Yume Penguin Monogatari, or Dream Penguin Adventure as it translates, is truly a unique concept in video gaming. It is the marriage of both concept and design that I feel stands in it’s own category in gaming.
Released in 1991 in Japan only for Nintendo’s Famicom, Yume Penguin Monogatari has to be played to be truly appreciated.
The story is as follows; you play as a fat, happy little penguin named Penta. At the onset of the game you are dumped by your penguin girlfriend, Penko for the pimp hat and sunglasses wearing (and thus, evil) Ginji. Penka informs you that you can win her back, if you lose some of that blubber. And so begins your adventure.
The game’s action is split between platforming portions and side scrolling schmup levels. You have a gauge on the bottom of the screen indicating your level of fitness. You must maintain a certain level of fitness through-out each level (increasing the farther you get). The minimum level of fitness is indicated by a heart. If you are below the required level, the heart is broken is half. If above the heart is complete you are in the clear.
Depending on your level of fitness, Penta controls, and looks differently. At the lowest fitness level, Penta’s sprite is very fat. You move slowly and are not able to jump very high or far. Your only attack at this level is a kind of slow belly flop/bounce. At the mid-level of fitness you can run and jump at a fairly decent speed and height, and can also use a kick attack against enemies. At the highest level of fitness you can move very quickly, jump far and high, and you also gain a projectile shooting attack.
As if this bizarre, “measuring your worth by your thinness” theme wasn’t enough to make you what to play this game, this title also has both amazing art direction and amazing game play. The look of this game is highly imaginative, and also representative of some of the best 8-bit Japanese sprite artwork or the era. I mean, just look at the map you are shown in between levels. Fantastic.
At the beginning of each level Ginji is shown in a mini cut scene rationing out purple vitamin bottles to two of his henchmen. These henchmen appear through-out the ensuing stage and are typically most difficult baddies. Defeating these goons nets you the fore-mentioned purple vitamins. These increase your fitness to a much greater extent than the regular vitamins dropped by the common enemies.
The only way to lose fitness is by coming into contact with the food that the enemies throw, or by falling into water. For some reason falling into water reduces your fitness to it lowest point, regardless of how high your gauge is. When your are hit with a non-food attack, you lose time off of the clock. On the other hand, you can recover time by collecting clocks that the enemies drop.
At the end of each stage is a boss battle. You can still challenge the boss, even if your are under the required fitness level. This is because every time you damage the boss, they throw out vitamin bottles. This adds a fair bit of strategy, as you must be careful to avoid the each bosses food attack, while still collecting the vitamins in order to assure you are fit enough when you destroy the boss. The bosses do not, however, yield clocks, so avoiding the enemy’s non-food attacks is also crucial to avoid running out of time. If you are under the fitness level after beating both the stage and the boss, then a cut scene is shown and Penka basically tells you you are too fat, and thus must redo the level.
The only unfortunate aspect of Yume Penguin Monogatari is it’s length. With only 6 stages, although they are all completely great, you will be able to blow through this game in 20 minutes. Those won’t be a particular tough 20 minutes, either. For example, when I got the game in the mail I had 10 minutes to spare, so I popped it in. I thought initially that the game was kind of hard. I got to the second level, and then had to go do some other stuff. Later that night, with a couple hours of free time, I revisited the game. On just my second play-through ever I beat the game…. a little later on that same night I beat it two more times.