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Backlog Impressions | Hakoniwa Explorer Plus

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What do you get when you mix amazing voxel graphics and vulgar antics? The wonderfully charming Hakoniwa Explorer Plus by suxamethonium and Playism that’s what!

Hooked on a Feeling

With every console generation there is a defining factor that makes games from that era feel unique. They induce nostalgia in very particular ways, and when thinking back, typically it elicits fond memories, experiences and of course adds to the pantheon that defines your gaming history. For example, the warm chiptunes of the SNES, or the verdant uprising of unique indie games on the Xbox Live Arcade. 

Now we could always go back and play the games of each era to relive those experiences, but one of the greatest discoveries is to find something new that wholeheartedly hooks you on that feeling. Well, suxamethonium has teamed up with Playism, to bring us a vulgar twist on some 32bit nostalgia with their debut title, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus! But is its charm only surface level?

A Sexy Summer Tan

Originally released on Steam in 2018, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus is an isometric action RPG that has you following an unnamed hero as he tries to make a name for himself (and stay out of trouble), by exploring dangerous dungeons throughout the game’s world. Eventually you learn that the Angels are trying to destroy the ozone layer in order to get themselves the perfect sexy summer tan. Unfortunately, if they were successful, that would mean that the world’s inhabitants (including you) would probably die from UV radiation exposure. So, knowing that you more than likely wouldn’t want that, you set out to put a stop to them!

The Vulgar Voxel

Even though I couldn’t find much information on the development of Hakoniwa, you can truly see suxamethonium’s love for voxel art when looking at his portfolio! Which is fortunate because that style lends itself perfectly to classic action RPGs similar to those that were found during the 32bit era. Even the blue gradient text boxes hammer that aesthetic home. But typically when you think of voxels, you think of flat shaded 3D cubes a la Minecraft, and maybe even something like 3D Dot Game Heroes from FromSoftware. That’s not the case in Hakoniwa though, as every object found in the world was hand drawn with glorious pixel art!

What I found truly impressive however was how much character the sprite work gave the world and its inhabitants! I loved that when exploring the environments, the backgrounds weren’t just stationary objects that you happen to pass over, but were moving and flowing, granting the game a very organic and lively feeling. The character designs were also super cute and I loved how each dungeon you explored had unique monster girls to find and extravagantly detailed bosses to fight! The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way at times, was the “segmentation” technique used to animate the bigger sprites. Which was similar to what you would find in many of the sprite based games of that era. 

In one way, that technique allowed for more flexible “faux” 3D animations, but in the end it made the bosses feel like marionettes. That and the isometric viewpoint didn’t help either because more often than not, it leaves you with awkwardly proportioned parts that don’t always line up in a convincing way. Combined that with the perspective and it wasn’t always the easiest to land a hit. Nevertheless, what ties it all together is the vulgar and naughty twist added to not only the designs but also the dialog! You’ll find items like pervy liquid, which traps enemies in place or low level “Shitty” gear that basically breaks after a few hits, and you can’t turn a corner without seeing a voluptuous bouncing butt! Not to mention NPCs won’t hesitate to tell you off when you accidentally run into them from behind and “touch their ass”. I love it! Truthfully, it’s a little shocking to see such vulgarity coming from such a cutesy game, but that’s a part of Hakoniwa’s charm!  It leans hard into its mature humor and I can more than appreciate that!

The music is just as delightful as well. Its upbeat chiptunes remind me very much of games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, and even Minecraft at times and I found myself humming along even after we finished it. Not all tracks were winners of course, and could occasionally become a little grating with high pitched tones, but the fact that each map had its own theme meant that there was much more good than bad!

Isometric This!

Where I think Hakoniwa falters slightly is in its gameplay loop. Not necessarily in what you are doing in the game, which is fun and easy to pick up and play, but in how you do it. So, typically you’ll be starting off in a village talking to all of the villagers, who will give you information on the various locations you can visit. Sometimes to get the information you’ll have to complete simple tasks or collect specific items. In other situations you’ll need to acquire the in-game “achievements” in order to advance, which can range from defeating area bosses to the more obscure like touching the butt of a certain evil NPC after paying her off!

Once you have your information you’ll then set out to explore the world map, revealing the locations, which are ranked by difficulty, the degree at which treasures appear and the size. As you explore each of these locations or dungeons, you’ll fight enemies, the occasional boss and collect treasure (items, money and equipment). They’re usually not that long, infinitely repeatable and really not that difficult despite their difficulty rank. Which is where the pick up and play nature of the game comes from.

The problem with all of this however, is threefold. Firstly, even though there’ll be no shortage of items to collect as you explore each dungeon, your inventory is criminally limited. Which means you’ll be swapping items in and out, dropping them, accidentally picking them back up, using things you wouldn’t otherwise use or just leaving them behind. My biggest issue with that is how it discouraged me from experimenting since once I had a good build, I didn’t want to try and make room for things that I was unsure of. Luckily, after defeating each area boss for the first time, you’ll receive a small inventory boost, but it never seemed like it was enough. Also, the menu was annoying to use, so that doubled my frustrations with it.

Secondly, the weapon and armor degradation system was out of control. Your equipment would lose durability at an alarming rate, meaning that you would always have to take up precious inventory space to hold multiple weapon and armor repair kits. I mean every time you swing your sword it would cost a durability point, whether you hit something or not! I can usually look past things like this, but for some reason it just felt that much more egregious in Hakoniwa. Probably because of my inventory gripes.

Finally, and this is possibly the least offensive of my gripes, but the controls in the game definitely leave something to be desired. Because of the isometric view, it can be difficult to judge distances or placement of platforms, which means it’s easy to fumble jumps or miss enemies when you try to attack them. The hit detection seemed off as well, though that could have been a result of the isometric view, but at times it felt like it took more than a second for the hit to register.

An Imperfect Gem

That being said, despite its gameplay flaws, Hakoniwa Explorer Plus was an addicting game and an absolute blast to play. Even though it could be frustrating at times fighting its inventory system or when attempting to land a hit on an enemy, its charms inspired me to keep pushing forward. It could just be my obsession with cute monster girl sprites and naughty humor, but I think even if you’re not the biggest fan of those things, the chill RPG-lite elements and engaging exploration is worth giving a try! 

This may be suxamethonium’s first release, but I truly think he and his team have a great concept on their hands and with some minor tweaks, Hakoniwa’s sequel (if there ever is one), could be the next big thing! If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find it right now on the Nintendo Switch and Steam!