are fantastic to look at, and explode onto the screen with various exciting super moves and taunts, the levels themselves leave quite a lot to be desired. The levels remain lifelessly static throughout and feel empty in comparison to the exaggerated action coming from the fights.

Victory!

As is customary in 2D fighting games, each character has their own specific ending in Rakugakids. Each of these endings sees the kids carry on their friendship with their creations, and are all good fun, which fits the tone of the game perfectly.

The post-credits sequence also seemingly sets the game up for a sequel, featuring new kids and the resulting new characters. That sequel never arrived, but it’s interesting to imagine what Rakugakids 2 would have brought to the table on Nintendo Gamecube!

Overall Verdict

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It is clear from the word go that Rakugakids isn’t particularly aimed at hardcore fighting game fans, but it offers a variety of cool features that even the most avid beat-’em-up fanatic can appreciate even at a base level. The visual style is bonkers, the moves are insane and the character animation is definitely some of the strongest examples of good 2D graphics for the era of Nintendo 64.

However, the game is a massive letdown on a technical level. Due to the game having to load & cache literally thousands of animation frames & textures into the console’s 4MB RAM, Rakugakids pushes the hardware to its limits, and the game suffers tremendously as a result. The loading screens take absolutely forever (which isn’t really acceptable for a cartridge-based game), the controls are a bit all over the place and pace of the game is ridiculously slow (in a genre where fights tend to last less than a minute, it’s simultaneously jarring and frustrating to have to grind through a several minute long fight).

It’s not a perfect game, but as far as fighting games for the Nintendo 64 go, Rakugakids is still definitely worth checking out.

Did you ever play this relatively unknown Nintendo 64 fighter? Let us know in the comments, or fire a tweet our way!

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