Review by clia0004
One of Capcom's first Arcade Gems
'Pirate Ship Higemaru' (or 'Higemaru' in short) was first released by Capcom in 1984 as a coin-operated arcade game, following the success of 'Vulgus' and 'Sonson' that preceded it during the same year. Many of the younger generation of gamers have probably discovered this game in the compilation 'Capcom Classics Collection', which attempts to mimic the original arcade experiences without spending a small fortune.
Older, more discerning gamers, will realize that 'Disney's Goof Troop' for the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System console), also produced by Capcom, was primarily based on 'Higemaru''s game mechanics. The similarities are so obvious, that some people actually consider 'Goof Troop' to be 'Higemaru''s spiritual successor.
'Pirate Ship Higemaru': The Positive Aspects
The gameplay involves the pirate Momotaro, who must use barrels to defeat the Higemaru's pirate crew. For some reason, I always thought that the protagonist was the one called Higemaru. The first level a brief tutorial segment which illustrates how the game's fundamental gameplay mechanic works. You grab barrels and some other items which you can throw vertically or horizontally at enemy pirates. Those caught in the way will be hurled off the screen, earning the player points.
While the tutorial segment is not skippable, it is still a very significant part. In fact, you can learn an important strategy from it. There are three enemy pirates and three barrels located vertically from them. At first, I hurled each of the barrels from the top position, knocking down the enemies separately. Later I learnt that you could defeat the three of them with one barrel by simply hurling it sideways and knocking the three of them simultaneously, bagging me more points in the process. Points are vital for extra lives.
There are special items hidden beneath certain barrels as well, which flash every once in a while. The further you advance throughout the game, the more points these items will be worth. It is an addictive and rewarding point system, similar to many arcade and Atari 2600 games (such as 'Taz' released in 1983) popular at the time.
Instead of levels, 'Higemaru' has what are called 'decks' instead. The 4th 'deck' is a sort of bonus stage referred to as the 'Hi-Point Stage'. In these stages, the player has to contend with numerous captains, called Bous, which are worth more points than normal enemies. In total, 'Higemaru' offers 16 different decks, with 4 bonus levels in between, after which the game will start all over again.
With regards to the soundtrack, Vahan Nisanian, writing for hardcoregaming101, notes that:
"The soundtrack was among the first to be composed by Tamayo Kawamoto, who's other BGM works for Capcom include the arcade versions of Legendary Soldiers, Commando, and Section Z. She now works for Taito, as a member of Zuntata, a popular (in Japan, at least) band."
Once you figure out the game's mechanics, you will not stop playing 'Higemaru'. It is undoubtedly one of Capcom's more inspired arcade games.
'Pirate Ship Higemaru': The Negative Aspects
Besides the difficulty that was typical of all arcade games, 'Higemaru' has very few problems with it. The game's mechanics rely principally on the player's ability to avoid and eliminate all obstacles, therefore the player has only himself to blame whenever he loses. Nobody criticizes Pacman for being too hard or unforgiving whenever a ghost catches you, for example. The enemy pirates do get very fast near the later decks of the game, but since it is almost impossible for the player to run out of barrels and strategies, there is ample motivation for the player to retry the game should he lose all lives.
There is a time limit to the game, but is very hard to exceed the time allotted to you to defeat all enemies, and even when you do exceed the limit, the game gives you a fighting chance. What 'Higemaru' does as an arcade game, it does right.
'Higemaru' has all the right ingredients of a classic arcade game, and it is a pity that few people have given the game a chance.
Product Release: Pirate Ship HigeMaru (JP, 09/30/84)
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