In case you're unaware, Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is not technically a game in the normal sense of the word. Instead, it's a rather big bundle of delight, featuring four short anime movies from acclaimed directors who brought you cult classics such as the 1988 blockbuster Akira, and a rather quirky gameplay segment conjured from the minds of two of Japan's most bizarre developers.
During our recent time with the bundle, we were lucky enough to get a sneaky peek at two of the four included animated shorts: Combustile, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, and A Farewell to Weapons by Hajime Katoki. Despite being the shorter of the two, the former truly stood out with its beautiful portrayal of a burning 18th-century Edo. It tells the story of Owaka, a young girl madly infatuated with her childhood sweetheart Matsukichi, who decided to dishonour his parents by getting some cool-looking tattoos and running off to be a fireman – as you do. With Matsukichi no longer considered a respectable partner in marriage, in a moment of madness, Owaka decides to become a twisted firestarter, in the hope that her fireman lover will come to rescue her. As you can imagine, it doesn't really go to plan.
Meanwhile, from Tokugawa Shogunate Japan to the apocalypse with robots, A Farewell to Weapons is what you might expect from a director who has worked so closely with the Gundam franchise. The short follows five men with more guts than sense, who venture into a deserted city enveloped in a, uh, desert, and decide to take on a giant, aggressive, laser-shooting enemy tank. It's all pretty action-heavy, but much to our delight, ends in the only way that makes sense: with a naked man throwing rocks. Genius.
While we didn't get to see either Shuhei Morita's Academy Award nominee Possessions, nor Gambo directed by Hiroaki Ando, we're sure that they will be as equally bamboozling, considering Gambo features a mystical polar bear and Possessions breathes life into umbrellas and kimonos in a Bedknobs and Broomsticks-like fashion. "Treguna, mekoides, tracorum satis dee!"
So how do all of these movies link, you may ask? Well, apart from the fact that all of the characters seem slightly off their rocker for one reason or another, the true premise of Short Peace is that it takes you on a journey through different eras of Japan, from ancient and mythological to post-apocalyptic and futuristic. While watching them one after another may give the impression that the anthology is a little disjointed – especially considering each movie is portrayed using differing art styles – from what we saw of the masterfully animated Combustile and A Farewell to Weapons, each story kept our eyeballs so firmly glued to the screen and bottoms so tentatively on the edge of our seats that we're not entirely sure we even cared whether they really complemented one another thematically.
Finally, we should probably talk a little bit about the game element to the Short Peace anthology. Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is a 2D, side-scrolling title produced by the eccentric Suda51 and developed by Crispy's! Inc's equally outlandish Yohei Kataoka. It follows the story of Ranko, a high school girl by day and assassin by night who, for some reason, lives in what looks like a large container park. When she's not busy singing karaoke with her school friends, she's being chased by an ominous, demonic presence while slashing away at foes in a subway.
As you guide the heroine through each urban landscape, you must build up your speed, racing through the level without stopping or pausing too often, maintaining momentum in order to maximize your score. There's no health bar – any hits from enemies simply slow you down – but if the eerie monsters chasing you catch up, it's an instant death for Ranko. At points, the psychedelic tornado of colour which splashes across your screen as you slice and dice the array of beasties may obscure your vision of oncoming enemies, but thankfully the bright debris from those executed can splatter onto nearby foes, causing a chain combo of hits, clearing your path. It's a simple premise, but both effective and addictive – yet we couldn't help but feel that the side-scrolling style and bright, vibrant colours would have been better suited to the original Vita's OLED screen.
During our time with Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day, we cleared six levels and took on the first boss battle: a duo of machine-gun wielding tattooed yakuza mobsters, keen to crush us with their drill-digger. Unlike the standard levels, which scroll from left to right, the first boss battle scrolls upwards – the drill-digger chasing you from the bottom of the screen, projecting a sense of urgency. Watching Ranko scale platforms and dodging enemy gunfire felt very reminiscent of Catherine's Vincent scrambling to higher grounds, albeit without the gravity-defying block puzzles. And if all this sounds a bit easy, trust us on this one – it's really not.
Short Peace: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day is set to launch exclusively on the PS3 later this month in Europe. Is the game pulling at your violin-sniper's strings? Let us know in the comments section below.