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First Impressions: Muscle March

Posted by Sean Aaron

Namco delivers possibly the most bizarre game to come from Japan in years.

If you've gotten into the Japanese import scene at all you've probably discovered that there's games released in Japan that never see localisation outside of Japan. Japanese game developers have a knack for coming up with some pretty unusual game concepts and Japanese publishers seem to be willing to bring these to a Japanese public which seems eager to play them.

Muscle March stands out for several reasons. First it's a port of an arcade game (anyone know what the cabinet for this looked like or what the controls were like?), second it was published by Bandai-Namco, one of the largest and oldest Japanese game publishers, and finally it involves guiding a bodybuilder (or polar bear) in pursuit of a protein powder thief through openings in walls made by said thief, through a variety of landscapes, by adopting different body-building poses.

After starting the game you've got two menu choices (and the array of player-controlled characters to examine in all their overdeveloped muscle-bound glory): ‘Play The Game’ or ‘View The Credits’. Viewing the credits gives you some terrific techno music and production/development credits against a randomly chosen character dancing over and over and over again. The characters are impressively animated and seem to have been motion-captured and their physique is so over the top as to be ludicrous.

The game itself has two modes: arcade mode and time attack mode, the latter of which can be played with 1-4 players. I mainly played arcade mode. First choose your character. Characters represent a range of nationalities (and species) and different walks of life. Each of them have names and other vital statistics and each of them are massive body-building fanatics -- well, except the bear, he looks out of shape. As you highlight each one's face you're treated to them dancing as in the credits. Tony is the American boxer (or is that an American Football helmet?) and Branda is the British female bodybuilder. There's also a Russian punk complete with nose-to-ear chain, headphones and mohawk, a Japanese bodybuilder with a crazy topknot and swimming goggles, a Spaniard with tophat, twirly moustaches and rose between his teeth, a fellow from Ghana with a giant afro and a large rubber duckie sitting on it, a Norwegian polar bear in trunks and presumably other unlockable characters, though I've yet to get far enough to find out. You then have a choice of three stages: City, Edo (this takes place in medieval Japan) and Space (naturally). You're then shown the four moves you need to do in the game with the Wii Remote and nunchuck -- no stick use or buttons required; this is all motion all the time -- both up, both down, and then Wii Remote up/ nunchuk down or nunchuck up/Wii Remote down. Press A to start and then prepare to be blown away!

The story is gripping and the gameplay straightforward: it seems someone (the person changes depending upon the stage, City has an American Football player, Edo a purple turtle-looking demon, haven't tried space yet) has stolen the protein powder from our muscle-bound friends and they are naturally ticked off and seek to retrieve their precious body-building magic dust. In the course of his escape the fiend smashes through walls and runs at breakneck speed through the environment into buildings, over rooftops and through the air. Every time the thief busts through a new wall he creates a pose which must be copied by his pursuers lest they bounce away out of action. You start out at the back of a queue of your muscle-friends who will gradually blow it, leaving you alone to copy the moves to pass through the shapes, each success meaning an increase in speed until the side-on finale where you perform rapid up-down movements with the Wii Remote and nunchuk in a final sprint to tackle the offender (at which point several of your pals also pile on). Then in a dramatic turn of events the protein powder is launched into the hands of a...SPACE ALIEN!!! And the chase continues; apparently with a 3rd and final hand-off to come. Sadly I've yet to see the finale as the allotment of five failures wasn't enough for my first time playing the game, and I...failed!

Clearly with a motion-controlled game the controls will be the make-or-break issue and Namco's done a pretty good job with this. Your left and right arms are mapped to the nunchuck and Wii Remote respectively and you simply move them up and down as required with your character's arm doing the appropriate movement on-screen. The sensitivity seems to be a bit on the high side so moving to a neutral position (which causes your character to switch to holding big, red dumbbells whilst running) doesn't seem to be a good idea as you can register a false positive direction when say switching from nunchuk up/Wii Remote down to the reverse pose. I've found that keeping the last pose puts you in a better position to respond and when the game gets towards the tackling phase reactions will definitely be a factor! One problem I have yet to overcome is the impulse to exactly emulate the on-screen pose, though I was impressed I did manage to keep my shirt and trousers on throughout the game.

