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CONSOLE: Turbo-Grafx 16 DEVELOPER: Now Production PUBLISHER: NEC
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1990 GENRE: Action/Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

Repetitive fist disorder. It's a thing.

Just the title of this game should tell you what it's about. I walked in expecting a game called "Chew Man Fu" to be simply an average Japanese-style platformer about a warrior from China that had to fight random martial arts-savvy opponents. But I was wrong. Very wrong. There's no brawling at all to be had here! In fact, there are no warriors, either! So... what's the deal?

Chew Man Fu (or simply Chew, for short) is actually the main antagonist of the story. He has arrived to place a terrible curse upon the Egg Roll Dynasty, a supposed-to-be-humorous take on Ancient China. (An anagram for Egg Roll Dynasty is "Strangely Godly". Think about it. Also think about "Dry Gongs Lately".) Chew must really hate that particular political sanctuary as not only does he curse it, but he also steals the food supply of fried rice and egg rolls! How will the people cope without their stereotypical favourite dishes to eat at dinner time? But this isn't just the story of monosodium glutamate theft. There's a monk—wait, scratch that... a female monk—who is the only one capable of confronting Chew in his many, many towers and restoring gustatory amity across the land.

How will she, the unnamed monk, accomplish such an overwhelmingly difficult feat? With balls. That's right, you save the world with balls. I'm not trying to sound filthy here. It simply doesn't make any logical sense. You are pitted in a one screen arena with four coloured balls. Your goal, within the laughably short and arbitrarily designed time limit, is to push all four balls through a maze onto four pads with matching colours. That's it. Sounds simple, right? It's not.


You can chew the chew, but can you fu the fu? ...Wait, what?

Also pitted in this little maze of horrors are four enemies. Oh, you can kill them by jetting a large coloured ball their way, but they'll soon respawn. At least Bomberman games got it right: once an enemy is dead, it stays dead. And, as the Great Law of Irritating Game Design dictates, the enemies are always wandering exactly where you don't want them to be. That's just heavenly. Your ball can also bash down walls... er, eventually. Sometimes walls are easy to bring down with just a couple of whacks with a ball; other times, it feels like trying to bust down a skyscraper with a toothpick. Cracking open walls is not only a convenience to get around the screen, but it's required, as some balls are purposely cached behind them, forcing you to waste valuable time in the demolition business.

This would all be well and good, but the controls certainly don't lead me to love this game like the cherished family cat. Unfortunately, steering while holding the ball can be a bit too tricky and occasionally death-inviting. Walking forward is not a problem; it's when you have to turn a corner that you play Russian roulette. Sometimes your monk will indeed turn the corner as desired, but perhaps she'll have other ideas and keep on walking, leading you down a path you didn't want and perhaps face to face with an enemy. Also, there's no way to turn around, so backing up while rolling a ball feels a bit off.

There are fifty levels of this, and that's torture enough. Then, once those fifty levels are completed, the game restarts from the beginning but does its best to make your life Ebenezer-style miserable by upping the difficulty. And even then, your journey does not end.

To make your adventure just a tad easier, you can toss the ol' balls around with a second player, which could be either useful or infuriating if you end up crashing into each other. It's still more of the same — nothing changes except having an extra player on the field — but it's likely good frantic multiplayer mayhem for Saturday night parties. Or Tuesday morning parties.

I do, however, have to give credit where it's due. Whoever localized this game and translated its text into English deserves an award for literary excellence. The dialogue (well, monologue, since you don't really say anything) is always trying to be comical or witty. Here are a few sample excerpts, just to illustrate the sheer astonishment I have experienced:

Riveting.

Chew Man Fu is definitely not what I expected. Even with what I got, however, I was only briefly impressed. The game's formula really gets stale with its limited variety. Items occasionally pop up to try and add some flair, but really, you're just pushing coloured balls around for over 500 stages, and that just sounds like an undertaking in tedium. Those who love action-style puzzlers may get a kick out of this, but even they will tire quickly. Chew Man Fu is really for the hardcore puzzlegangers.


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