In a year that has already seen the release of another popular Japanese franchise we would never expect to see stateside (Sakura Wars), Aksys Games delivers yet another that anyone who has ever heard of it, never expected. Cho Aniki Zero is quite possibly the most peculiar shooter ever created. Having spawned several iterations in Japan over the years most gamers who knew the premise just assumed the game would never make its way across the ocean. Well now PSP owners can finally see what all the fuss is about as Cho Aniki Zero makes its way into your portable system; phallic-shaped logo and all.
By all intents and purposes Cho Aniki Zero is a horizontal shooter in the spirit of Gradius or R-Type. There are two characters to choose from each with various power-up moves, and you can choose a helper to soak up extra bullets and help eliminate enemies. The main separating piece here is that most of the enemies and artwork features oiled-up half-naked men on the screen. Some of the stuff will make you feel downright uncomfortable at times such as the continue screen which features two men “hugging” while you mash the X button to build up protein to continue; or the loading screen which simply reads: “Oh…oh God! Here it comes!”. Your special meters are also measured in Gallons of Man Juice and Eruptions if you catch the “subtle” innuendo.
When you strip away the glittery cover you are left with a one-dimensional shooter that quickly loses its appeal. There are only five stages on normal (three on easy) and very little to unlock in the process. The first three stages are an absolute cakewalk, and you can blast through them in less than ten minutes. The final two stages are exercises in torture and will have you starting over constantly from the beginning until you simply memorize the pattern. The PSP version also really feels limited in visual appeal as the stages don’t do much to differentiate themselves until the later areas. Uninspired locales and enemies crop up constantly, and without the goofy cut scenes and flamboyance the game would easily be dismissed as a generic shooter.
On the positive side there is a lot of style to be found here. The story, while totally eccentric, is entertaining and chock full of crude references. The main villain is the successor to the original Cho Aniki bad guy named Balzac. He is appropriately titled Balzac II. The menus and sound effects are definitely going to turn heads it you are playing this game in a public area. I will give it credit for being entirely unique, it is just a shame that when you strip away (no pun intended) the extremities you are left with a disappointing shooter that does nothing to set itself apart.
Cho Aniki Zero is definitely an experience, but not one that probably warrants its hefty price tag. If the game had been released as a downloadable title for either XBLA or PSN at around ten bucks it might be easier to swallow (again no pun intended), but as it stands PSP owners have a much better selection of shmups to choose from. It is awesome that Aksys has decided to bring over this unique experience, and I hope they take more chances like this in the future, but outside of hardcore fans that have always been dying to play the series, this game will leave most gamers disappointed.
Review copy provided by publisher.