The Nintendo 64 is fondly remembered for delivering groundbreaking titles such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. However, in amongst the system's relatively small library of games are a few wacky, obscure and out-of-the-ordinary experiences to be had.
Sadly, many of us in the West never got to play a considerable chunk of the N64’s 387 game library; 84 titles were never localised outside of Japan, the most likely reason for this being that they were simply deemed ill-suited to our tastes.
Within this exclusive group of Japan-only releases sits Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō, which is quite possibly the strangest N64 game out of the lot. Based on a segment from a similarly named Japanese game show that aired in the late 1990s, it’s essentially a steady hand game in which you have to guide a metal rod along a bending, looping and obstacle-laden path without touching the sides. In other words, it’s the video game incarnation of those classic wire loop games.
A licensed video game based on a quirky Japanese TV show doesn't initially inspire much confidence in terms of its potential quality. But to judge Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō by its cover (which just so happens to sport a gold female idol with a bust of peculiar proportions) would be a mistake, for this is actually a well-made game. That’s mainly due to the fact it sticks closely to the concept on which it’s based.
Moreover, this is a game that’s well suited to the N64 because it draws so heavily on the controller’s analogue stick. Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō is absolutely brutal in the difficulty department – think of it as the Dark Souls of steady hand games – because it demands exceptional precision. Right from the start, stages feature remarkably tight bends and moving obstacles that require impeccable timing in order to pass. These wouldn't be so problematic were it not for the fact that it's incredibly unforgiving; even lightly brushing the wall results in an instant loss and having to start all over again.
There is a particular rod you can select before you start which gives you an additional two lives, but the downside to this is that it doesn't move as quickly; something which would be fine if it weren't for the fact that you're up against a strict time limit. Other rods move faster, but with that usually comes an increased risk of losing control. There isn't an ideal choice as such, and rather it comes down to your preference.
Therefore, Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō requires a ton of concentration, and that's something which isn't easy to achieve with the sound turned up. That's because a rather loud and overexcited Japanese voice-over provides an unrelenting commentary throughout each stage. Is this the sort of game that really requires such a feature? No, but it’s wacky and we love it. Although we personally can't understand a single word that’s being said, the commentary really does ramp up that quirky bizarre factor.
The multiplayer mode pits two challengers against each other in a race to the finish; although it's unlikely either of you will ever see the end due to the ridiculous difficulty. Failure is a frequent occurrence, to the point where the only real winner is the game. The insane challenge makes you want to keep playing, quite possibly because on the surface Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō doesn’t look like it should be as taxing as it really is.
As a full price retail release, Ucchannanchan no Honō no Challenger: Denryū Iraira Bō no doubt had a tough time standing out from its competition. And yet, while it may not have the ground-breaking qualities of Super Mario 64 or the graphical prowess of Banjo-Kazooie, it is nevertheless fun, challenging and, above all, different – which is more than can be said for many games today.