One of the best examples of Japanese developers' wonderfully original take on games, Wonder Project J (released only for the Super Nintendo) is a highly underrated game that defies categorization. It combines elements from a whole breadth of genres from puzzlers to RPGs, simulations, and adventure games, into a satisfying and wholly original underdog that is greater than the sum of its parts. |
The game’s plot is inspired by classic Pinocchio. You control Pino, a lifelike boy robot (called “Gijin” in the game) whose inventor was arrested. With the help of a faerie, you must help Pino activate seven “Heart Circuits” in his body as well as the mysterious “Circuit J” that may be a solution to the growing friction between humans and the Gijin race.
The gameplay is a more plot-oriented version of Creatures, with greater emotional involvement and charm. The screen consists of a graphical display of Pino and the surroundings, a bottom menu bar (which includes your inventory, money count, and more), and flying Tinker (like Cricket in the Pinocchio story) who acts as both your guide and the cursor: she moves objects in and out of Pino’s inventory for you, etc. The bulk of the gameplay consists in teaching Pino new skills and, like in Princess Maker, to be a nice person. The plot is developed in an episodic format: each new act requires you to perform certain tasks (such as rescuing a fellow Gijin). Most tasks and skills must also be completed and learned in order: for example, Pino must learn how to read before learning how to use a computer. This makes Wonder Project Jmore akin to an adventure game than a freeform life sim like Creatures. One of the most enjoyable aspects is the fun (and funny) experiments Pino performs when you introduce a new object to him. To teach Pino the correct interaction, you use a combination of praise and scolding. If you want Pino to throw the ball instead of, say, sniffing it, you have to praise him every time he's does what you wanted so he learns that is the “correct” action. To make Pino “unlearn” something you scold him instead. Seeing Pino perform “wrong” actions, such as shouting “open Sesame!” at a door is very entertaining, and will make you care for Pino more than any Norn or Tamagotchi.
Almost every action Pino performs affects one or more of his abilities, as well as the four major attributes – strength, intelligence, energy, and kindness. The level of each meter affects how Pino acts in the game, and finding the “right” balance is important. For example, if the kindness meter is too low, he will be mean to people and animals. But if it’s too high, he will run away from fights. Time passes in the game, but only when Pino sleeps, breaks down, or travels. You will spend most of your time either teaching Pino new things, or increasing his stats via practice and exercise (for instance, swinging a sword increases Pino’s arm strength). Solving puzzles in the game is not too difficult, because the solutions are straightforward: they require Pino to perform the right action, with all relevant abilities at a minimum level required.
With tons of objects to interact with, plenty of charming characters, unique gameplay, and above all the charming main protagonist, Wonder Project J is a wonderful game both addictive and heartwarming at the same time. The game even has multiple endings to boot. Like many classics from Japan, the cutesy anime graphics of Wonder Project J and easy of use betray the sophisticated gameplay that requires a combination of reflexes, thought, and timing to succeed. If you love Little Computer People, Princess Maker or similar games, you simply must try this underdog that is available in English for the first time, thanks to the efforts of LordTech and WakdHacks, a fan group dedicated to translating Japanese-only console games. Two thumbs up, way up!
Reviewed by: Underdogs