I have learned many things in my time as an Xbox 360 reviewer. In this business you definitely have to know how to properly contact developers, and publishers in the appropriate manner. Last year I decided to take a leap of faith, and attempt to contact a Japanese developer about reviewing their game. This developer was none other than 'Kohei Gallery'. What I did to request my review copy of their game 'Moe Mekuri 2' eairlier last year was use the google translate service. It was a shot in the dark, but one I was willing to try if it meant I could get that amazing looking game for review. Ultimately it worked, and my request was answered by the kind developer behind 'Kohei Gallery'. It is 2012, and once again I saw a Japanese game that I just had to get for review. It was by 'Kohei Gallery' as well. I used the same contact method I did before, and that's why I'm proud to say I can now deliver to you my second 'Kohei Gallery' game review, 'The Houchi Play'!
'The Houchi Play' is a wacky sort of game that is totally different from the 'Moe Mekuri' series. In this particular game you take on the role of 56 year old Taro Heibon. Taro is a man with some extremely odd habits. It seems he likes to be verbally abused by girls. To get his latest fix from this naughty habit, Taro decides to frequent some cosplay bars in his area. You (the gamer) take control of Taro has he scoots his way ever more closely to these lovely ladies in various bar settings. The only thing between Taro in his goal is a long stretch of bench, and the possibility that the girls may notice what he is attempting to do. If Taro manages to make it to a girl without being noticed he will succeed in his crazy quest, but ultimately it's up to you (the gamer) to help him out.
There are a total of five different cosplay bars within 'The Houchi Play' (campaign mode). Within each bar you will find three girls dressed in cosplay outfits (maid uniforms, swimming outfits, ...). It is your job to make sure that Taro goes unnoticed as he scoots closer to each girl. To achieve this goal you will need to simultaneously/rapidly press the (Left Trigger & Right Trigger) when the girls are looking away. This takes a lot of patience, trust me. To make things more challenging 'Kohei Gallery' has also designed certain girls to be more attentive to what Taro is attempting to do by giving them some unique abilities. Some of the girls will turn, and look at you more than once trying to catch you off guard (feint). Other girls will pick up on Taro's voice, and noises that he makes when he touches an alcohol bottle as he's triggering the "Chug-A-Lug" event. Being mindful of the girls is definitely the key to success in this game. The "Chug-A-Lug" event that I mentioned happens when Taro touches a bottle on the way to reaching the girl located at the other end of the seating area. Once this event is triggered you will be required to correctly hit the appropriate buttons (X, Y, B, A) that land within a square box next to Taro. If you succeed you gain a boost in movement speed as well as a boost to your likeability if the cosplay girl sees you inputing the sequence (drinking ^.^).
This game is sort of like a mixture of that childhood game "Red Light, Green Light" mixed with mini-game controls, and RPG features. That's the first thing I thought of when I played 'The Houchi Play'. The game is simple in that respect. There's not really that much to focus on in the game except for making sure that the cosplay girls don't see Taro moving towards them. You simply do this by moving when they are turned away, and stopping when they are facing towards you/Taro. The game has some features that go along with this objective based gameplay. There is a likeability meter located on the screen within each stage. It appears in the shape of a heart (inside a large star), and fills up if you do things correctly. If you get noticed the heart/likeability meter will deplete. This affects the "Likeability" percentage at the end of every five stages for each girl you encounter. Aside from the likeability meter you also have a meter that measures Taro's movement speed. The faster you press (Left Trigger & Right Trigger) the more it will fill up, and the quicker you'll be able to advance towards the cosplay girl.
There are some unlockable items in 'The Houchi Play'. If you meet certain requirements you will be able to unlock 'Free Play' mode that plays just like 'Campaign', and allows you earn pictures for your own personal in-game gallery. This extra feature coincides with the campaign mode's unlockable costumes. If you make it through the five stages of a cosplay girl's bar encounter in 'Campaign' you'll be able to find that costume within the 'Free Play' mode. In turn you can save the costume to a custom gallery that has a set number of available slots in which you can place the pictures of your favorite cosplay girls. Kohei Gallery has also included their signature in-game soundtrack within the 'Music' menu for those who wish to listen to it. It's a neat set of features that make the game more personal, and add a little replay value to it.
I mentioned earlier that 'The Houchi Play' has RPG elements, and it does. As you complete certain stages, and bars/levels within the game Taro will level up improving certain attributes that will help him to succeed more easily. Some of these attributes include improvements in Taro's movement speed, his cuteness which effects how often the cosplay girls turn towards him, and Chug-A-Lug inputs that make inputting the button sequences easier. These leveled up attributes can be manipulated on the map screen allowing you to arrange Taro's skills the way you see fit. The attributes will also transfer over to the 'Free Play' mode allowing you to play just as you would in 'Campaign'. I should also mention that your end rating percentages effect how much Taro levels up. The percentages count likeability, time, the Chug-A-Lug event and the number of times you had to retry the stage. At the end of the 5th stage involving each individual cosplay girl your percentages will be added up, and you will receive a letter grade (A-E) as well as xp according to how well you performed. This in turn will be added to your level status bar.
The controls in this game are super simple. All you basically have to do is rapidly press the (LT/RT) at the appropriate times, and hit the correct sequence of buttons in the Chug-A-Lug event. It doesn't get much easier than that when it comes to video games. As far as the graphics go, they are quite impressive. Kohei Gallery is known for their cute anime art style, and their quality game design. I did notice that 'The Houchi Play' was displayed in a widescreen format which was a change from their 'Moe Mekuri' series, but it honestly fit the game quite nicely. The cosplay girls were designed with a cute 2D anime style similar to what you'd find in other Japanese platformers. Taro Heibon has a silly appearance, with animations that definitely suit his wacky personality.
In conclusion I think 'The Houchi Play' is absolutely worth having. It offers a good laugh, and interesting gameplay that almost anyone can enjoy. It is definitely a nice departure from Kohei Gallery's 'Moe Mekuri' series which took a good bit of thinking to master. The game does offer a challenge, but that difficulty basically involves some focus on the gamer's part. I found that the art style in 'The Houchi Play' was just as brilliant as it was in the 'Moe Mekuri' games if not more so. I'm hoping that this game will become a series with different releases as 'Moe Mekuri' did. I think that 'Kohei gallery' has definitely created an XBLIG gem, and for 80 msp ($1) you cannot go wrong with this game. If you ask me that's dirt cheap for what the game has to offer.