Friday, December 9, 2011

Syobon Action

Hoo boy. If you know your internet games, you've probably heard of Syobon Action before - and if you know anything ABOUT Syobon Action, well, you probably have the good sense not to play it.

... or you want to play it more than ever. Either way, it's not good news - though I will admit that I've been wanting to review this game since trying it out in college a few years ago. I just couldn't resist.


Syobon Action is a pretty damn innocent game at first glance. I mean, look at it. You play a happy white cat in a land full of blobby, smiling marshmallow things. It's a close homage to the first Super Mario Bros. title, and though the aesthetics are a bit cruder here the resemblance is unmistakable.

But this isn't Super Mario Bros. Oh no. Sure, it starts off nice enough, but within a few seconds you'll run into something weird. An inexplicable invisible box, perhaps, or a ghost that zips out of a pipe without warning, or perhaps even floors that fall away.

Or this shit. What kind of cruel joke is that?

And that's exactly what Syobon Action is, in the final analysis: a massive, cruel joke, one meant to torment anyone foolish enough to play the game. What starts as a simple-looking platformer quickly becomes a descent into cutesy hell, one few players will manage to survive.

The one thing you have on your side? Infinite lives. Though, uh, once the number gets low enough...

... your efforts become something of a farce. (That wasn't even CLOSE to the number I reached before giving up. I was in the sixties, at least.)


Syobon Action isn't as well-tuned a game as I would like, and I'm sure the programmer is perfectly happy with that result. It's similar to the original Mario in that our cat, on landing, has a tendency to float a short distance before coming to a stop - and that floating will get you killed many, many times. Frustration abounds. On the plus side, it IS easy as hell to master... up for jump, arrows for side to side...


In ways, Syobon Action is a step down from Super Mario Bros. Everything is kinda... flat... by comparison, and the animations are pretty sparse. Your cat's legs move, but everything else soars without flexing a muscle. Not too impressive, though innocent enough to draw in the unwary.


The music from Syobon Action is damn near unmistakable for anyone who's played it, which is hilarious since it actually comes from ANOTHER game, Cheetah Man (and its sequel, which is a rather cheap move). There are other tracks and sound effects similarly stolen from other games, most notably the death music from Super Mario Bros. Fitting.

Challenge Rating

Good lord, where to start. Syobon Action is, for good reason, often billed as one of the most difficult games in existence. I don't know if I QUITE agree with that, 'cause with some memorization it's not that tough to beat, but it's still a right pain in the ass.

What makes Syobon Action so painful is its relentless cruelty. It sports a completely unfair set of traps, always sprung without warning and usually in places that your instincts will tell you are safe. Take the picture above, for example: that blue goal post is actually an ENEMY that comes to life when you either touch it or try to jump over it. Do you think that cat stands a chance in hell of surviving the next three seconds? I don't. (And he didn't.)

So, yes, Syobon Action is more of a dickhead joke than anything else. That said, it's also a game that forces innovation, because you often have to think outside the box to survive the many, many pitfalls. For example, there's one point where you're faced with a patrolling enemy you can't touch and a small gap you can't possibly circumvent without making contact. There are item boxes floating nearby, however, and if you hit one you'll release a mushroom - and though it will kill the cat, it makes the enemy grow in size and burst through the bricks so you can get through. It'll take a while to come up with the answers, but you'll feel proud of yourself for managing the feat.

Or you can cheat and watch one of the thousands of playthrough videos now posted on YouTube. I wouldn't blame you, either - as I recall all you get for beating Syobon Action is a melon. How quaint.


Syobon Action is the stuff of legends. It's the game you try and beat if you want to show off. And, with a loooot of practice, you CAN beat it - because your body will force you to remember the traps, and exactly how to avoid them. I remembered a lot of the problem spots years later and, consequently, had a much easier time with the game on my second go. Think of it as aversion therapy with painful electrodes, installed in your computer, and you'll get the idea.

Still wanna give it a go? You have two options:

- First, you can go to the programmer's home page and PLAY SYOBON ACTION. Problem is, it doesn't seem to work for everyone.

- Or, second, you can download a version from some random website and play it on your desktop. Type in 'download Syobon Action' or something similar and you'll find a download link for almost any OS in no time.

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