So, you want to solve the Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf? Whoa, pardner. Don’t get ahead of yourself. First, boot up the game and try to solve the following: the Mystery of the Dinosaur in the Flying Saucer, The Mystery of the Gigantic World Inside the Little Spaceship, and the Mystery of the Girl Who Carries a Katana Even Though She Lives in a City.
Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf isn’t the deepest or most enthralling action-adventure game in its genre, nor is it the most impressive one-man project in gaming history (it was put together by an ambitious developer named Daniel Martins Novais). But it’s light-hearted, it’s cute, it’s fun, and though its controls aren’t perfect, neither are they unmanageable.
I come in peace with a sword.
The game begins when a spaceship makes a rough landing in a city that a young girl named Eileen calls home (with her purple hair and tank top, Eileen could easily be the cousin of Futurama’s spunky ship captain, Leela). Shortly after the ship’s landing, Eileen makes friends with its seemingly lone inhabitant: a dinosaur “alien” named “Trex” (geddit?). Trex begs humanity to clear his ship of the nasty monsters that have overrun it, but only Eileen steps up to the task, as she just so happens to have a katana handy. But the inside of Trex’s ship is far bigger than its compact exterior lets on.
The gameplay and graphics in Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf are unashamedly inspired by the classics of 8-bit days long gone, including the earliest installments of Metroid, Mega Man, and Ninja Gaiden. Progression involves finding power-ups and then using your newfound abilities to surmount obstacles and access areas of the game that were previously closed off to you. Indeed, Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf is part of the genre that’s informally known as “Metroidvania” (if you despise that term, take a second to shudder and then collect yourself).
As you go deeper into the ship, you explore different environments, including mechanical areas and forests with lakes. Hey, space journeys are long, and a dinosaur has to keep himself entertained, right? Each area is swarming with enemies, as well as mini-bosses. Eileen can take care of these pests by swatting them with her katana. She can also squash most enemies by jumping on them.
Jumping on enemies is usually the better solution, as the range for Eileen’s katana is poor, and its reaction time feels slow. While Japanese Werewolf’s controls are definitely passable, “passable” doesn’t always cut it for an adventure game wherein sharp reflexes are the key to your survival. The game offers two different control schemes, which is appreciated, but would really benefit if the virtual D-pad activated wherever you lay your thumb. As it is, it’s not uncommon for your thumbs to slip off the directional buttons at important times. What’s more, there’s no “Down” arrow to drop Eileen at faster speeds, which makes swimming through the game’s enemy-infested waters a hassle.
Japanese Werewolf’s other big flaw is its lack of a map. True, the game’s not as deep as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, so when you get lost, you won’t stay lost for long. Unfortunately, no map still means a lot of aimless wandering and less purposeful backtracking to explore the areas you previously missed because you lacked the correct power-up.
Given a few adjustments, Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf could very well wind up being one of the App Store’s best Metroidvania (sorry) games. It looks good, the sound is a treat for anyone who gets off on nostalgia, it’s fun to play, and it has a talking dinosaur. On most planets, that would be considered a good start.