... Anime time again, huh. Why weren't there any games based on Creamy Mami instead?
Unbelievably, this is our very first Game Boy Advance game on its own. Our review was conducted on an aging, dying Nintendo DS Lite for maximum viewability because the thought of playing this on an original GBA is... No. Absolutely not. No way we're doing that to our poor eyes when a better alternative is readily available. Screenshots, of course, come from an emulator but not resized or enlarged- they must be as small and dinky as their origins, and so it shall be, specifically with a shader to make the game's colouration look as close to real hardware as possible, although this time you don't need to harness the raw power of ten thousand suns to see anything. The fun part is that no matter what emulator we put this thing in, it absolutely would not save our data so we had to beat this game like two-and-a-half times- once on real hardware. then beating half the game on the emulator and thinking it had saved to find, to our horror, it absolutely had not. Just another day on this savage Earth trying to write about old licensed portable games. Also, thanks to @Jucksalbe for pointing out that the way the game's title is written on most of the internet is wrong, as confirmed by the title call in-game. It's Sono, not Kuni.
Oh yes, we're finally covering a Pretty Cure game! That means only one thing, time to shill for HeartCatch! PreCure!
Aired across 2010 and 2011 and with character designs by Umakoshi Yoshihiko of Marmalade Boy and Ojamajo Doremi fame, HeartCatch! PreCure! was the seventh series in the long-running Pretty Cure media franchise and a particular PreCure season that came highly recommended to me by a friend who happens to be an expert in the genre, and so I gave it a shot. What I got was 49 solid episodes of great fights, a genuinely threatening villain in the form of Dark PreCure and some extremely lovable characters including Erika Kurumi who has some of the greatest faces in anime hi-
[Alright, pack it in, you. Back on topic. - Ed]
Hey! Even if my heart's as big as the ocean, I've reached my limit with you!
[If I have to break out the Moon Tact and Silver Forte Wave you into submission, I'll do it. - Ed]
Ahem. Well before HeartCatch!, Pretty Cure had to start somewhere, and that start was Futari wa Pretty Cure (often shortened to PreCure which is what we'll mostly be using), localised for the West as just Pretty Cure and currently available on Crunchyroll if you'd like to give it a watch- it's one of the few seasons of the show actually available in the UK, the cowards, but it is full of silly typos in the subs, I mean can you imagine putting out something riddled with typos? Couldn't be me. Anyway, Futari wa Pretty Cure aired 49 episodes across 2004 and 2005 in Japan (and got a Canadian-produced dub in 2010) and tells the story of Nagisa Misumi and Honoka Yukishiro, ordinary middle school students who couldn't be more different. Nagisa's the tomboyish star of the lacrosse team while Honoka's the resident Queen of Knowledge with an interest in science. They get thrust together one night after a shower of shooting stars launches Mepple into Nagisa's room and leads Honoka to find Mipple in her grandma's storeroom. Both are gremlin escapees from the Garden of Light / Field of Light, a magical world corrupted by the machinations of the Dark Zone / Dotsuku Zone and its leader, Jyaku-King, who seeks immortality via the Prism Stones, an action that would doom both Mepple and Mipple's world as well as the world of Nagisa and Honoka... But Mepple and Mipple snuck away with two of the seven stones. To protect Mepple, Mipple the Prism Stones and their own world, Nagisa and Honoka have to work together to become Cure Black and Cure White, the protectors of light and the Pretty Cure while also juggling their exciting middle-school problems like boys, absentee parents and parfaits! And hand-holding. So much hand-holding. I wasn't able to finish watching the series before this article was due but I watched enough to get the basic gist (although wow, this does not feel like a mid-2000s anime, it has the spirit of late '90s all over it) and get the feeling that maybe watching HeartCatch! completely ruined me, but it has a lot of good faces, some excellent fight choreography (and the key animator on the second movie, Shingo Adachi, would go on to be the series director for Lycoris Recoil) and the relationship between Nagisa and Honoka- essentially two completely different girls thrust into each other's lives- was cute. Also Mepple is a total gremlin, you can't convince me otherwise.
