Taito aren't exactly known for their scrolling brawlers, mind you. They dabbled in them from time to time, producing games like the two Sonic Blast Man titles for the SNES, the dual-monitor Warrior Blade: Rastan Saga III, and the fairly average Arabian Fight for the arcades, but they were never a major force in the genre. However, Taito were responsible for three of the weirdest arcade brawlers ever- Growl/Runark (an anti-poacher-themed game that redefines 'over-the-top' from the very start), The Ninja Kids (which is like a violent episode of The Muppets Show) and the game we're looking at today, Pu.Li.Ru.La, released in 1991. The story (as badly translated as it is) goes that Jack o' Colson, an evil man with a globe for a head, has been terrorising Radishland by freezing time in all its towns. Two kids armed with magic wands- Zac (Player 1) and Mel (Player 2)- go out to set things right, and what follows is one of the strangest adventures you'll ever bear witness to.
Before we get to how bonkers the game is, we've got to talk about how it plays, and if you thought the likes of Golden Axe and Renegade were basic, they've got nothing on Pu.Li.Ru.La- this is as simple as scrolling brawlers can get. Both characters have a grand total of four attacks- a standard attack, a jumping attack, a forward attack with better range, and a crouching attack that hits small enemies- and for the most part, enemies die in one hit (and get turned into animals like dogs and snails that you can pick up for extra points) so there isn't much to it- no other weapons or combos, and very few life pick-ups. This keeps the game going at a fast pace throughout, though, which is a definite plus. You also start each set of lives with three magic spells, which are the closest thing you have to a crowd-control attack- you need to use them wisely, as Zac and Mel aren't well-equipped for dealing with hordes of enemies all at once. However, the effect is random. Sure, every magic effect clears the screen of enemies (and does massive damage to bosses) but you'll never be sure if pressing the magic button will call forth a herd of wild animals, summon an ugly man in a ballerina suit who creates an explosion so huge that the game cuts to a map of Radishland to show the whole thing, or if you'll watch your enemies get shoved into a gigantic microwave.
In case that last sentence didn't quite spell it out, this game is absolute nonsense from start to finish, and good-looking nonsense at that. Considering it was released in 1991, Pu.Li.Ru.La is a very impressive looking game, and it still impresses today- it has some truly bizarre and nicely animated enemies (including but not limited to frowning sunflowers, bamboo shoots that grow noses and pink elephants), a charming pastel colour style that makes the game feel like a children's storybook at times, and completely off the wall segments such as the town with photo-realistic background graphics (including a sumo wrestler and a man hanging onto a flagpole) and the wall in the final level that appears to be made of corpses. There's also some excellent visual effects such as the reflections in the ice stage and the impressive flood sequence. Almost all the appeal of the game is seeing what the hell is going to happen next, especially since your magic attacks are randomised! The music, brought to us by music maestros ZUNTATA, also helps add to the charm, as it fits each scenario quite well (like the jumbled, frantic tune that plays in the photo-realistic stage). Taito were known for making some very odd games (just look at Chack'n Pop) but Pu.Li.Ru.La is almost certainly their strangest piece of work- it's the kind of thing where you have to see it for yourself.
A Stroll in the Park
Of course, all this insanity doesn't hide the fact that the game's a bit simple, even when compared to games like Golden Axe and Final Fight. This is both a good and bad thing, though, because while it does mean there isn't much to the game beyond getting through each section and taking in all the bewildering sights, it also means that, as I said earlier, the game goes at a pretty fast pace with barely any dull sections- the fact that it's short means it doesn't even have time to get boring or repetitive. It's also a far more relaxing game that other scrolling brawlers- it's easy, and the graphics and music are a far cry from the harsh streets of games like Final Fight and Undercover Cops, so it feels more like you're strolling through the game and having a bit of light relief rather than struggling against it.
If the idea of a scrolling beat-em-up that doesn't tax you too much and wants you to revel in a bit of absurdity sounds like your cup of tea, then Pu.Li.Ru.La is definitely worth a punt just for how surreal the whole experience is- in the scrolling brawler genre, there's nothing quite like it. If not, give it a go anyway- while the appeal is in the spectacle, it's an inoffensive, pleasant game that has the decency of taking only half an hour of your time in exchange for some truly bizarre entertainment.
... And if you really want a challenge, go for a one-credit run, punk!
P.S. - Home Ports
While Pu.Li.Ru.La was localised for its original arcade release (complete with horrendous Engrish and minor censorship- a giant pair of lady's legs are missing from one stage) it was never released in the West afterwards. It was ported to the FM Towns Marty (1994), the Saturn and Playstation as part of the Arcade Gears series (1997), and was also included in Taito Memories Joukan for the PS2 (it's the one with a blue cover). It was included on an early version of the game list for Taito Legends 2, but was left out of the final game.
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