First Impressions: Let's Hitchhike!
Posted by Sean Aaron
Nippon Ichi delivers an oddball game as only the Japanese can.
It's literally called Let's Zenryoku Hitchihaiku!!!!!!!!! (yes nine exclamations!), which I guess you could translate as Let's Totally Hitchhike, Dude! (the "Dude" is my personal addition) and it's a recent release to the Japanese WiiWare service which I just had to try out after seeing videos of the game in action.
Without understanding spoken Japanese the best I can make out is that you're part of a group of a people who were enjoying a meal at a restaurant when suddenly dinosaurs and UFOs appeared out of nowhere. Naturally this is an alarming turn of events so you and the other diners fled the premises. The proprietor appears to have had a meltdown as a result of you leaving without paying the tab and pursues you as you traverse through four worlds to reach the Finish.
Let's Hitchhike!!!!!!!!! is part of the virtual boardgame genre, which seems to be quite popular on the Japanese WiiWare service (there are quite a number of games, both classic and original). The game board consists of "cards" arranged in a path with a start and end point and your chosen character moves a number of spaces determined by what kind of transport they hitch a ride on. Your choice of characters is a girl with orange pigtails and the most annoying whiny voice in the universe, an older-sounding woman with green hair styled into three pompoms, a black man with a purple pompadour in an Elvis Vegas-era jumpsuit and a balding fellow who I've yet to play a game with.
Initially you can only play the story mode which takes you through all four "worlds." You start out with the goal of reaching "The Farm Area." After moving to the starting space on the board the game transitions to the main play mode: hitching a ride. Your character will appear in the foreground against a themed backdrop and mirror your actions as you use the pointer to select a vehicle to flag down. In the farm level these can be 70s muscle cars that look like Dodge Challengers, tractors, cows or ... trees. Yes, trees that look like background objects will give you a lift -- they're actually faster than most of the cows! Once you get the chosen transport's attention it moves over to you and now the fun really begins! Your character will mime an action using the wiimote which you then get three attempts to emulate during a short timed interval (about 4-5 seconds). Each attempt will be rated with a percentage and the percentage translated to a gauge underneath the star rating for the transport. The gauge has subdivisions for each star so your percentage will map to a star total which will be the number of spaces you move on the game board.
Different transports will have different maximum star ratings, which are not necessarily related to the type of vehicle chosen (there are 3-star sports cars and 4 star tractors for example). Since your pointer will only flash when you point at certain parts of a transport indicating you can choose it and the selection timer runs out quickly, you won't necessarily have the luxury of waiting around for a really fast transport. The various motions are also not necessarily picked up that well by the game -- hence multiple tries and the generous gauge to star mapping. For the easier ones pulling off %100 isn't too difficult, but others are more challenging. There's one where you're supposed to perform an S-curve with the wiimote held vertically and ending with it parallel to the ground, which I'm lucky to score %3 on. I have to say that despite the inconsistency in motion detection, often it seems to be down to timing and it adds variety to the game as you don't necessarily know the outcome of your actions. I don't want to sound like I'm apologising for the game, but if you could get consistent results there almost wouldn't be a point to it and I would have lost interest quickly.
Added to the challenge of the action required to get your ride, the psycho restaurateur appears after a couple of turns and starts pursuing you at the rate of 1 space per turn. In addition to risking standing still because nobody's impressed by your wiimote stylings you also encounter '?' spaces which force a card draw. The results can be moving 1-5 spaces forward, causing psycho ponytail man to miss a turn, causing you to miss a turn or moving 1-5 spaces backward. If the chef reaches you, it's game over -- though you are given the option to restart the level. There are also event spaces where you need to draw a card which can cause you to miss a turn or make dinosaurs or UFOs appear in your next hitchhike attempt. They just get in the way of your pointer for a little added challenge and some added scenery.
Every time you reach goal you're treated to a little cut scene with spoken dialogue and the dinner party running on to the next area with the slovenly psycho chef in pursuit. Further areas are:
Japan Area (actually written and spoken as "Japan" rather than "Nihon") where you have a choice of rikshaws, taxis or police cars (the latter two look like they're from the 1960s).
Dinosaur Area where your choice of ride is styracosaurus, tyrannosaurus or pteranodon.
Space Area where you can hitch a ride on the space shuttle, a UFO or with Ultraman (who has a cube for a head, naturally).
After you reach the finish you apparently win a bundle of cash and return to the restaurant (honestly if anyone understands the dialogue please fill me in!). The chef initially seems pleased to get paid, but the very end has him looking psycho again, so is it really the end?
After completing the basic game you're able to play a harder version and you also have the ability to play any one of the levels on it's own. Beating the second difficulty level unlocks a third one. Each subsequent difficulty level adds more spaces between the start and the goal, brings the chef into the game sooner (level 2 he comes in after your second turn) and gives him more moves (2 spaces per turn in level 2). Finally the moves required are more involved (the stand-out is one asking you to spin around 5 times).
The game is very much in the tradition of activities focused around making people look silly in front of others and would probably make a decent party game. Playing alone it's less of an experience, though it's still oddly compelling and I never felt like my time would be spent better doing something else. That said 1000 points seems a bit steep considering it's a game you play just for the experience. There's no final scoring or leaderboards and the entire game can be played through in less than an hour (though you are given the option to save your place after completing each round and can come back to this via the 2nd menu option on the title page). On the off chance this does see release outside of Japan it could be worth checking out, though it's best to be ready to act the fool for maximum enjoyment!!!!!!!!!