Monday, September 21, 2009

The Manhole

The Manhole
CD- 3/22/91

As a long time yaoi fan, I was excited to stumble across this rare gem in the Turbo CD library. Most people think that the Saturn was the first system to feature a yaoi based dating sim, but that's only because Manhole is so amazingly hard to find that most import gamers have never even heard of it. While compared to the dating-sim offerings on the Sega Saturn this game is fairly primitive, I believe it stands the test of time in much the same way that the original Super Mario Bros does when compared to the technically superior later sequels.

Manhole starts out fairly typically for the genre; you're a first year Japanese high school student who is just blossoming into manhood. Your character has the usual big eyes and anime style of hair along with what appears to be a cucumber down the front of the pants. Seriously, everyone in this game wears way-tight pants like the kind Peggy Bundy wore. What's weird though is that they all wear baggy shirts opened down to the navel so they all look like ballet dancing hipsters. That's fine and all, but I prefer the Cho Aniki style of hulking brutes whose veins even have muscles.

The core gameplay is the same as every other dating sim you've ever played. Click an option, watch the dialogue play out on screen, click another choice, etc until you get one of the endings. What makes Manhole so addicting though is that every so often the story breaks into some bizarre Japanese gameshow type thing where all the available men are on a stage and it's up to you to guess what item they have shoved in the front of their pants. Most choices are of the sock, cucumber (like the main character), plums, or wad of play-doh variety, but there are some truly hilarious choices like bowling pin, small animal, your hand, and even a hamhock.

The dialogue is especially engaging for those who know a little Japanese. It's fairly easy to follow and features tons of slapstick comedy, the cornerstones of any truly memorable romp. For example the main character is always getting felt up by fellow classmate Yoshitake Yomano (a hilariously short and buff tennis player) under ludicrous circumstances such as they are both taking a test and Yomano just happens to drop his eraser 5 desks over onto your crotch. Hilarity ensues when he tries to retrieve it! Little things like this go a long way toward making you care for each character, and it definitely makes the decision extra hard and veiny when you have to choose a mate.

If you're an importer who wants a good dating sim but can't stand the usual guy-girl fare, then Manhole is perfect for you. Unlike other promising titles such as Wild Woody (Sega CD), Mr Nutz (SNES), Slam City (Genesis), S.C.A.T. (NES), Hard Blow (SFAM), and Dynamite Headdy (Genesis) that all failed to live up to their names, Manhole delivers in every possible way.

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