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ZuPaPa! (NeoGeo) artwork

ZuPaPa! (NeoGeo) review


"Killing cute things with other cute things has never been so cute."



With arcades becoming relics of the past, we've seen some categories all but disappear. For instance, you don't see as many rail shooters cropping up these days. Even when you do, encountering them on home platforms doesn't compare to walking into an arcade and seeing a cabinet with a machine gun or cannon attached to it. Personally, one sub-genre I miss bumping into more frequently concerns cute little creatures using ridiculous methods to bump off similar adorable enemies. You know, like Bubble Bobble, an action/platformer where you control chubby little dinosaurs who murder their opponents by encapsulating them in bubbles and smashing into them.

The last time I recall seeing a new game in this vein, it was early 2000s with an odd NeoGeo title called ZuPaPa! This one isn't all that well known in comparison to similar titles, but it's no less enjoyable. Here, you take the role of an alien creature who ventures through themed stages along with four smaller companions called "Zukkos." Various platforms and tiers comprise each stage, with outlandish enemies moseying about them. For instance, the stone age level sports a bunch of tiny T. Rexes and wandering Pteranodons, while a toy-oriented area comes with wooden soldiers and colorful trains not unlike Thomas the Tank Engine.

Despite their apparent innocence, it's your duty to bump off all of these creatures. You can easily accomplish this with a quick punch to stun them, finishing them off by colliding with their unconscious bodies. However, the smarter way to go about it is to gather your Zukkos and toss them at a foe. The enemy remains stunned once the Zukkos take hold, eventually exploding once you touch it. The more Zukkos attached to a target, the greater the explosion, resulting in potentially more baddies being taken with it to the afterlife and a greater bounty of points for you.



As you can tell, this game is all about risk versus reward. Your best bet is to try to approach a large gathering of adversaries so you can take as many out as possible while banking big time. However, your attempt to do so could also get you killed, especially when you consider how erratically the opposition moves. These beasts don't merely hold still and wait for you to destroy them, but love to travel quickly between tiers, rush back and forth, and sometimes move toward you when you least expect it. Inexperience gets you killed pretty often because you may not know when to anticipate certain behaviors from particular foes, and thus leave yourself open while getting greedy with points.

Thankfully, there isn't much of a learning curve involved here. Arcade offerings should be easy to pick up and play immediately, and Zu definitely checks that box. Even if you're stumbling into it without a clue, the campaign kicks off with the standard simple tutorial to show you the ropes.

From there, it's on to worlds filled with quick reaction and planning. Every level presents you with a problem to solve, but loves to tantalize you with dangerous situations where you could benefit greatly if you're fast and careful. Sometimes you might play it safe and just punch your way to victory, eliminating one target at a time because aiming for a beefier score would be foolish and dangerous. Other times, though, you see an opportunity with a boatload of enemies squeezed together in an enclosed place, and you think you can manage to scotch them all without dying yourself. Half of the fun is managing to pull off these tricky maneuvers and giving off a sigh of relief.



Zu moves quickly, leaving you little time to respond. At times it comes across as cheap, with enemies sneaking in from seemingly nowhere or projectiles changing direction mid-shot to hit you at wonky angles. Bear in mind this outing was meant for arcades as a quarter muncher. Thankfully, this sort of thing is easy to ignore when you're playing the AES version and its infinite supply of credits. All the same, death becomes a constant nuisance when you're having to respawn and get your Zukkos back together again.

The thing is it's really hard to stay mad at this title thanks to its charm. It sport some wonderfully whimsical music that obviously harks back to arcades and amusement parks, but also features a bright, colorful presentation with loads of background details to notice. The dinosaur section provides some of my favorite material, with huge reptiles lying in the back and the occasional Godzilla roar sounding off between stages.

Even the bosses, as extra tricky and cheesy as they are to battle, provide added sweetness to the experience. One level pits you against an immense kabuki who throws sushi at you, while another hits you with a toddling teddy bear that inflates like a balloon. To no one's surprise, my favorite boss comes from a Halloween-themed level, where you encounter masked murderers and Frankenstein's monsters--capping off with a battle against a massive Dracula who turns into a bat. Of course, other cronies appear along with these guys so you can blow them up to hopefully damage the big bad himself.



My only gripe in regards to bosses comes with the main antagonist. In the very last fight, you find your movement speed inadequate for avoiding many of his attacks. On top of that, he throws out a ton of bullets at arbitrary points of the map, and you have mere seconds to respond before one kills you. I think I spent most of my fake quarters battling this dude, and only slowly whittling him down. To make matters worse, there are no other henchmen around to pop for added damage, so you must slowly chip away at the final boss using only your Zukkos, which takes ages.

Ultimately, I'm glad I discovered ZuPaPa! I really wanted another Bubble Bobble/Snow Bros.-type experience, and this one scratched that itch effectively. Sure, it can be a cheap bastard of a title, but what arcade game isn't? At least the AES allowed me to play to my heart's content, deriving some much needed catharsis not only from the game's cuteness, but also in watching its cartoony bestiary rupture into heart-warming (and deadly) stars.

Maybe some time during the faux-retro boom we've seen with indie titles we'll glimpse another entry in this slim category. For now, at least we have this one...



JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 02, 2022)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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