Let's move on to the game then, that's what this website is sometimes about, so my editor keeps telling me. Futari wa Pretty Cure: Areana~i! Yume no Sono wa Daimeikyū (which I've usually seen translated as 'Unbelievable! The Garden of Dreams is a Huge Labyrinth') is the series' second tie-in game (after the Sega Pico game from July 2004, more info on Sega Retro), releasing near the tail-end of the show's TV run in December 2004 and it probably won't surprise you to learn it came out for the Game Boy Advance. The GBA was a haven for licensed games based on just about any property you can think of from weird Western cartoon licenses (The Ripping Friends), Korean cartoon licenses (Iron Kid / Eon Kid), movie tie-ins that never got console versions (A Sound of Thunder), you name it, so there's an absolute sea of anime licensed games that never left Japan to sift through (and, of course, anime licensed games that never made it into Japan). Even before I watched (a decent chunk of) Futari wa Pretty Cure for this article, I was interested in this one and had been trying to find a copy for a while because of the genre- a platformer with a focus on using teamwork to solve puzzles. That sounds neat! The developer was also a point of interest too, Open Sesame who mostly made GBA tie-in games as well as original works like Metalgun Slinger but more importantly... an Italian-only Sailor Moon game for the DS? What?! Now they've got my attention. Getting back to this game, this has a unique plot as far as I can tell- Nagisa and Honoka are tasked by Elder with restoring the power of the Garden of Dreams which has been split into pieces and scattered across five different worlds, populated by Zakkena possessing things like giant donuts, electric mixers and scary pineapples. If they don't succeed, no-one will ever be able to dream again! The Pretty Cure won't forgive anyone who takes away the dreams of the innocent, so off to adventure they go.
Cure Black and Cure White's battle to save the world's dreams takes the form of a simple puzzle-platformer here, split into 100 levels (although only 50 have unique layouts- the other 50 are slightly modified versions that add more hazards and mix things up but not too much) with mostly the same format save for a boss every ten levels: find the eight hearts on each stage and make it to the exit warp before the timer runs out! In the spirit of working together, you control both Cures at same time... Sort-of. It's one of those puzzle-platformers where you can switch between characters, and in this case you switch between the two girls at the tap of a button as long as you're standing on solid ground. Unlike other games that use this template, the girls are interchangeable and have no differing abilities- they can both walk, jump a pre-determined height with no in-between, step on switches and attack in front of them and that's your lot. As a result, puzzles are less a case of using a specific Cure for unique abilities but instead using either one to do stuff to help the other progress, mostly standing on switches to move platforms and barriers, triggering rocks to drop down, that kind of thing. Working together is crucial as you can only exit the stage once both make it to the exit warp with all eight hearts, so you can't just leave one behind! Well, unless you have to to solve a puzzle, and placing your Cures is a big part of the game, especially keeping them somewhere safe- even if you're not playing as them, your inactive Cure can be injured by enemies or traps which shaves ten seconds off the timer and resets their position to the nearest available piece of solid ground which might screw up whatever you were planning. Admittedly, this does lead to one big annoyance in that whenever a Cure does die, there's a fairly lengthy respawn time complete with the same jingle you'll hear over and over which can get a bit much if you keep dying in rapid succession. Try not to do that.
The level design starts off very simple- straight paths, some light platforming, maybe hitting a switch to move a platform along- but while it never gets too head-scratching (this is a kid's show after all, not that we can't challenge the little darlings but I'm sure Open Sesame didn't want to make their brains melt), the game gradually introduces new concepts and obstacles as you progress through the worlds, slowly increasing in complexity with conveyor belts, droppable rocks and moving shutters to grapple with as you make your way through. I think it does a pretty nice job of slowly easing the player into things, later combining things like keeping multiple switches pressed to both extend a set of platforms and reverse a conveyor belt's direction, and if you want an optional challenge there's up to two PreCure Cards to be found on each level, usually as something you have to go out of your way for or spend extra time figuring out how to get to. There's a certain rigidity to the design here- no variable jump height, for instance, means that you can't really ignore the game's rules and jump around things you're not meant to such as shutters that close when you step off a switch- meaning there's mostly a single solution to each stage. Still, while this lack of complexity means that the game never really gets super-challenging- Hyper Lode Runner this ain't- that's also the game's strength, as it's at just the right level for its portable format (and probable target audience). Each stage takes about two to three minutes to solve and while I was playing this game for research, I found myself opening it up while waiting for the bus, in a doctor's office before being called in, that kind of thing, because it was so quick to just clear a level or two before having to go about my day and, since the game's simple enough to grasp easily, it never feels like you have to relearn a whole game to get back into it. It was certainly more convenient than waiting for my phone to load up Arknights and hope there was a stable-enough 4G connection around to actually play it (well, 4G if I'm lucky, Gaming Hell comes to you live from the North of England badlands).
