I have a major soft spot for single-screen “kill everything” platformers. Every day I mourn that Rod-Land isn’t more readily available to play on modern platforms… and it’s not just because I have a thing for Rit.
No, I’ve always been a fan of this kind of game, ever since Bubble Bobble, and if anyone was the absolute master of this subgenre, it was Taito. As such, the two Taito Legends collections on PlayStation 2 make frequent appearances in my game rotation, just so I can enjoy games like the aforementioned Bubble Bobble and its sequel Rainbow Islands at any time.
What if someone were to make a new game like this, though? How might that turn out? Well, wonder no longer!
Whip! Whip! is a game by Japanese developer Alpha-Unit. You probably haven’t heard of them, thanks to most of their prior releases having been exclusives to the land of the rising sun, but they’ve been around for a long time now, with their back catalogue including licensed games based around Macross, Time Bokan and Bleach as well as a few original titles. They should, in theory, know their stuff, then.
In Whip! Whip!, you take on the role of Tira, an adorable young foxgirl pastry chef who is searching for a legendary recipe. During her adventures, she stumbles across a glove-shaped golem called Minton, whom she revives from slumber through the judicious application of sweet treats. Minton agrees to join Tira on her quest — mostly motivated by the prospect of more honey — and thus the pair set off to find the mystic dessert.
It’s a beautifully presented game, absolutely nailing the retro look with its limited colour palette, low-resolution pixel art — though it is a bit of a shame that dialogue sequences use a slightly out of place-looking high definition font — and longstanding Taito fans will be pleased to hear that the music was composed by a former member of Taito’s in-house sound team ZUNTATA. Hirokazu Koshio, better known by his alias COSIO, contributed to a variety of Taito games between 2005 and 2015, and his infectiously cheerful score for Whip! Whip! is just one of many ways the game really captures an authentic late ’80s/early ’90s feel.
Gameplay unfolds a screen at a time, much like the games which Whip! Whip! draws inspiration from. You (and an optional second player who can drop in at any time) are plonked in the corner of an arrangement of platforms and tasked with defeating all the enemies which, naturally, turn into various point-yielding tasty treats when you have dispatched them.
The main way in which Whip! Whip! distinguishes itself from its source material — and its sole concession to modern game design through its use of analogue control rather than the more traditional 8-way digital — is in the way Tira and Minton can attack enemies. By pushing the stick in any direction and pressing the attack button, Tira can shoot out Minton on a chain and grab hold of an enemy or collectible item; releasing the attack button causes Minton to pull Tira to his position, causing her to unleash a powerful flying kick in the process. While Tira is playing her kick animation, any enemies she hits will be defeated, and, as ever in games like this, the big points come from timing your attacks carefully so you can kill as many foes as possible at the same time.
This is an interesting mechanic because it is so core to the game as a whole — not just for defeating enemies, but for simple mobility, too. Tira is fairly sluggish to control otherwise, ambling sedately along the floor in response to your commands, so getting around quickly is dependent on making effective use of Minton. She’s also unable to jump down through platforms, so the only way to get down from the top of the screen in some cases is to grapple your way to an enemy or item below your position.
In some stages, you’ll find power-ups that have various effects. One increases Tira’s walk speed, making her a bit less of a liability when on foot; another increases the distance you can fire out Minton to; another still freezes time. And very occasionally you’ll stumble across an item that allows you to skip ahead a number of levels.
Defeating three or more enemies at once yields balloons that slowly rise from the bottom of the screen, each sporting a randomly selected letter of the word “EXPAND”. Collect all the letters of EXPAND and Tira is rewarded with three extra lives; this is harder than it sounds, because there’s no guarantee summoning more balloons will yield the letters you actually want — more often than not you get numerous duplicates of letters you already have!
Every ten levels, there’s a boss fight. These are fairly straightforward, but distinguish themselves from the main levels by being more dependent on timing to avoid damage rather than to score maximum points. Each boss makes use of the simple core mechanics in a different, interesting way, so by the end of the game you’ll have a good grasp of the various ways you can swing and swoop around the screen.
The main game allows you to start from any level you’ve previously reached and gradually brute-force your way to the end, but after completing it in this way, the Challenge Mode unlocks. Here, you’re tasked with playing through the whole game without running out of lives, and timed, too. This provides plenty of longevity once you’ve mastered the base game — though for experienced players it’s a shame this isn’t unlocked as an option from the outset.
Whip! Whip! isn’t a complex or deep game, but it’s not trying to be; it’s trying to recapture the magic of old arcade games, and old Taito games specifically. It’s hopefully clear by now that it succeeds admirably in this noble goal, so if you’ve had a hankering for some adorable enemy-bashing that modern games just haven’t been able to satisfy, I can highly recommend saving up those quarters and grabbing yourself a copy of Whip! Whip! for Switch or PC.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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