Flash back to February of 1995. Ai Cho Aniki, the second game in developer Masaya’s over-the-top Cho Aniki (Super Big Brother) series, flexed its way onto the PC Engine in Japan, delivering a staggeringly strange blend of testosterone-tinged horizontal shooter action to NEC’s 8bit powerhouse. While the original Cho Aniki put players in control of the hero and mystical maiden duo Idaten and Benten as they soared through a variety of stages, blasting biomechanical baddies and dodging bullets in a relatively conventional shooter, the sequel instead opts to squeeze players into the skin-tight swim trunks of the musclebound brothers Adol and Samson as they embark on what can only be described as the most gloriously homoerotic space shooter in homoerotic space shooter history. While the camp value alone might be what lures many to this ludicrous shmup, the imaginative stages, hilarious boss encounters and finely-tuned action cement this quirky Super CD-ROM release as much more than a risque novelty in the PC Engine’s library.
A big part of what sets Ai Cho Aniki apart from other shooters is the game’s unique control scheme, which incorporates fighting game-inspired button combinations to unleash specific attacks on your mostly-naked flying foes. While merely tapping the “II” button, Adol or Samson will flex their bulky biceps, firing off a standard homing shot. However, a quick tap back to forward before pressing the shot button will execute a powerful wave of sparkling glitter that pierces through hordes of enemies. Lastly, when fully charged, a fireball gesture will generate a massively destructive wave of energy that shoots from your airborne athlete’s eerily phallic noggin, absolutely devastating anything in your speedo-clad spaceman’s path. Though it certainly takes some getting used to, the game’s unique control scheme sets it apart from its contemporaries, demanding careful play and masterful timing to progress through the game’s numerous challenging stages.
Of course, the key to mastering any shooter comes from being familiar with where your avatar’s hit box is. Oftentimes just a few pixels wide, careful consideration of where this sweet spot is located is often the best way to make any real progress. Well, if you haven’t noticed from the screens above, your sprite in Ai Cho Aniki is simply massive, and your hit box is pretty much the entirety of your musclebound protagonist. Thankfully, Samson and Adol are able to use their nimble prowess to deftly pirouette through enemy bullets with the tap of a button, making things much easier for the burly pair. However, this skill is far from a win button, as just a few shots from enemy fire, or a sudden collision with a powerful enemy can send your chrome-domed character plummeting into the terra firma.
Ai Cho Aniki features a wealth of imaginative stages, the first of which begins above the clouds as you battle kamikaze cherubs and waves of tenacious severed heads. However, before long you’ll find yourself hovering through crowded cityscapes, duking it out with a Groucho Marx-faced locomotive that hurls death-defying gymnasts your way. Later you’ll even descending into the ocean depths to take on an operatic, eggplant-hurling Adonis beneath the raging sea. Every level is simply ridiculous, and the varied enemy sprites just keep getting weirder and weirder as you work your way to the game’s hilarious climax. Not only are the stages absurdly imaginative – they’re also gorgeous. Each level takes full advantage of the PC Engine’s diverse color palette, serving up some incredibly vibrant backdrops, complete with their own simulated parallax scrolling to further pull you into the action. Simply put, Ai Cho Aniki‘s good looks are only eclipsed by the game’s raunchy absurdity.
While the game’s graphics are gorgeous, the game’s soundtrack is where Ai Cho Aniki really shines. From the game’s opening theme, which sets the stage for the game’s manly antics with grunting vocals and pounding percussion, to the bizarre seal bark-laden tunes that accompany a particularly silly boss encounter at the bottom of the sea, Ai Cho Aniki’s soundscapes never fail to impress, running the gamut from goofy to grand with delightfully reckless abandon. You’ll even find some Shamen quality dance numbers and Pure Moods-inspired Gregorian chants thrown in, rounding out the game’s legendary score.
But don’t just take my word for it – have a listen for yourself below:
That’s not to say everything is protein shakes and roses in Ai Cho Aniki. Despite the overwhelming number of things Masaya has done right, there is one nagging issue that manages to hold the game back a bit. This problem chiefly lies in the game’s aforementioned fighting game style control scheme. As with any shmup, Ai Cho Aniki forces players to move around quite a bit to stay alive. Unfortunately, the game’s direction-based special shots are impacted by this, meaning you’ll often unleash a special attack on accident, leaving you incredibly vulnerable until the attack ends as you’re locked in an attack animation. This can and will result in several cheap deaths in any given game. Thankfully, Benten swoops down frequently to award players bonus time (Ai Cho Aniki’s version of lives) and health, somewhat offsetting this troublesome issue.
Occasional control gripes aside, Ai Cho Aniki is a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek shooter whose racy and ridiculous themes belie a truly competent and addicting shooter. Developer Masaya’s musclebound mascots shine like a fresh spray tan in this sublime shooter, delivering one of the most uniquely absurd and irresistible games on the PC Engine. If you’re a fan of shooters with a comedic twist, let Samson and Adol flex their way into your bullet-riddled heart. You won’t regret it.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Released on: PC Engine Super CD-ROM; Publisher: Nippon Computer Systems ; Developer: Masaya ; Year released: 1995