Yusuke’s trusty spirit gun blows up in his face.
The year is 1993, and Yu Yu Hakusho is all the rage in Japan. Yusuke Urameshi is the coolest ruffian around, and his red-haired ally, Kurama, is the biggest ladies’ man in the anime industry. Multiple high-profile videogame companies are pumping out game after licensed game, including a quality fighting series from the masters at Namco.
Fast forward to early 2002. Cartoon Network begins airing a North American localization of Yu Yu Hakusho, dubbed by FUNimation (the same company behind North America’s Dragon Ball shows). Yusuke has since gained a significant following in the states; naturally, Atari’s Yu Yu Hakusho: Spirit Detective for the GBA was sure to follow.
Sensory Sweep and Screaming Games’ Yu Yu Hakusho is the quintessential licensed fiasco, and is among the worst games I’ve ever played. The game gives players control over Yusuke and his friends as it progresses through a loose reenactment of the television series’ first 25 episodes. Most of the time, the player roams around uninspired, recycled environments, picking fights with anything that moves: obviously, only punks roam the streets during siesta. To complete a mission, the player must usually find one or more items and reach a designated area, using his spirit compass as a guide.
The bulk of the game is its combat, which consists mostly of throwing punches and using longer-range spirit attacks. The game’s battle system is feeble. Intelligently-placed attacks are all but useless because of poor collision detection, and there’s significant lag when using spirit attacks. Usually, the most effective strategy is to repeatedly punch your enemies until they EXPLODE into glowing orbs of experience point goodness. Major battles play almost identically, in part due to the game’s abysmal AI: most bosses tend to stand in one place and shoot long-range spirit projectile attacks or mindlessly chase the player in an attempt to pummel him with melee attacks. When the player progresses far enough, he can switch to new playable characters with their own attacks and stats, but they all feel almost identical.
Levels are almost completely devoid of challenge. The player is usually free to roam about the environment, which is either simplistically linear or frustratingly open in design. The most grueling missions are collect-a-thons, where players must comb a monotonous city in search of items or enemies. The linear missions’ puzzles never evolve beyond cliché switch-and-door couplings in complexity, turning this adventure game into little more than an overhead brawler.
The game does have its more memorable moments. Sometimes the developers incorporate aspects of an episode’s battle into the game’s counterpart. Also, during two missions, players must also master three simple mini-games taken from the anime that test Yusuke’s reflexes, timing, and endurance. Although hardly well-implemented, these battles and mini-games embrace a gleam of inspiration from the source material and help break up the rest of the game’s dismal monotony.
Considering the game’s license is its only draw, Atari should have at least focused on accurately representing the television show; but, like the rest of the game, the story’s presentation is thoroughly dull. The plot flows like a low-budget clip show—only those familiar with the anime could ever follow the GBA game’s rendition. Most of the story takes place in-between missions, where characters talk to each other in dialog boxes displayed over static backgrounds. The developers integrate dialog from the television show, but they make little to no effort to introduce the characters properly or tie dialog together in a coherent fashion. For instance, after a battle in the dark, your defeated enemy refers to a “cheap trick” Yusuke used in the TV show to claim victory, but the game makes no attempt to include the actual trick—planting a lit cigarette on Yusuke’s rival to track his movement—into the battle itself. The significant deviations from the show’s plot will also annoy the game’s target audience. Multiple battle and plot segments are omitted, and the storyline is often tweaked to make room for more uninteresting missions, going as far as to change the ending to accommodate an anticlimactic final battle.
Atari’s Yu Yu Hakusho on the GBA is an insult to gamers and anime fans alike. With its charismatic cast and open-ended, special-agent plot device, Yu Yu Hakusho is a prime franchise for videogames, but judging from this rush job, the developer and publisher don’t seem to recognize this. Hopefully Atari will wise up and pay more attention to game mechanics and presentation when making its next Yu Yu Hakusho videogame.