"Anime-themed fighting game" is a genre with plenty of entries, but today I'll be looking at one upon which the eye-widening, hair-brightening beam of Japanese cartoons shines especially strongly: Success and Datam Polystar's 1995 Super Famicom game Makeruna! Makendou 2: Kimero Youkai Souri Daijin!
The title translates as something like "Don't Lose! Kendo Magic 2: Do it! Monster Prime Minister!" which isn't as snappy as "Street Fighter II" but I'll forgive it because it contains the phrase "Monster Prime Minister". You might recognise the "youkai" part of it's original title as the collective word for the ghosts and spooks of Japanese folklore, so there's probably going to be a supernatural aspect to this one. Personally, I also remembered that "souri" is the Japanese for "Prime Minister" thanks to playing Gonbee no I'm Sorry. It's nice to know I've learnt something from working on this site over the years, and I'm sure knowing the Japanese word for Prime Minister will come in handy any day now.
There's also a 2 in the title, so this is a sequel. The first game was a side-scrolling action game called simply Makeruna! Makendou, which got an American release as Kendo Rage. The first game stars a girl called Mai, who is replaced in the sequel by her younger sister Hikari. They're both young girls in short skirts who beat things up because hey, that's the Japanese way. They even featured in their own little anime movie! Here's the intro from it, which (WARNING) you probably shouldn't watch at work because it's got a brief shot of a cartoon nipple in it.
There you have it - the most generic anime opening of all time. It's the anime equivalent of those pictures where the faces of a population are morphed together to create the most average-looking person, with a theme song that sounds precisely like you'd expect it to but which is also so forgettable I couldn't even hum the melody after listening to it five times. The OVA itself is on YouTube, and after briefly flicking through it I'd say looks as predictable and over-familiar as the intro implies.
I'm here for the videogame, though, and here's the intro to Makeruna! Makendou 2's story mode. This is Mai, the main character of the first game in the series. We won't be playing as her, because even though she's a martial arts expert with magical powers she's a reluctant monster fighter.
Her sister Hikari, on the other hand, loves nothing more than beating things up. In order to sate her bloodlust she teams up with this lettuce-headed weirdo, a "spirit detective" called Doro, who can unlock her true strength via the traditional Magical Girl means of giving Hikari a wand and having her dress in a skimpier outfit. Understandably, Mai doesn't want her little sister putting herself in mortal danger...
So Doro and Hikari assuage Mai's concerns by rolling her up in a giant ball of string, gagging her and throwing her in the back of a truck. The behaviours of a determined sibling and a terrifying serial killer have never before overlapped so thoroughly.
Now Hikari is free to transform into her new costume, change her name to Makendo and to beat the living crap out of a wide variety of themed anime villains. Let's hope that she doesn't forget to feed her captive sister during all the excitement.
The bulk of Makeruna! Makendou 2 is comprised of the story mode, where Hikari fights her way through a series of opponents and sometimes text appears on screen. The other characters are playable, but only in versus mode: the single-player game is all Hikari all the time, so let's meet her first opponent.
It's a football player called Masoccer. He's got elf ears and a big green pompadour, which is apparently enough reason for Hikari - sorry, she's Makendo now that she's transformed - to give him a swift kicking. Did this huge crowd turn up to watch the fight, or were they just enjoying the football when Makendo jumped in and started pumelling this guy? It's never explained, but the spectators seem to be having a good time either way. You can see the referee in the background, ignoring the pleas of the other players to call off the match. "Let the young girl in the very short skirt fight. I want to see where she's going with this." says the referee. The referee is a bit weird, but then of course he is - he's a referee.
The fighting follows the usual best-of-three-rounds format, with four attack buttons for light and hard punches and kicks and blocking performed by holding away from your opponent, so it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. I immediately latched on to the fact that Makendo's hard kicks seem to be much more useful than all her other basic attacks, providing a good balance of power and range, especially when crouching and trying to whack Masoccer in the groin.
Makendo has special moves too, and because she's the main (and only, in story mode) character she's packing the most familiar moves. She's got a fireball, which is obviously launched by pressing quarter-circle towards and punch. You can see it above, and while it may be the most common of all special moves I'm going to give Makeruna! Makendou 2 credit for having Makendo shoot what looks like a little ghost out of her hands. It's wearing the triangular headband that Japanease ghosts generally wear, and ghosts are much more interesting that fire as a weapon to throw at your enemies.
Makendo also has a dragon-punch type move where she flies upwards whilst being on fire, (very useful, but I could never get it to work consistently,) a combo of dashing kicks, and an E. Honda / Fist of the North Star flurry of punches activated by repeatedly tapping the punch button. Of these moves, I'd say I got the most use out of the hundred hand slap, and not just because I kept doing it by accident.