... Oh, wait, this is PreCure so there's combat too, but it's definitely the weakest part of the game and can sometimes actively intrude on your puzzle-solving. Monsters are pretty passive and are usually content to just patrol where they're meant to, maybe shooting the occasional bullet your way (which is unfortunately hard to see on real hardware), but the collision detection for actually hitting them feels really stodgy and 'off', especially since neither Cure has great range with their attacks which will lead you to getting hit and a little frustrated. Additionally the enemies you can ride on top of as platforms start as an interesting puzzle element- often they're holding onto PreCure Cards so you need to figure out how to use them to get where you need to go and still be able to attack them and grab it without running out of time- but become complete time-wasters by the end, especially in Worlds 4 and 5 when their movement pattern becomes literally taking two steps forward, one step back. You end up waiting, a lot, for them to just shuffle their grimacing arses over to you and it really kills the otherwise zippy pace of the game. The bosses are also pretty nothing- in these battles you control Cure Black as Cure White follows you, Donkey Kong Country style, and you figure out the arena-specific gimmick- making sure a bomb explodes on them, dropping lava on them, sending them into a spike pit, etc.- to hurt the boss enough times to give 'em the ol' PreCure Marble Screw and send them packing. It's completely fine and serviceable and all but clearly not the focus of the game (contrast this with the show, where some of the fights are real highlights) and it suffers as a result.
The presentation is a definite highlight though. The game uses plenty of material from the actual show including anime stills that actually look really nice on real hardware, even if they look a little scrunchy on emulator, and voice clips that... Well, OK, they sound scrunchy no matter how you listen to them but it's good that they included them for the full experience (read: you get to hear PRECURE MARBLE SCREW after you beat every boss, hell yeah).The enemy sprites aren't too much to write home about but the Cure sprites are thoroughly excellent- they've got a lot of character considering how few frames they have for some things like jumping and walking, but when it comes to making the poses from the anime they've got plenty of extra frames to sell it, and they do. The stage themes are cute too, including a sweets world, an arts-and-crafts world (with sweing machine enemies!) and a generic dark world that have a lot of detail in the backgrounds but fortunately they're not so busy that you can't see what's going on (outside of enemy projectiles) as they're faded enough to keep most sprites easy to see. While they're mostly tiles placed together in a very puzzle game-like way, they're presented in a nice enough way that it won't distract you. The music is also great- not only are there some lovely GBA renditions of the opening song DANZEN! Futari wa Pretty Cure for the title screen and the ending song Get You! Love Love?! for the end credits, but each of the five worlds get their own very infectious themes, with the World 1 and World 4 songs being especially catchy. They're not super-long which might grate a little if you're stuck in a particular world but it's generally pretty good!
That's probably quite enough words for one day about a 2000s-era anime license game for the Game Boy Advance released only in Japan, so let's wrap things up. I think this is a nice little puzzle-platformer that doesn't intend to be overly complex or ambitious, and it mostly represents the license pretty well but definitely falters when it comes to the fighting that the Pretty Cure series has a bit of a focus on, which is a shame. I can completely understand it being sacrilegious to the PreCure faithful, but I think the game would've been stronger if it had focused on pure puzzle-platforming rather than putting in somewhat half-baked combat mechanics, or at least punched it up a bit. It's certainly not the most difficult game of this type and this isn't for you if that's what you're looking for, but it's not really trying to be, I don't think- it does what it sets out to do on the puzzle-platforming side fairly well, giving you a collection of levels that give just the right kind of difficult and length to be very suited to portable play, and it's easy enough to learn or relearn that you won't struggle to recall how everything works. If you're looking for something in the genre that doesn't tax you too much but just enough, then this does the job as well as you could expect, and the presentation makes the whole package that little bit more appealing, especially if you're a fan of the show. With its flaws taken into account, this is an alright little game that, considering it comes from an era of endless portable licensed games of deeply questionable quality, fares probably a little better than you'd expect.
For having the longest name of any game on the site so far, Futari wa Pretty Cure: Areana~i! Yume no Sono wa Daimeikyū is awarded...
In a sentence, Futari wa Pretty Cure: Areana~i! Yume no Sono wa Daimeikyū is...
A perfectly decent pocket-sized puzzle-platformer.
And now, it's that time, folks!
There's not too much to go over here, but we may as well mention some stuff about the PreCure Cards.
Once you grab enough PreCure Cards across the game's stages, you'll unlock a new option on the main menu that lets you look at your collected cards and also play a little minigame where you have to guess what card the game asks you for from a set of clues. Not really playable unless you have some Japanese knowledge I'm afraid, but it's there at least.
The other thing is... The game actually came with a physical card, and fortunately so did my copy!
It's listed as Card G01 on the official list.
You can use these cards for fortune reading too, with readings for right-side up and upside down:
Right-side up on this card means "Greatest chance!',
upside-down means on this card "Think about turning around",
WATCH HEARTCATCH! PRECURE!
This article is brought to you by the Erika Kurumi Awareness Foundation.