no Go 2
is a true gem, a wonderfully crafted videogame that is compelling
and entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun. The Gameboy Advance
has been searching for its Tetris, that instantly likable
puzzler that people everywhere swarm to, but it hasn't been found
so far. There are some good titles, ports of existing games, mainly.
What this machine needs is something truly new, not just another
rerun. Thankfully, this is exactly what Konami has done; I would
say this is the best "thinking" game on the Advance.
only catch is that most Westerners may never see it for themselves.
Hikaru no Go 2 is available only in Japan, and there are
currently no plans to bring it to the States. That would be a tragedy;
it's tragic that a great videogame would be missed, and it's tragic
that the game of Go is so unknown here.
is a 4.000-year-old game that is often compared to Chess; both are
immensely deep war games that rely on strategy and skill. The game
has a long and rich history in Asia, is fairly easy to grasp, and
takes a lifetime to master. It is said that no two Go games are
alike, a statement that reflects its depth. I first found out about
Go from Darrin Aronovski's 1998 indie thriller "Pi," and
was drawn by the almost philosophical approach to the game, but
I never had the opportunity to learn more. The game is virtually
nonexistent in America, apart from academics and high thinkers.
To the average Joe, it simply doesn't register.
is played on a wooden board (called a goban) with two players who
place small stones across an intersecting grid. The approach is
similar to our Othello, as each person tries to capture the enemy
stones by surrounding them. Unlike Othello, however, capturing pieces
is not the primary importance. Capturing and controlling territory
is. Games play out like epic battles, and the placement of stones
is not unlike the movement of armies. You must find a balance between
attacking the enemy territory, defending your armies, and protecting
your line. The name Atari (similar to 'check' in Chess) comes from
Go, as Nolan Bushnell was himself a fan.
learned much about the game from Randy Pickering's excellent FAQ
on Gamefaqs.com. Since nearly all the text in Hikaru no Go 2
is in Japanese, his tutorial is essential to finding your way around.
The cartridge also teaches you the basic rules and strategies of
the game, but unless you are fluent in Japanese, it's not much help.
Again, thank goodness for Gamefaqs.
no Go 2 features characters from Hotta Yumi's manga comic of
the same name. The manga has sparked a renewed interest in Go with
Japanese schoolchildren; Go's popularity was reserved for the elderly.
Who knows, perhaps Hikaru could become the next Pokemon someday.
back to the Gameboy Advance. It is not necessary to know about the
comic to play this game, but it is nice to know the various characters
who are staring back at you from inside the screen. Of the game's
three main modes, the first is a Story mode, where players travel
to school, learn Go lessons, pass tests by the teachers, and play
against the different characters. There is a lot to play through
here, but, again, if you don't read Japanese, it's all a loss.
second mode is a versus mode, much better. Now you can get to playing
Go, against a friend or the manga characters. Each opponent is ranked,
so you have an idea how difficult your next match will be.
third mode is my favorite. Called "Stone Get!" this mode
pits you against a tournament-style progression of matches against
increasingly challenging opponents. Games are played for points,
which can then be used to buy more sets of stones. In addition to
the basic black and white stones, there are many varied stones of
wonderful colors and patterns. After buying a set of stones and
adding them to your collection, you can use them in matches. Even
better is the ability to mix and match different stones to create
a custom set; this is a brilliant touch that lets players add their
own individual stamp to the game.
no Go 2 is drawn with a rich hue and full, bright colors. The
Advance can display a terrific amount of color for such a small
screen, and every pixel is put to use here. This is exactly what
a videogame at the turn of the century should look like. The goban
is painted with a wood grain texture, the manga characters bobble
and turn (and make many comments during the course of a match),
and there are all those stones. A number of visual effects are added
for extra spice: connecting a group of five or more stones, capturing
enemy stones, making a brilliant move. Each of these carries its
own effect, depending on which set of stones you use. And, of course,
this is where the mix-and-match features come in so well. And the
music is a fine mix of pop and waltz-time beats, very easy on the
ears, and far better than Konami's first Hikaru no Go (that
game was much too obtuse).
the highest compliment I can pay is that this videogame sparked
my interest in the game of Go. Despite the depth of the game, I
never feel that I'm over my head. Such a title doesn't seem natural
for a hit videogame in the West, but I suspect Konami would have
a sleeper hit on their hands if they brought Hikaru no Go 2
to our shores. Too bad you'll never find out. Poor you.