With all these moves at my disposal, I soon managed to defeat Masoccer, whose only tactic seemed to be repeatedly kicking glowing footballs at me. Upon my victory, Makendo levelled up! Yes, there's an experience system in this game but I never managed to make much sense of it. There are some clear benefits to levelling up but mostly I couldn't tell what (if any) statistics were being changed and whether how well I played had any bearing on how many experience points I got. All I know for sure is that Makendo has reached level three and there's now another energy meter underneath her health bar.
A picture of a squashed-up Makendo / Hikari appears between the first and second fights. She looks angry. Maybe Protoman is demanding she give him his boots back.
The seconds battle pits Makendo against the zombified corpse of Disco Stu. His name is Makkey, and he is funky, dancing around the screen and occasionally stopping to play a ukelele. In the background, Michael Jackson and Bubbles do the dance from Thriller outside a crab shop. Bubbles looks to be enjoying the whole thing rather more than his master.
It turns out that my new energy bar is a magic meter, and by performing certain pad inputs and then pressing the R button, Makendo can perform a magic spell on herself, either temporarily increasing the amount of damage her attacks do or healing some of her missing health. It's an interesting idea, but not one I ever got much use out of because your opponents can also perform magic on themselves, and constantly attacking them seemed like the only way to stop them from doing so. Pausing to power Makendo up meant that my enemy had time to power themselves up, and they always made much better use of their super-powers than I did.
Makkey's much more a challenge that the first opponent, with multi-hit moves that can be hard to keep away from. He can also have a panic attack while a ghostly version of The Scream hovers over his head. That one's not so difficult to avoid, but it looks kinda cool.
Eating people is not cool, and seeing Makendo struggle to escape from Makkey's horrible frog-like throat pouch is making me feel a bit queasy. Even Jacko has had to look away in disgust, and he worked on a song with Eddie Murphy so you think he'd be inured to that level of horror.
I managed to escape from Makkey's throat and beat him up, for which I was rewarded with this picture of Doro. I can't blame Mai for protesting about this guy turning up and talking her sister into becoming a magical girl. The trenchcoat is bad enough, but it's those Mickey Mouse gloves that make him look particularly sinister.
Fighter number three is Madonna. Not the singer, although you'd be forgiven for assuming that given Michael Jackson's appearance in the previous stage, but a ballet dancer whose name presumably comes from "prima donna". I guess they're sticking with the theme of eveyone's names starting with "Ma," huh? I like the punk ballerina in the background, too.
After three fights, my judgement of Makeruna! Makendou 2's gameplay is that it's... okay. A little slow, sometimes unbalanced, but mostly just okay, a decent enough fighting game with which you could pass some time. The biggest problem with it is that the fighters can stay too close to one another, with consecutive attacks not pushing them apart as far as you'd expect. Any multi-hit moves can keep you trapped for ages, and if you manage to pin an enemy in the corner and hit them with the hundred-hand slap without them blocking then congratulations, you've just taken 70% of their health bar off. Between this and the pervading feeling that the hitboxes on most attacks aren't quite right, Makeruna! Makendou 2 is never going to challenge the upper echelon of SNES fighting games, but it's definitely not an unplayable disaster and there's just enough charm to it to keep it from being too boring.
I have no idea what's going on in this cutscene. Hikari is aboard the Hell Bus, and she's really happy about it. Did I actually lose the fight against Madonna and this infernal omnibus is carrying Hikari to the afterlife? I think that bus is supposed to look scary, but as someone who regularly uses actual buses I can only imagine that it's an improvement.
Now Makendo must do battle with Garekky, who would show up in the fight after I claim everyone's name is going to start with "Ma." Thanks, Garekky. I'd thank him in person - with my fists - but he doesn't seem to have turned up for our fight. Oh well, I'm happy to take the victory on a forfeit.
Ouch. Turns out Garekky is a giant robot. Did you really think there wouldn't be a giant robot in Makeruna! Makendou, after seeing that intro movie? I'm convinced that the goal of the entire Makeruna! Makendou franchise was to condense the most anime into the smallest space available, creating a veritable neutron star of anime to tear the world apart with its inescapable gravity. Giant robots are a mandatory part of that equation.
Fighting a giant robot might sound like a challenge, but this is the easiest part of the game: Garekky attacks at very predictable intervals, and by jumping to the side just as he attacks you can avoid his moves and kick him on the way down.
Next up is... what the hell is this thing? It's called Maririn, but that doesn't offer me any clues. "Mechanical chicken blob" is the best I can come up with, and despite looking approximately 12,000% less threatening than a giant robot Maririn quickly kicked my arse the first time we fought.
