For those who don’t know about this new series, here’s a link.
Now this game is based on true Japanese culture. The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō is a series of paintings created by Utagawa Hiroshige, a man who travelled from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto. To Hiroshige, it was a very eye-opening journey, discovering new territories and experiencing new things, which intrigued a man who was an urban fellow. During his travels, he made a series of sketches along his journey, and once he returned to Edo, he turned those sketches into paintings and have become a famous and an integral part of Japanese culture.
So to celebrate this piece of history, why not make a game out of it.
Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi (東海道五十三次 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō), developed and published by Sunsoft and was released in 1986 in Japan only. The game’s full title in-game is Kanshaku tamanage Kantarō no Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi (かんしゃく玉投げカン太郎の東海道五十三次 Firework Thrower Kantaro’s 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō), that sure is a mouthful isn’t it.
You play as a fireworks maker named Kantaro (カン太郎), who has finished his training in Kyoto and is ready to return home to Edo, where his fiancee, Momoko-chan (ももこちゃん), eagerly waits for him. However, a merchant named Gonzaemon (剛左衛門), wants the secrets of the manufacturing of the fireworks, and knowing that Kantaro has those secrets, he decides to hire tons of goons to harass him as Kantaro travels through the 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō (in reverse), going from Kyoto to Edo. The only defense Kantaro has are firework grenades. That’s right, Kantaro is hard as f***, he’s bombing b******* and doesn’t give a f***.
So the game is a platformer were you go from A to B to get through 53 stations…albeit, there are 21 levels and you’re just going through 53 stations technically. You can jump and throw bombs and enemies will come out of nowhere, ready to pounce onto you. You can use your bombs to throw at enemies, or even plant bombs on the floor for a well-timed explosion, but the game is once again, hard as hell and if you get a Game Over, it’s back to the very beginning of the game all over again. No continues, passwords or any sort of stage select, you have to smash through this game without losing too many lives.
So the main strategy of living longer is gaining lives, which you get every 20,000 points, and different enemies defeated give you different amount of points. But it’s not just enemies, but some statues, if you hit them with a grenade, can give you points too.
But to journey on further, you must collect items along the way and they can be limited if you’re near enough carefree. A Japanese amulet called the O-fuda, will protect Kantaro from a ghost who tries to slow you down. The rice ball, known as Onigiri (I’ve heard about that and I really want to try that out), which lets you roll around at the speed of sound (well not that fast) as Kantaro becomes invincible for a short period of time. Japanese sandals known as Geta, will let Kantaro stand up on clouds. The Kanzashi can prevent Otami from following you, though this item is not in the original Famicom version, but in later ports.
But the most important item in the game is the Koban coins (currency acutally used in Edo period feudal Japan), which can be found anywhere in the level, but depending on how many you have, two can be used to make a bridge to cross a river, six can pay a passage fee at checkpoints if Kantaro doesn’t have a passport, and ten will open a secret door to access other levels.
The gameplay is quite the frustrating one as I said before, enemies will fly from nowhere and you’re never prepared for what’s to come, they will hit you and not even a grenade throw will do the trick at times, most of the time you need to try and aim it so that the enemy will at least get hit by it and it’s never an easy feat. Also, if you want an easier time finding items, you’ll need to get a guide because I could NEVER find most of the items I needed and at least I had enough coins to get through the rest of a level.
The graphics are nice, but not great these days, but at least there was some attempt to make the level design sort of faithful to the original paintings to the best of the developer’s ability. The controls feel floaty but also stiff at the same time, timing jumps can be awkward at times, especially whenever you want to avoid enemy attacks. The music is OK, it does it’s job for the game.
Overall, Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi is a tough Famicom game, but it’s a game that I did enjoy despite it’s difficulty. It might not be for everybody but it’s worth a try if you’re interested in Famicom games. You can either buy this game physically if you have a Famicom or play it on a ROM as the game has been translated into English, though you don’t have to understand English to enjoy the game.
You can get it on the Famicom, PC via Ultra 2000 Sunsoft Classic Games 2, PlayStation via Memorial Series Sunsoft Vol.3 and Virtual Console Japan via 3DS.