By sirdesmond 6 Comments
On this week's episode of my podcast, Jared briefly mentioned the bizarre sub-genre of Shoot 'Em Ups titled Cute 'Em Ups. I had never heard of it prior and had to do some digging into the genre. Games of this sub-genre tend to retain most of the classic Shoot 'Em Up gameplay mechanics but swap out futuristic science-fiction art, setting and story with something just a bit cuter. Still feeling a bit lost and confused, twisted and used? Let's dig a bit deeper.
My first experience with a Cute 'Em Up came quite recently with a fairly rare Japanese-only Game Boy Color release of a game called Magical Chase (pictured above). In Magical Chase, you are a witch, flying on a broom, shooting a vast number of stars and beams at a number of increasingly bizarre or cute enemies. This game starts off somewhere between a clown's waking nightmare and the disturbed scrawlings of a color-minded serial killer and continues along that line pretty steadily until you reach the teddy bear that when you shoot it enough explodes into an array of baby teddy bears (as he cringes and flinches almost orgasmically). At that point, you feel as if you have fully entered the mindset of an evil baby genius that just wants to watch the world burn.
Cotton was the first of the sub-subgenre of Witch-Broom Cute 'Em Ups (at least, according to my research). As odd as Magical Chase was to me, I found it even more odd that it was a rip-off of another series. How many of these things could possibly be out there?
Cotton is fundamentally the same, if not a better, version of Magical Chase (since it was the original) but where it does vary is in its rather sinister storyline. Here, Cotton, the witch you control throughout the game, is taken advantage of by a fairy named Silk who is tasked with retrieving the seven "willows" which are magical candies apparently capable of leading to the world's destruction if left in the wrong hands. Only in a Cute 'Em Up would candy be the doomsday weapon of a game's enemies. Silk manipulates Cotton and her crippling candy addiction by promising her a taste of each willow, only to steal them away after each is secured. It is a dark and gritty jaunt into a world of high magic, villainous betrayal, and souls broken by the power of addiction. Truly, it is not for the faint of heart. Also, in one of the games in the Cotton series, there is a character named Appli who happens to be the Princess of the Pumpkin Kingdom. Have you ever heard anything cuter in your life? The answer, of course, is no.
Perhaps the most well-known Cute 'Em Up for those of us old enough to remember the NES in its heyday is TwinBee, a little top-down spaceship shooter. Twinbee learned how to bridge the gap between the primary genre and the sub-genre enough that it slipped its way into many NES slots over the years for those people looking for a classic shooter. While you were flying a ship, it was anthropomorphized to some degree. It had arms with punching gloves and was drawn on the box art to be the character itself rather than a vehicle piloted by the main character. Enemies here were mostly comprised of a wide range of household items and things commonly found outdoors, but the boss fights would once again bring the game back towards traditional Shoot 'Em Up by being more traditional plane/spaceship-based enemies.
You may have thought that slaughtering hundreds if not thousands of alien invaders was fun in Shoot 'Em Ups, but you don't know fun until you wipe an entire colony of cotton-candy-stuffed teddy bears from the face of the pastel-colored effervescent plane of existence they call home in a Cute 'Em Up. Don't believe me? Go and give one a try, and you might change your mind.
If you liked this article, I and my co-host Jared write one every Thursday and have a new episode of our obscure retro game podcast Joystick Tuggers, that is a podcast about obscure retro games (although we are also very obscure), every Tuesday at our site Joystick-Tuggers.com!