Timed mode sees from 1-4 players pursuing what looks like, um, a gold-suited muscle-bound Teletubbie, up a rainbow spiralling around a giant beanstalk against a star-filled background (honestly, you couldn't make that up!). Every wall you pass through increases your speed from a starting 5kph to FAST. The best I managed to do was 45kph and that was pretty mental! These scores are recorded, though there's no online leaderboards and you don't record your initials. There's potentially other content I've yet to see, but more play is required to see if that's the case.

The obvious question is: will Muscle March get the worldwide exposure it deserves? I wish I could answer that, but honestly I have no clue. Until Nordcurrent released Minon: Everyday Hero I wouldn't have thought Go! Go! Minon! would be released outside of Japan; likewise I was so convinced Let's Tap! would be a Japanese-only release that I made that my first Japanese pre-order. This game has gotten enough attention that it's possible, though I think the fact that Cho Ainiki got a Hanabi Festival release, but Ai Cho Ainki, the more over the top sequel, did not could mean this also stays in Japan. I certainly cannot see Bandai-Namco USA localising it, but definitely some smaller publisher in Europe might take the plunge. Cross your biceps in hope!

The game is 800 points and if this was less crazy it certainly wouldn't be worth it, but if you have the means to play this game do yourself a favour and get it!

Check out the video below to get a full appreciation for the muscle-bound madness on offer:

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User Comments (32)



Dazza said:

This has to be the most insane game I have seen in years! Sign me up!

Great first impressions as always Sean. Now you make me want a Japanese Wii to complement my PAL and US systems!



Sean_Aaron said:

Yes, that's a woman and after Pumping Iron II there started to be more woman bodybuilders who look like that (though all those characters are OTT).



Starwolf_UK said:

I guess it being an arcade port explains why the play area is in 4:3 (there are border graphics for you people with widescreen).



Fuzzy said:

I bet you wouldn't be able to get a person to play this game with a straight face!



Crunc said:

I really want this game. Question: if you are in the US can you buy a Japanese Wii and then have access to the Japanese store? Or, is there some more nefarious way to get the Japanese store on a US Wii, preferably without killing the US store on that same Wii?



pinta_vodki said:

Now this is what I want to play. And being Russian, I definitely want to play as this Russian punk!!



Dazza said:

@Crunc - To get on the Japanese Wii Shop you need a Japanese Wii. You will have no problem accessing from the USA if you import a JPN console.



Philip_J_Reed said:

I would start with Adam. And then move alphabetically through the rest of you.

A reminder: if this comes out in NA and it's LESS THAN 1000 points, I will hold a Mario Kart Tournament and gift it to the winner. That's the Chicken Brutus guarantee.



theblackdragon said:

i bet if this does come to NA, they'll all be wearing bike shorts or boxers instead of speedos.



Sean_Aaron said:

My wife is disturbed by this game; moreso the fact that I'm more concerned with the illogic of bodybuilders running through Edo Japan than the entire concept of the game. She also thinks the way the characters' asses wiggle as they run is disturbing.

Tonight I beat the Space mode (a city called Miraima or Miraime or something which has habitat tubes, giant fans and then exteriors where you run through tumbling asteroids. It took multiple continues because the third opponent is a bodybuilder in a skintight blue outfit with what looks like a round radio aerial on his head and goggles and he changes poses really goddam fast. Technique is required because switching from nunchuck up/wiimote down to the reverse takes too long; best to keep both controllers up or down before seeing the pose (towards the end he switches poses multiple times before busting through the wall). If you catch him you clear the level and then see your character doing a victory dance with the three protein powder thieves. How rewarding!

This is game of the year material and deserves to be released worldwide!



Wiiloveit said:

I would start with Adam. And then move alphabetically through the rest of you.
Yay for being near the bottom of the list



Sean_Aaron said:

Yeah, that article was amazing in how someone can just not get into the spirit of the thing. Yes, the gameplay isn't brilliant; it's the game's madness which is so compelling. Of course if you're not into that sort of thing, well, you'd probably think this game totally sucks.

I think it's genius and hope we'll see more of it!



DevilRy said:

This game is pretty addicting, as well as being completely hilarious.

@Sean Aaron: "Mirai" is the Japanese word for "future."

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