How many of you have you said to yourself at one time or another, while watching a televised sporting event, "You know, this would be so much more interesting if infants were competing, preferably infants who were in danger of dying at any moment"? OK, granted not too many, but if even one of you has said that then The Aka-Champion, Come On Baby is the game for you. We've been playing the Japanese budget import pseudo-sports game for the PlayStation 2 and, in all honesty, we've spent just as much time scratching our heads trying to figure out what it is as we have actually playing through it.
We probably gave it away when we noted that The Aka-Champion is a Japanese import; after all, the Japanese and American definitions of video games are sometimes radically different. But even by Japanese standards, this one is odd--a mix of straight-ahead button-mashing sports games reminiscent of the old Track & Field games, with baby character models that look like Garbage Pail Kids rejects. Add a heaping helping of black humor and cartoon graphics and you have an idea of where The Aka-Champion is headed.
The game has two main single-player modes--arcade and adventure. Both modes have you challenging artificially intelligent opponents in either summer or winter sports (or at least, supremely strange approximations of summer and winter sports). The difference is that arcade pits in a more or less randomly generated series of events, while adventure mode lets you guide your athletic little toddler around a gameworld map and choose which events you wish to take part in.
And now we come to the events themselves, probably as odd a mixture of the simplistic and mildly subversive as you're likely to find in a video game these days. From a control standpoint, these are remarkably simple games to play--few require more than two buttons to complete. There's the standard 100-yard dash game, the swimming competition, the hurdles race, even an interesting twist on sumo wrestling. Yet take a closer look and you'll see that you're not just racing against your opponent in the hurdles race, for example, you're also sprinting away from the ravenous jaws of a polar bear intent on gobbling you up for lunch. In the swimming competition, your baby is struggling to reach the surface of the pool, while simultaneously being dragged to the bottom by an iron ball and chain attached to his leg. Oh, and the sumo wrestling we mentioned? It's actually baby slap fighting. Read that last sentence closely. Baby slap fighting; except when you're competing in the winterized variation of the event, in which the two babies trade blows with their snowboards.
But that's not all; The Aka-Champion also features events such as a speed skating (where your opponent is a gorilla), ski jumping, snow soccer (complete with snowman goalies), a Dance Dance Revolution-style rhythm game, baby skydiving, a competition to see who can shake an octopus off its head first, and many more. In arcade mode, you'll have only a handful of chances to try a particular event before the game is over, while in adventure mode, you can try them as many times as you like, but can only progress through the game after you've beaten the current challenges.
It's perhaps a good thing that most of the challenges are relatively easy to beat and fast-paced because, frankly, the less time you spend on events like the DDR test, the better. Still, catch-up AI is rampant in the game; should you build an early lead in a sprint challenge, for example, you can expect your opponent to bridge that gap quickly as the race nears its end. Similarly, your opponent in a slap fight will likely lay down like a good jobber in the first round, only to rally in the second or third round as a slap-dealing baby ninja intent on beating you down with reflexes that would make Chuck Norris quake in fear.
The stars of The Aka-Champion are the six playable infants in the game. There's Cafleo, the tow-headed spitfire; Donburi, the pudgy sumo baby; and PanPan, the baby dressed as a panda, among others. It's unclear whether the babies have different attributes, though we're pretty sure Donburi's girth helped him out during some of the slap fights we took part in. Each infant has his own unique look, too--check out screenshots of Zambie for a particularly discomfiting example--and the overall cartoon look of the game is sometimes funny (assuming you find watching infants playing jump rope over an electrified rope funny) and always strange. The animations aren't anything sophisticated, either, usually consisting of a handful of juxtaposed sprites simulating motion. In the sound department, the game features energetic, uptempo music, an announcer who sounds like he's straight out of older Sega arcade games, and more English than you might expect.
Whether or not The Aka-Champion ever makes it to US shores--and let's face it, that's highly unlikely--it certainly speaks volumes about the disparity in tastes between American and Japanese gamers. The budget game has been out for a while in Japan, so if you're looking for something different for your import collection, or at least a game that no one-- and we mean no one else--in your circle of friends will have, consider bringing this one over.