Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chew Man Fu

Hudson Soft

Hudson Soft had a plan in mind for this one. When it comes right down to it, Chew Man Fu doesn't amount to much more than a game of Sokoban with kick-the-ball and color-matching elements incorporated and without much thinking involved. Of course, crafty developers have ways of masking shallow, derivative gameplay, and if the embellishments they come up with are effective enough, their efforts can win players over in spite of whatever unmeritorious material lies beneath the surface. And so wily Hudson wastes no time before introducing us to CMF's cute little pig-tailed heroines and the crew of oafish, silly-looking beasts who oppose them. The gregarious gang is placed in levels done up with bright, pretty colors to carry out its simple duties while being serenaded by extremely pleasant musical tracks.

When it comes to CMF's endeavors to endear itself to players in every conceivable outside-of-actual-gameplay way, there's simply no letup. Even intermissions are treated as times for merrymaking, as a friendly old man offers whimsical words of advice and the evil wizard Chew makes chuckle-evoking "threats."

Well, I sure as hell was charmed by it all. "What a nice game!" I thought to myself a few seconds into my ball-rolling chores. "How enjoyable this is!" I cried, even though I was doing nothing but placing orbs atop similarly shaded panels and knocking off a few slow-footed animals.

A few rounds in, it all came crashing down. I realized that the simple tasks I was performing were never going to evolve into missions grander or more intriguing, that this is an "action-puzzler" with very little action and no true puzzle solving. What it does offer is redundancy. Oh, lord, is it repetitive. With your sole aim in each level being to deliver four big balls to their color-sharing homes, potential for variety lies only in the designs of the boards themselves and the antics of the enemy cast. Unfortunately, since everything in CMF is drawn in such oversized fashion, there really isn't room within the edge-of-the-screen borders for any sort of intricacy to be integrated into the level design. Pretenses of strategic elements abound: some balls serve as better means to achieving certain ends than others. But the simple stratagem relied on when any "thought" at all is necessary involves reaching the black ball at once for its usefulness in wall demolishing and space clearing. As for the monsters, while you face different sets of three in each realm, there isn't much variation in the stooges' tactics from one world to the next. From "barbarian baboons" to "abominable snowfreaks," the large ape-like villains typically find ways to take your precious orbs hostage, while frogs, turtles, and other such tiny riffraff merely make roadblock-type nuisances of themselves.

Chew Man Fu wears out its welcome very quickly, but through the wonders of palette swapping, Hudson found a way to advertise the game as featuring a whopping 500+ levels. Considering I had my fill upon reaching Round 5, I see little to celebrate in this purported asset of length.

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