POCKY & ROCKY / Natsume / SNES
Natsume picks up where Taito left off with their old arcade game Kiki Kaikai, following the cutesy adventures of a shrine maiden and her raccoon companion as they battle a small army of traditional Japanese demons. Well, it starts off with traditional demons, but as of the third level some Halloween monsters start coming into the mix as well. Two can play simultaneously, with the second player free to jump in at any old point.
The game is a hybrid run-n-gun and sh'mup in the lineage of Commando and Gun.Smoke, where you have to frantically dodge fire while also trying to position yourself to get shots back on the enemy. This has always been one of my least favorite formats of action game, at least when the game neglects to include a "fixed fire" button that you can hold down to continue firing in one direction while you move in any other. Which, of course, Pocky doesn't, thus the somewhat mediocre score despite nice graphics and a very polished overall experience.
The other major issue with the game is poor difficulty balance. It's really intended for two players with people playing solo as a total afterthought. As the second player can jump in at any time, a single player has to take on the same challenges that are designed for two, and without that "fixed fire" button it's really just a little too much for anyone but the most experienced and caffeinated of twitch fiends. Ratcheting the game down to "Easy" swings things a little too far in the other direction, making it a cakewalk. So there's really no sweet spot in the difficulty settings if you're playing on your own.
If you liked the color and vibe of Legend of the Mystical Ninja, you'll probably enjoy this too as it pretty shamelessly cribs its art and musical style from it. I also did appreciate that there's a pretty huge variety of enemies with very little recycling going on. I highly recommend the game if you'll consistently have a second person to play it with, but for a solo player it's likely to be a cute novelty for maybe 20 or 30 minutes then off to the shelf forever.
* Gameplay Video