Oooooh, baby, I love your way...
I can't believe I'm about to admit this, but... a game starring a baby with a rattle is kicking my butt! At first glance, Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa for the Famicom looks like an innocent enough game — you are, after all, an infant who still gets nourishment from a nipple — but after playing just one level, it becomes crystal clear that there's a devilish side to this. Did we forget that this game was developed by Konami, a company with not a single merciless bone in its foundation? Konami games are historically known to be difficult, and this one's no exception. But because it stars a baby, it was kept locked up in Japan for almost two decades before it was plopped onto the Wii's Virtual Console service.
You star as Upa, a newborn prince whose bloodlines span a strong history of fighting elite. Upa is, for the most part, your average infant, although he apparently was a tad oafish because he knocked over a precious urn containing Zai, a fiend that should have remained sealed away. With vengeance in mind, he suckles the vitality out of every adult in the kingdom and abducts all of the babies. Well, almost every baby. Somehow Upa managed to avoid this fate and, after being bestowed a mystical rattle as his sole method of attack, is sent to reclaim the lost spirits and the bambinos. So now you must take on the role of Upa the Royal Baby. Does that even SOUND tempting in the slightest? To most gaming folk, it probably wouldn't.
Upa can't even walk on most occasions; he crawls wherever he needs to go. But at least he can also jump, so all is not lost. Upa's main attack — or should I say, his ONLY attack — is with the magic rattle he possesses. When Upa hits an enemy with his rattle, he doesn't kill it instantly. Instead, the enemy will inflate like a balloon, more horizontally than vertically, and Upa can use this as a temporary flying platform. It will soon flicker and pop, but this is really useful for getting to higher platforms or across lengthy chasms, as there's no way a baby can handle that, unless he pulls a Homer Simpson and finds a skateboard. He can also tap the inflated enemy so it bounces off in one of the cardinal or ordinal directions. Most bosses make this a requirement, as they can only be damaged by enemies repurposed as projectiles. And these are the mechanics of the game; thankfully, the controls are pretty solid, as they generally were in Konami games on the NES. Generally.
In each new world, Upa's health meter returns to two hearts. By locating and opening certain boxes with Upa's handsome mug on them, he can earn extra hearts so his meter can be raised up to five hearts in total. That sounds like plenty, but all hearts matter. I'm not making a political statement there; you'll simply need every ounce of health you can muster, unless you're some sort of baby game wizard, which I doubt. If you're low on health, you'll find solace in the occasional milk bottle, also found in Upa boxes, which restores health. Other than that, you will need to rely mostly on reflexes and a little bit of divination from Lady Luck. It'll take plenty of skill to survive some of the strange environs, like visiting a world made of candy, or another set inside a computer (complete with a stage featuring reversed gravity — enjoy the science behind dying while falling upward). These areas, though not the prettiest on the system, are definitely unique from one another and stand out to give this game a juvenile yet still enjoyable atmosphere to them. Wish there were more than seven songs total in this entire game, though: the standard platformer level music gets really old quickly.
I'm surprised there isn't some primitive diaper changing simulator hidden in the code.
With 21 stages in all, Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa will not be completed in a mere ten minutes. Or twenty minutes. Or an hour or two. If you're like me, there will be plenty of deaths and restarting of worlds to be done. Yes, there's a speedrun of this game that shows it CAN be finished in approximately 28 minutes, 19 seconds, but I doubt this can realistically be accomplished without the assistance of emulators or the consumption of some questionable mystic herbs. I'm thankful to Konami circa 1988 for both infinite continues and for restarting me at the last world, rather than the beginning of the game.
But what makes this game so gosh-darn difficult? (My apologies for that bit of foul language.) That is something that makes me scratch my head in wonder. In theory, the game should be a cakewalk, and once you get enough practice, worlds become easier. In practice, however, it's a whole new ball game. Sometimes enemy placement is cheap, notably in World 6-3 where birds literally fly out of nowhere at double the speed of sound to carve chunks out of little Upa's still-forming skull. Sometimes certain platforms are placed in a rough spot where a jump is not easily completed. Sometimes level design is simply maniacal; World 7-1 comes to mind where you must fall vertically through the stage, trying to avoid all the spiked platforms below, the locations of which you have no advanced warning. And most assuredly, boss battles can be quite taxing, mostly because of increasingly complex room layouts and the need to fire off inflated enemies on a diagonal, something that works more often when I'm casually straggling through a stage, rather than in the heat of the moment.
And yet, I actually respect Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa for challenging me. Every time I failed, I would cry a little, just as Upa would do, but then I picked up that controller yet again and gave it another shot. After many tries and many hours of practice, I am proud to have finished this game in its entirety (though with no particular interest in trying this one again). This is the challenge Konami was once known for. This is the challenge that classic titles were once known for. There's no hand-holding, no tutorials, and no sidekicks giving you sage advice. You're just a baby tryin' to make it in this world. And he sure tries to do it in the cutest way possible.