Although rather less active than it once was, Cave was once an extremely prolific producer of some highly varied and creative shoot ’em ups.
Some of their series — such as DoDonPachi, Espgaluda and Deathsmiles — managed to attain mainstream appeal, or at least the closest thing an arcade-style shmup can get to “mainstream appeal” in this modern age. But others are largely unknown for one reason or another.
Muchi Muchi Pork very much falls into this latter category.
In Muchi Muchi Pork, you take on the role of one of three young girls who have been transformed into pig-girls by the antagonist General Porkfillet. It’s up to you to take to the skies on your flying pedal-bike and blast your way through Porkfillet’s forces and take on the nefarious villain himself.
Yes, we’re well and truly in cute ’em up territory here; this is indeed a game featuring chubby young girls riding flying bicycles and collecting parachuting pigs, but don’t be fooled; we’re also very firmly in danmaku land, too, with swarms of enemies and challenging bullet patterns to learn and navigate as you progress through the levels.
Muchi Muchi Pork is actually one of Cave’s more accessible shoot ’em ups for a number of reasons, most notably the wide range of selectable difficulty levels and the dynamic rank system that scales up and down according to your performance. Its scoring system is also reasonably straightforward to understand, though in typical Cave fashion it’s by no means as straightforward as simply “destroy everything and don’t die” as in something like Qute’s Eschatos.
Like many other Cave shoot ’em ups, attaining high scores is dependent on understanding how and why to use your different shot types — in this case, a standard upgradeable bullet attack, and a “Lard Beam”, which is much more powerful but limited by a gauge at the bottom of the screen. Each of the three girls feature different shot patterns and arrangements of the Lard Beam as well as bombs that work a little differently from your average shmup; rather than simply clearing the screen, they fire out a companion character that shoots from a fixed location on the screen for a few seconds while providing a brief moment of temporary invincibility.
Destroying enemies with the normal shot drops pigs that fill up the Lard gauge, but destroying enemies with the Lard Beam turns them into scoring medals. Collecting scoring medals without letting any fall of the screen increases the value of the next batch, and stopping firing for a moment causes on-screen bullets to get sucked in towards you.
Simple, right? Well, maybe not — this is still a Cave game, after all — but it’s certainly a bit more straightforward to understand than something like, say, Deathsmiles’ incredibly convoluted mechanics. And paying proper attention to these scoring mechanics can make a huge difference to your score, even if you barely make it out of the first stage, so it’s really worth your while to understand them.
For hardcore shoot ’em up fans, Muchi Muchi Pork is noteworthy for being the work of Shinobu Yagawa, lead designer on a number of influential titles that helped to define the “manic shooter” subgenre Cave became known for. Yagawa’s most well-known work Battle Garegga for Raizing became notorious for its rather brutal dynamic difficulty “rank” system, which made the game more difficult the better you were doing, but calmed things down a bit if you died. This led to the curious situation of expert players deliberately losing lives at particular points in the game in order to manage the rank system effectively, balancing the difficulty level with the potential to attain high scores.
The rank system is back in Muchi Muchi Pork, though it’s more explicit in that it actually appears as a meter on the screen rather than all happening behind the scenes as in Battle Garegga, and is also rather more forgiving. Expert players will still want to keep an eye on their rank, however; it’s no good having lots of things to shoot if it’s impossible to survive more than a few seconds without being made into crispy fried bacon-girl!
Interestingly, despite its strong shmup pedigree, Muchi Muchi Pork wasn’t particularly well-received on its original release, being a bit too easy for hardcore shmup fans and seemingly less universally appealing in its aesthetic than many of Cave’s other titles, particularly the otaku-baiting goth loli stylings of Deathsmiles.
Its distinctive “chubby girl” look was the work of artist Kazuhiko Kawasaki — who has a penchant for drawing girls on the larger side — and certainly gives the game a very clear sense of its own identity. Indeed, the original arcade flyer asks something along the lines of “do you like plump sisters?” in Japanese, with an off-screen respondent giving a thoroughly enthusiastic “YES!!” in reply, making the angle Cave was going for pretty clear.
The enthusiasm for “thicc anime thighs” that is so prevalent on today’s Internet at the time of writing was apparently not quite so pronounced in 2007, however, so the game’s rather lukewarm reception in arcades ensured that it was a good four years before it saw a home port to Cave’s console platform of choice, the Xbox 360, when it found itself bundled with another of Yagawa’s less well-received games, Pink Sweets. Said bundle never saw a Western release, but like most of Cave’s Xbox 360 titles, the disc was region-free so could — and indeed still can — easily be imported.
Casting that middling initial reception aside because who cares, make your own mind up, Muchi Muchi Pork is an enjoyable installment in Cave’s portfolio, and is a good entry point to manic shooters for those who struggle to manage the chaos of something like DoDonPachi.
The scoring system is simple enough to easily understand while rewarding skillful and tactical play, and the difficulty is paced in such a way that you’ll find yourself improving just a little more each time, particularly if you swallow your pride and start your lardtastic journey on “Super Easy” mode, which still puts up a decent fight for newcomers.
The Xbox 360 port also offers a few different ways to play to keep things interesting, including the aforementioned difficulty settings, the ability to jump straight into alternative, more challenging loops of the game, swap between its version 1.00 and 1.01 incarnations (the latter of which is more forgiving, particularly for those aiming to take on a second loop legitimately rather than just choosing it from the menu) as well as an Arrange mode with new music, tweaked mechanics and a visible hitbox, unlike the arcade original. And, of course, you also get Pink Sweets to enjoy, which is also well worth a look — but we’ll explore that separately in more detail another day.
Muchi Muchi Pork may not be one of Cave’s most well-known or polished titles, but it’s a fun, colourful affair with some adorable characters, delightfully cute music, interesting mechanics and one hell of a pedigree. For those looking for a shmup a little off the beaten track and a little bit different from the norm, it’s well worth seeking out a copy of, particularly since it’ll happily run on any Xbox 360 anywhere in the world without any fiddling required.
More about Muchi Muchi Pork
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