What makes a Simple 2000 release worthwhile? Does the concept need to be original? Does the game have to be “good?” Or simply playable? There are roughly three grades of Simple 2000 games out there: those that are terrible and unplayable, those that are terrible and playable, and those that are not terrible. I had fully expected this game to fall into the first category, but I found something that just barely sneaks into the second.
The Tairyou Jigoku, which loosely translates as “The Overwhelming Hell,” puts the player in the shoes of high school student Erika Mizusaki, who at the game’s outset has lost her cell phone and has returned to her school to retrieve it. Unfortunately for her, it’s not where she left it, and it turns out that a very Carrollesque white rabbit has swiped it. Erika, of course, gives chase, through several nightmarish environments, covering (roughly) four stages.
These stages are infested with all manner of creepy-crawlies, from insects to arthropods to rats to rather more supernatural creatures. It seems that they must like Erika’s choice of perfume, because they have a tendency to swarm her whenever she moves near them. When she’s being swarmed, Erika panics and can’t move until she’s shaken off all the critters. Shaking enemies off stuns them for a few seconds, giving Erika a chance to run away. But proximity to any given biomass causes Erika to be panicked, as represented by an onscreen meter consisting of the Japanese words “zowa zowa,” onomatopoeia for the chills running down poor Erika’s spine. If the creepy lettering reaches across the screen without being lowered, Erika will simply collapse and die of fright. The more bugs she’s being swarmed by, the faster the meter will rise.
Thankfully, she can take preemptive action against the beasties: there are sporting goods and household tools scattered around the levels, bats and brooms and golf glubs and more, can be used to smack around the swarming masses if the player is skillful. It seems Erika has spent some time in sports clubs, as her baseball and golf swings are both impressive. It’s surprisingly fun to send bugs and larger critters flying – and to follow them with a shout of “FORE!”. Plus, Erika can jump on those creatures that crawl on the ground, and it’s possible to flatten several at a time with a satisfying squish. Any of the above methods will only dispose of enemies for a short time, though, so to do away with enemies with finality, Erika can pick them up and throw them (using R1 for both actions), causing them to disappear when they land. This is a slow and delicate attack, though, and it’s prone to Erika dropping an enemy when she discovers that a cockroach has adhered itself to her back, so usually it’s best to just try to avoid swarms of creatures.
Each of the four levels, which are accessed in a linear fashion from the school’s hub environment, consists of several twisty passageways that require the usual keys and switches to navigate. Bugs drop from the ceiling and scurry out from burrows at appropriately creepy moments. After the player reaches a level’s exit, the white rabbit appears and must be chased around the level for a while, which unfortunately generates the bulk of the playtime for each stage. This wabbit-hunting doesn’t feel like anything more than tacked-on filler. Thankfully, the rather cool and creepy penultimate stage is relatively free of this (which also makes it one of the shortest in the game).
The creepy-crawlies are fairly well-modelled and have animation that’s effective at keeping the gross-factor high. There’s a good variety of them, too, so chances are this game will have something to trigger any given player’s pet creep-out. But this is indeed a Simple 2000 game, and you’ll know it as soon as you start a new game. Erika’s model and animation are characteristically awkward. It’s easy to get caught on desks and things when you’re walking around the school, and the camera is just about as uncooperative as a fixed camera can be. The camera angles, which switch at given intervals in the fashion customary to the survival-horror genre, tend to switch at exactly the right times, to exactly the right angles, to disorient the player as much as possible. Environmental graphics are crudely constructed, with ugly textures and little polygonal detail, and the game runs in that old half-height resolution that’s infamous for its “jaggies.”
Collision detection exists in the game, but to call it precise would be too much of a compliment. Shaking the bugs off doesn’t work quite how one might expect. The usual way a player might escape from being pinned or trapped by enemies is to shake the analog stick or mash the D-pad wildly, while mashing buttons. That doesn’t work here, at all. The left analog stick must be moved in a circular motion, continuously, for Erika to slowly brush off her assailants, until they’re all on the ground and stunned.
The language barrier shouldn’t present too many problems for non-Japanese speakers. The white rabbit drops letters with hints every so often, and Erika responds to them with spoken dialogue, but most level objectives can be figured out semi-intuitively: Locked door? Find the rabbit, or find a key object. There’s a healthy amount of incidental dialogue, but none of it is really essential to completing level objectives. Regardless of the language you speak, though, you’ll likely end up annoyed by Erika’s pathetic squeals and ditzy high-school-girl tone. She’s not exactly a shining example of female role models in gaming, and the Simple 2000 budget means that you’ll be hearing the same two “panicked” voice clips over and over.
The game isn’t too difficult, and probably won’t take most players longer than four hours to complete on a first playthrough, but it does offer some interesting (?) unlockables. There are the usual multiple endings and costumes – bunny girl and maid outfits, no surprises here – and then there are the voice options. The major set of unlockables includes different voice sets for Erika which give her different accents from around Japan. All of her recorded dialogue reflects the change, and it’s kind of amusing – if you understand Japanese, of course. At the very least, this is the first time I’ve ever seen that kind of bonus.
This is a terrible video game. But at the same time, it has a certain internal consistency, which means that it’s playable. Yes, that’s a compliment. Plus, the base pleasures it provides are the meat and potatoes of what Simple 2000 is all about. $20 might be a price too high for what this game provides, but if this is your niche, you’ll find some satisfaction here.