A few weeks ago I was honoured to be able to present the first “Shinju Forest+” post, a brief overview of Epoch's Bubble Bobble LCD game, and I’m just as chuffed with myself now to be able to share some information with you on Hiro’s oversized-keyfob take on Taito’s Jet de GO! series.
Hikouki de GO! is part of the “Controller Housing Series” (specifically #2); it appears that this series was originally created by a company called Hiro and I have seen two alternative versions of this exact same game (with different packaging) with their branding on it - the Japanese wiki page for the Densha de GO! games lists the train-based Controller Housing game as being made by Hiro too. The Epoch-branded Hikouki de GO! shown throughout this blog post has a sticker in the manual with Epoch’s customer service info on, possibly indicating that this particular version is a re-release of some sort. I also can’t tell you exactly when this LCD game was released as there’s no information on the packaging or, as far as I can see, online. I have been able to find out that the Densha de GO! Controller Housing game (and I’m assuming that’s #1 in the series) was released in 1998, so it seems reasonable to assume that #2 came out around 1998-2000 or so.
I’m sorry for the fuzzy facts here, if I can find anything more concrete I’ll update this post accordingly.
If you’re familiar with Taito’s de GO! series at all it’s probably through their range of bafflingly hypnotic train driving simulators that somehow manage to be both incredibly realistic and yet perfectly arcade-like at the same time. Hikouki de GO! follows the exact same principles and basic gameplay as it’s more popular stablemate, meaning the objective (while obviously scaled down to suit this little LCD device) is still to provide as smooth a takeoff/landing as possible while obeying air traffic control commands and adjusting altitude/speed as required. You start your globe-trotting journey with forty points to your name, and every unanswered radio call, late altitude adjustment and bad landing dock points from this total, while exceptionally good landings, etc. add to it. Your initial goal is simply to survive all nine legs of your trip by making it from airport to airport without cocking up so badly that you reduce your points to zero and see the dreaded “game over” sign, but after a bit of practise the desire to improve takes over and you soon find yourself fretting over runway approach speeds and all sorts of details you told yourself you couldn’t possibly care about yesterday.
As with Bubble Bobble, Hikouki de GO! is a dedicated gaming unit with no additional clock/alarm functions. There are three buttons and two “sticks” on the device, and while the sticks are naturally just disguised digital switches they have a pleasantly tactile feel to them and do a reasonable job of faking the real thing. The only button necessary during the game is the large one on the side, used to respond to radio calls. It’s thankfully positioned in such a way that it’s easy to hit with the middle of your index finger while playing so there’s no need for any uncomfortable hand contortions. Sound comes out of a speaker placed top-centre on the rear, and is nice and loud without being overpowering – this is a good thing too, as your only sound options are on or off. The pause button allows you to switch the unit “off” at any time then drop right back in exactly where you were before; this is obviously a massive convenience for keychain-sized gaming, but also leaves you potentially vulnerable as suspending the game in this manner can occasionally leave you without enough time to react to an upcoming change/response. There’s not really anything anyone could do about it, but it is annoying to drop points just because you needed a moment to get back into the groove.
The screen has a large window for the main graphics with all the important timers, counters, and landing approach indicators spread in a sensible manner around the edges. The coloured backing on these crucial areas and the way they flash when they pop up means the screens always easy to read, although the LCD display is in some ways a bit too strong and I found I had to tilt the display at a bit of an angle to get the inactive graphics to fully disappear.
The unit also features an impressive amount of lengthy and appropriate lines of dialogue clearing you for takeoff and asking you to adjust your flight speed/altitude as you play – or they would be impressive if it didn’t take numerous plays just to guess at what they were saying, as the quality of these lines coupled with the engine noise priority makes them extremely difficult to make out. Hard of hearing users or gamers sneaking in some quiet jet-flying time will be pleased to know there’s a dedicated “You’re receiving a radio message” alert graphic, so you’ll always know when to hit the radio response button even if you can’t hear (or understand) the dialogue.
To keep the game interesting long-term there are two difficulty levels and two fixed routes to play through. The default difficulty has you manage all aspects of flying by yourself, whereas easy mode takes over the speed and altitude settings every now and then to ensure you’re always within fair distance of your upcoming new target without requiring you to keep too much of an eye on things.
The first flight (and, err, the only one I’m currently familiar with) takes you on a round trip from Tokyo to Tokyo visiting cities mostly within the northern hemisphere, then after that there’s what shmup fans would call the “second loop” - an all-new route from London to New York (the game even reserves screen space for a dedicated Statue of Liberty graphic!) via lots of exciting cities mostly within the southern hemisphere. Should you be a bad enough dude to survive both flights the game then creates randomised routes using cities from both of the previous rounds, meaning you can merrily de GO! until your batteries go flat.
This one does take a bit more time to get used to than Bubble Bobble did – although it’s only fair to mention that arcade-like-plane-simulation games are hardly a traditional genre at the best of times! But once you’ve learned how to read the screen (and the manual is thankfully very good at explaining the screen/icons) it is actually a decent, if simplified, version of the real thing and possesses the same strange charm as its more technically robust counterparts. The only definite negative is the speech, which as mentioned above is so quiet that all the impressive (albeit muffled) voice samples talking about taking off, raising altitude, and other nifty things are always drowned out by the also-nifty engine noise. Realistic sound balance? I have no idea. But it does seem a shame to have all that effort in an otherwise accomplished game go to waste.
Oh and if you’re wondering why there’s no sound in the video below: there’s no sound in the demo sequence anyway, and I thought “Sounds from Kimimi’s kitchen” wasn’t a fascinating enough background noise to keep in the upload!