Hitogata Happa seems downright impossible. Oh sure, everything starts off straightforward enough, and you might assume it’s a typical top-down 2D shooter. You blast enemies, you collect the goodies they drop, you reach the first boss… and then you die, again and again.
And if you’re like me, you probably give up and go play something else.
Yet, something about Hitogata Happa calls you back. You try again. You die again. You get angry. You get defensive. “This is the first stage! Why the heck is it so difficult?! This game sucks!”
I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I skillfully avoided every single bullet the first stage’s boss fired at me, while slowly whittling away at its power. When you start fighting the boss, a timer begins to count down, and when the clock hits zero, the boss suddenly goes bananas and unleashes a ruthless barrage that always resulted in me seeing the Game Over message. And the timer hit zero every single time. Argh!
My world became dark. I had really wanted to love Hitogata Happa so, so much. I was especially upset because I found the game’s world enthralling. Though I’ll admit I skipped the story sequences because I don’t care for such things, the plot’s gist is that the protagonist is extremely pissed off about some wrongdoing (her family was killed or something) and, in order to get her revenge, sends little “dolls” out to decimate her enemies. And, boy, are there a lot of enemies to kill!
As a sharp contrast to the violent (albeit cartoony) chaos unfolding onscreen, the dolls you control are of the ultra-happy, kawaii, mega-cute, super-deformed variety. I’m sure some freaky otaku in his dark, dingy dungeon of solitude has already made a shrine to the ‘moe” characters in Hitogata Happa. But more important than their looks is the fact that the dolls are totally badass. They are equipped with enough artillery to take down an army.
Or so you would think. My dolls couldn’t seem to even take care of the first stage’s boss. And, to add insult to injury, the game’s first stage is actually called “Mission 0.” Yep, I couldn’t pass Mission 0. How embarrassing. EFF THIS GAME!
In my frustration, I posted on Twitter about how aggravated Hitogata Happa had made me. Keep in mind I’m not terrible at shooters by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, I grew up on them. I spent my childhood cutting my teeth on the likes of Twin Cobra, Raiden, and Soldier Blade. But, for whatever reason, Hitogata Happa was proving too troublesome for me. I was fuming.
Before long an employee from the game’s publisher, Rockin’ Android, politely responded and suggested I read the game’s instruction manual. Doing so was a necessity for a game like Hitogata Happa, she said. So I did. Suddenly the curtains were drawn back, light flooded into the room, birds began singing, and all was well with the world again.
You see, I was playing Hitogata Happa incorrectly. Little did I know I had to ram my sweet little doll into that first boss in order to achieve any significant level of destruction. Well, that’s an interesting play mechanic!
I’ve played games like Psyvariar 2, which incorporates a “buzzing” aspect to the game, in which you are encouraged to get as close as possible to enemy projectiles without actually getting hit. This level of danger I was familiar with. But I’ve been trained by virtually every shooting game that coming into direct contact with an enemy or bullet equates to death.
Hitogata Happa, however, takes things to a different level, and your success often revolves around being a deft kamikaze pilot. As you shoot enemies, you build up a special power meter which, when full, effectively turns you into a bomb. At this point, if you smash into an enemy craft, it can kiss the world goodbye. That Mission 0 boss? Pfff, I made mincemeat of that sucker once I understood what I was supposed to be doing. A few suicide runs later and that once-mighty opponent was nothing but scrap.
But there’s no time for patting oneself on the back. After Mission 0 is clear, Hitogata Happa really opens up. Think of Mission 0 as your basic training, and it’s from there that the game truly begins.
Before you move on to Mission 1 (and every level thereafter), you are given the opportunity to select from a whole slew of dolls, all with unique maneuverability and attacks. Selecting a doll “costs” a certain amount of currency, which you earn by collecting gems dropped by destroyed enemies. If you have an impressive cash flow, you can assemble quite the battalion of endearing little ladies—something you’ll find to be quite critical considering the fact that you’ll purposely send many of your dolls to their untimely demise when facing off against the game’s more formidable foes.
If you’re a spectacular player, you can boost your gem amounts by taking advantage of something called “The Zone of Control,” which is basically a circle that surrounds opponents. If you blow up the baddies while within that circle, enemy projectiles are magically converted to gems and you profit in a big way! This is easier said than done, though, and I found that most of the time I didn’t want to risk it, instead choosing to lob my attacks from a more comfortable distance.
It’s fun to experiment with the various offensive options offered by the different dolls. There’s a doll whose main attack is a huge tube laser like something out of Raiden, while another wields dual blades for up-close-and-personal attacks. There are plenty of choices available, and they are all pretty nifty. Beyond that, every doll possesses its own special power. For instance, Leaf (who is the only doll you can use on Mission 0, by the way) is able to slow down the flow of time, thus making dodging bullets slightly less of a problem.
Customization doesn’t just end with your pre-stage doll selection, either. You can toggle between which doll will be sent into battle upon your current doll’s demise. There is a lot of strategy involved in choosing the best doll for each situation. The developers obviously had this in mind, and specific dolls have their own pros and cons against the various enemies. Nevertheless, I often found myself relying on my favorite dolls, even if I knew other types might be a better choice. I’m stubborn like that.
And speaking of being stubborn, I will fully admit that I proved to be a shining example of the widespread stereotype that men don’t read directions. If it weren’t for taking the time to scour Hitogata Happa’s instruction manual, I would never have come to appreciate how incredible the game is. Therefore, not only did Hitogata Happa turn out to be a spectacular game, but it taught me a valuable life lesson! From now on, I will read directions whenever I’m in doubt. Well, maybe. Okay, I probably won’t. But I’m glad I did in this instance, anyway!
There is just so much to love about Hitogata Happa. It’s bright, cheery, and colorful. It toys around with new ideas in a genre where I could’ve sworn I’d seen it all. It gives players the freedom to customize their experience by choosing their weaponry, and it offers some breathtaking moments.
I loved one early opponent, whose curtains of fire flow outward, pause, then suck back into its cannons, with you scrambling to avoid getting hit all the while. That’s so rad! And thankfully control is intuitive on all of the dolls despite their different attributes, making such a feat of bullet navigation possible.
Perhaps it’s a little premature for me to declare that Hitogata Happa has become one of my all-time favorite shooters, but I really do think it’s that good. The game’s initial difficulty and atypical play mechanics will almost certainly scare off all but the niche-iest of niche players, which is a shame because a game this special deserves lots of love.
Then again, most gamers probably wouldn’t appreciate a game like Hitogata Happa, anyway. There’s definitely a reason it backs you up against a brick wall from the start. Learn to play it properly or GTFO. That is, if you can’t be troubled to figure out how to play the game, it’s not right for you. But for the small percentage of us who make our way into Hitogata Happa’s inner circle, it’s like being indoctrinated into one of gaming’s coolest secret societies.
Just make sure to read the instructions first!