I just couldn't get away from the move where she(?) stuffs Makendo into a bag and slams her around. Did that ever happen in Sailor Moon? I don't think Makendo is a very good magical girl, is what I'm saying.
My reward for beating Maririn - I scraped through the fight by spamming Makendo's Dragon Punch move - was a trip to the bottom of the ocean and a fight against a burly merman called Macho. It's Cid from Final Fantasy IV with the body of a fish! And a big purple heart tattooed right in the centre of his chest. Very macho, that. The music in this stage is peppered with a repeating voice sample that says "uh huh?" so the whole thing has a Cho Aniki feel to it.
Throws are Macho's speciality, with the most common one being where he throws Makendo into the air and uppercuts her right in the breadbasket on the way down. For some reason, being underwater doesn't mean that Makendo sinks slowly onto his fist, either, and while it certainly looks brutal I'm going to have to say that punching young girls in the stomach, even if they are trespassing in your undersea kingdom, is not a very macho thing to do. Fortunately, Makendo's decision to shoot ghosts out of her hands rather than the more traditional fire is vindicated in this underwater environment, and I managed to chip away at Macho's health until victory was mine.
This is Makenka, a young man whose body has been modified to be super-strong. Yes, he's a super sentai character, as if the background cameo by a squad of Power Rangers was enough to make that clear. Is that Goldar hanging around back there? If it is, it seems he's made the move from villainous subordinate to head evil honcho. Good for him.
Makenka has three main techniques: a gun for an arm, the ability to run into Makendo like an over-excited kid who's not looking where they're going and sentai poses. The poses do not help him in battle. Neither do his other moves, if I'm honest, and after being repeatedly battered by the two previous opponents Makenka offers a nice respite. Jump over his shots when he fires at you and kick him in the head to win. Sadly, he doesn't explode, like people who just got beaten up usually do in tokusatsu shows.
A tennis-themed villain called Makenro? Nice, the developers really made the "Ma" name prefix work for them with this one.
Tennis might seem like it offers a limited range of talents that can be used as offensive combat moves, and yes, Makenro does spend a lot of the fight pinging magic tennis balls at you. However, she also has probably my favourite move in the game - she scoops her opponent into the air with her racquet and then smashes them into the ground as though she's going for a serve. I like that, it's a nice way to bring her theme across. She also has a giant picture of herself recreating The Birth of Venus hanging up on the wall behind her indoor tennis court, so I'm going to say that Makenro is my favourite character in the whole game.
Then a man with two wasp's arses for shoulderpads and teeth that speak of years of dental neglect shows up. Oh, hey, and he's got that party-horn thing on his chin that Pharaohs generally have. So he's a Pharaoh, then?
A space Pharaoh, no less! His name's Makenpo, because there are no good puns about Pharaohs whose names start with "Ma". Actually, kenpo is the name for various martial arts so maybe that's where his name comes from. He spends most of the fight slowly wandering back and forth, holding a skull that chomps its teeth and eats fireballs which is a) probably not a kenpo move and b) rather boring.
Did I mention that Makenpo is the final boss of the story mode? Because he is, and frankly he's a bit of a let-down. Maybe if I understood the pre-battle cutscenes I'd be more invested in winning this fight, but as it is this astro-Anubis has a couple of powerful but easy-to-dodge moves and not much else going for him.
Eventually I hit Makenpo with enough spammed Dragon Punches to defeat him, and then he exploded. Makendo has saved the day from the evil space Pharaoh and she's done more than enough punching to satisfy even her gnawing desire for extreme violence, so now there's nothing left to do but to bask in our glorious victory. Although, I feel like I'm forgetting something...
Oh yeah, Makendo tied up her sister and left her locked up somewhere. Well, Mai is free now, and the game ends as she takes her revenge on her bloodthirsty younger sister and the weird trenchcoat-wearing demon who enabled her. A fitting end to a game that wants to be "wacky" but which is saddled with competent but hardly thrilling gameplay.
Someone must have really liked Makeruna! Makendou 2: Kimero Youkai Souri Daijin - it was re-released on the original Playstation with some graphical tweaks - but that person is not me. I also don't hate it. This is a game about which it is very difficult to have a strong opinion, a game seemingly designed to be as thoroughly average as possible. When the most enjoyable part of a game is a few of the special moves and some background details you know you're in trouble, but the the fighting action won't hold your interest for long. Not the single player mode, anyway - there is a versus mode where you can play as any character you like, and that must add some replayability, but in the end Makeruna! Makendou 2 is one I can only recommend if you want the chance to play as a buff, bristly merman. Actually, scratch that - it makes the game sound way more interesting than it really is.