The Japanese have a rightly earned reputation for releasing oddball game titles; it's not so much that the gameplay is unusual, but the content itself. Minon: Everyday Hero (Go! Go! Minon in Japan) is a prime example, seeing as the titular super hero does mundane things like helping an overwhelmed dad answer the phone by toppling buildings in an effort to find his flat!
Minon lives in the aptly-named Domino Town where, in addition to answering telephones, he helps find lost balloons for little girls, stops disgruntled fans leaving the concerts of waning pop stars and quiets noisy zoo animals to facilitate elephant romance amongst other feats. In order to perform his heroics he runs about on dominoes he creates himself using an inner source of power called "minonaide" which he can recharge by using people and other objects as dominoes instead.
The controls are pretty straightforward and use only the Wii remote: the pointer is used to choose Minon's path (choices are straight and left or right curves), the B button places dominoes in groups of five where there are no objects to walk upon and the A button causes Minon to stop in case things are going too fast for you and you need to stop and have a look around. When you move the pointer to one of the three forward positions (Minon cannot reverse), the game will show you valid placements with glowing white placeholders and invalid placements with pink placeholders that have red Xes in them. This may seem to imply a linearity in the game, but that's not the case: the stages are often quite large and you will have freedom to create your path within the play area with only certain sections being off-limits (often these gates will open after objectives are met). Since you have no camera control and there are secrets to find, wandering about is something you'll want to do, but mind the timer and your minonaide metre because running out of either of those will end the game -- and don't forget your primary objective is to reach the goal! If you get lost you can press 1 or 2 to bring up a level map which will indicate your location and objects of interest (like people's heads you can run across), but note that this doesn't stop the clock!
Reaching your goal and exploring stages is complicated by obstacles that can cause you to halt progress; if this happens Minon starts to lose balance which can be checked by tilting the remote forward and back. Sometimes this is due to a temporary blockage such as a trail of ants or a pesky dirigible which will eventually move out of your way, but you then need to make sure you can find your trail again without losing your balance; if you fall it's back to the last save point and a big drop in minonaide for you!
Restoring minonaide is something you'll need to do from time to time; especially in large levels with lots of exploration that may not be facilitated by the presence of convenient things to walk upon. This is achieved by swinging the remote in time whilst running across existing objects, such as trees or buildings. Time it right and the screen will display a "combo count." As your combo builds your speed increases which necessitates more vigorous shaking to continue the combo. Getting a 20-40+ combo will give you forearms like Popeye in no time! Whilst you cannot go backwards on your trail, you can go over objects repeatedly by making circuits throughout the stage; your self-created dominoes disappear after you walk on them so there's no clutter to worry about, well, other than the odd smashed skyscraper.
Remote shaking also comes into play in using special objects, such as power lines or picnic blankets held by children, to jump between large sections of stages or scaling skyscrapers even larger than Minon can grow. Rotation is used in a few instances, say activating a windmill for quick transport or trying to turn on a fountain. Motion control is definitely an area that is bound to annoy some, but frankly button pressing wouldn't be terribly interesting or less straining -- this is definitely a game made for the Wii.
In carrying out his heroic feats Minon frequently causes wanton destruction, which nobody really seems to mind -- at least not until the end -- as shown in the many cut scenes which are the delightful condiments of this nutball sandwich. There are opening and closing scenes which set up each of the 8 "Steps" or stages and whilst they are unskippable they are a big part of what makes this game so appealing to any aficionado of oddball Japanese games so why wouldn't you watch them? As seen in screenshots the characters are deliberately blocky-looking and the scenes play out like stop-motion animation using polygons in place of plasticine. The dialogue is...interesting...and the delivery by the English voice actors is a bit off-kilter which helps to maintain the overall tone of the game.
Domino Town is a vibrant, colourful place which you'll be seeing from different perspectives as Minon is able to change shape to meet his challenges. Frequently normal human-sized, he has one occasion to shrink down to ant size and walk on grass blades to sink a stubborn golf ball and others where he grows to topple buildings and scatter cars in an effort to launch a spacecraft or get someone to the church on time. Throughout the levels you'll hear a variety of Japanese pop songs, metal/punk and classical which all nicely suit the game and may be reason alone to replay levels.
Replay is the order of the day, however, as there are only 8 stages in total. Incentive is provided in the form of collecting "Manuals" (general and stage-specific game hints viewable from the main menu or the in-game pause menu) and "Memories" (still screens of pastel-looking art with text indicating, um, "interesting things" that happened to the citizens of Domino Town which are viewable from the main menu). In addition there's the promise of unlocking further challenges after the initial playthrough and the pursuit of better grades in each of the stages. Trying to progress from "Keep On Trying" to "Very Well Done!" will provide an incentive for some players (and is a change from the usual A, B or S grade).
Whilst the 8 stages themselves aren't complete pushovers it probably won't take more than a few hours to get through them all which is probably the largest weakness of the game. There is a two-player competitive mode played in splitscreen where each player competes to lay their dominoes in the fastest time with various power-ups to enhance your performance or thwart your opponent, but it doesn't seem to be much of a bonus. You'd be right to wonder why this isn't a WiiWare release as it certainly seems more appropriate to the download service than a disc release, but that's because the game was originally released in Japan in mid-2007 before the WiiWare service existed and re-coding for WiiWare would be a much bigger task than porting the existing Japanese disc.
Given the relative sparseness of the included content most people would be advised to wait for this title to reach a lower price than the current £25-odd it's going for online. For diehard fans of oddball Japanese titles the fact that Minon: Everyday Hero has some decent gameplay and nice trappings which add spice to what can sometimes seem like a mundane gaming scene the price is probably worthwhile. All due credit to fledgling Lithuanian publisher Nordcurrent for releasing this title in Europe which otherwise probably wouldn't have seen release outside of Japan. Despite any misgivings here's hoping Minon performs in sufficiently heroic fashion at retail to encourage Nordcurrent to do future localisations of other overlooked Japanese titles like this one.