Taito Essentials: The Electric Yo-Yo

One of the nice things about the two Taito Legends compilations on PS2, Xbox and PC (and the separate PSP release, which acts as a kind of “best of” compilation containing elements of both) is that it includes both well-known games and more obscure affairs.

One such example of the latter is The Electric Yo-Yo, an unusual Taito America game from 1982 that is so obscure that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page (shock!). If Giant Bomb’s rather bare-bones page on the game is to be believed, it seems that it wasn’t all that well-received back in the day — but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in MoeGamer’s lifetime, it’s that it’s always worth considering something on its own merits, devoid of its original context and popular reception.

And y’know what? I kinda like The Electric Yo-Yo. I mean, sure, it’s kind of infuriating and I’ve hurled some deeply offensive language at it during my time with it… but I still kinda like it.

The Electric Yo-Yo combines elements of Pac-Man and Qix in that it is a game about collecting things on the screen, but it is also about area control.

You control the titular yo-yo, and it’s your job to collect all the Blox on the screen while avoiding the unwanted attentions of the electrified Trion and the small green Bions.

You do this by moving your yo-yo around in four directions. The twist is that if you push in a direction where there is a block “ahead” of you, regardless of distance, you’ll shoot out your string, loop it onto the block and pull yourself rapidly across the intervening gap. The further distance you do this across, the more points you score for the Blox you collect.

With this in mind, the levels take on something of a “puzzly” feeling as you attempt to determine what moves you might be able to make to score the maximum possible points. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you just chomping your way systematically around adjacent Blox Pac-Man style, but that’s no route to a high score.

The aforementioned Trion and Bions block your path in different ways. The Trion bounces around the screen using that distinctive ’80s bounce pattern that a whole bunch of games included so they didn’t have to incorporate any sort of actual artificial intelligence, while the Bions stroll leisurely around sets of Blox that remain on the stage, occasionally leaping across gaps similarly to how you can grapple your way across using your string.

The Trion cannot be defeated, but it does serve an important mechanical purpose: any Blox that it bounces off become temporarily electrified, and collecting these electrified Blox causes your Yo-Yo to become powered up for a short period, indicated by it changing colour and the border of the screen glowing.

This is important because not only does being powered up in this way allow you to earn more points, it also contributes to a bonus at the end of a stage and makes you invulnerable to the Bions, allowing you to safely pass through them and collect the Blox that they are guarding. Reducing the total area of Blox that they are standing on also makes your job a bit easier, as they will be controlling less of the overall space in the level, allowing you free rein to hoover up more of your delicious cubic rewards.

Thus, clearing a stage is a combination of factors: calculating the maximum point-scoring routes for you to “grapple” across; avoiding the Trion and the Bions; being prepared to drop everything to go grab an electrified Blox; and using your powered-up status to go on the offensive, snatch up some Blox from beneath the Bions’ noses, and gradually take control of the whole level.

It’s kind of understandable that The Electric Yo-Yo was regarded as a “blunder”, as Giant Bomb puts it; it’s difficult, it’s mechanically quite complicated and it takes practice simply to get yourself to a status where you don’t lose all your lives within the space of about ten seconds. Even clearing a single stage is a significant milestone.

But looking at it from a modern perspective, at a time when the gaming community as a whole is much more receptive to challenging, technically demanding games… it really works. And it’s also interesting from a historical perspective to see an early implementation of a “grapple and pull” mechanic long before more well-known examples such as 1987’s Bionic Commando.

Yes, it’s annoying when you grapple over a gap directly into the face of a waiting Bion — but it’s always your fault for not taking your time. Yes, it’s infuriating when you can’t even clear a single stage, but, again, slow down and think a bit more carefully about what you’re doing and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is. Yes, it can be frustrating when you can’t figure out a good way to attain some high scores — but concentrate on simple survival first of all, then you can worry about getting fancy.

In many ways I guess it’s like playing with a real yo-yo; if you can’t master the basic “gravity pull” technique, you’re never going to get on to even the more straightforward tricks, let alone the ones look like you’re working magic with the string to your audience!

The Electric Yo-Yo is by no means an all-time classic or even one of Taito’s best games. But it’s most certainly an interesting, experimental game that, at the time of original release, audiences seemingly weren’t quite ready for.

Give it a go from a modern perspective, though, and you’ll find a game that is by turns cushion-bitingly irritating, immensely satisfying and, if you allow it to really get its hooks into you, monstrously addictive. Just don’t feel too bad if you can’t clear that first stage right away!

More about The Electric Yo-Yo

The MoeGamer Compendium, Volume 1 is now available! Grab a copy today for a beautiful physical edition of the Cover Game features originally published in 2016.

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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