This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.
But even if you didn't grow up in Japan, or in the 1970s, and never heard the word tokusatsu in your life, Friday Monsters is likely to make you feel like you did. It's a movie-length, low-key, sweet game that delivers an absolutely perfect summer day on demand. Ten-year-old Sohta has just moved to the sleepy town of Fuji no Hana, home to little but the dry cleaner shop his dad runs, a bakery, a small TV station ... and a weekly giant monster attack. Giant tracks tread through town, and the neighborhood kids sit on a nearby hill every Friday to watch the action. The game begins on Friday, with Sohta's mom sending him out on an errand with a quick warning not to get trampled.
Solving the mystery of the monsters is just one part of Sohta's day. In true ten-year-old style, however, the supernatural menace is really more of a way for him to break the ice with the noodle shop owner's son Ramen and the other local kids; to get over the awkwardness of being a transfer student by contributing to a common cause.
I love the way the adventure game plays out using kid logic. While you, the player, may remember that you need to deliver a load of laundry to the baker, your avatar just won't get around to it, telling his mom it totally slipped his mind. Adult behavior that seems totally suspicious and opaque to Sohta will be completely obvious to you. And in order to extract information from the other kids, you must first become their "boss" by beating them at the simple Monster Card game that has taken the town by storm.
As a nice bonus, when you are boss of another kid, you can utter a (customizable) magic spell: "Muchoon! Bo-bo-bo-byuun! Suddenly! Fall down! Start dancing!" and they will drop to the ground every time, waiting for your "ARISE!" command. This happens without fail, an ironclad game mechanic built on playground imagination.
Creator Kaz Ayabe drew from his experience creating the My Summer Vacation series for Friday Monsters, but under the much stricter constraints commensurate with a small downloadable game. Instead of an expansive game in which you lazily spend a summer exploring your temporary home, you get one day. Instead of your choice of activities, you're restricted to talking to people and playing Monster Card. So while the nostalgic feeling and the setting are similar, the scale is cut down to something that can be fully enjoyed in an afternoon.
This isn't a criticism; Friday Monsters is without a doubt my favorite game in Level-5's Guild Series, and definitely one of my favorite games of 2013. It shows the true potential of things like the Guild Series. A creator got to make something personal, with enough of a budget to ensure excellent production values (how have I not mentioned the narration yet? The whole game is narrated, in Japanese, by a mysterious female character), without the expectation that it would have to have staying power.
And while there is some post-game stuff, I felt satisfied when the story ended, at least for the day. It's a small game, about a small boy in a small town. Plus monsters. It's just enough story to make me a little teary-eyed at, of all things, a giant monster battle. It's just enough of a slice of life to bring me back to a part of my life that never actually happened.
This review is based on a 3DS eShop download of Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale ($7.99), purchased by the reviewer.