New Wonder Momo on the Way…and I’m worried.
Word just broke that there is a new Wonder Momo game on the way, based on the American webcomic and developed by WayForward…and as a Wonder Momo fan and a WayForward fan I’m surprisingly hesitant.
First of all, what is Wonder Momo? Well it’s an old arcade game from 1987 wherin players played the role of Kanda Momo, a young actress playing the superheroine Wonder Momo in a live stage show. The character was a fusion of Magical Girl (dressing exactly like Minky Momo) and Power Ranger and it sort of poked fun at while catering to Otaku culture. The audience is made up entirely of fans waaay “too old” for the show and one of the game’s main mechanics is preventing anyone from taking a picture of your panties.
Silly though that may sound, the idea of turning panty shots into a gameplay mechanic was unique. Along with the limited stage space and fake way that Momo’s Wonder Ring bounced, as though it really were just a hula-hoop, made the game uniquely charming. You weren’t a heroine, you were just an actress playing one on stage!
The game would eventually be ported to the PC Engine. While the graphics and sound took a hit, they added in small cutscenes and the improvement in the controls along makes this the better version of the game.
Obviously the game never saw a Western release.
However, while the game never saw a sequel, Momo made many guest apperances in Namco games throughout the ages, most recently 2011’s Famista Pro Baseball on the 3DS, Namco x Capcom, and Queen’s Gate Spiral Chaos.
In her Namco X Capcom apperance she actually became a real heroine with the help of Bravoman. You see, the actress Kanda Momo was going to put on one last stage show at the Namco Theater with special guest Felicia when suddenly enemies attacked and Bravoman gave her Beraboh Powers and turning her into Wonder Momo for real.
This was clever but reveals the biggest flaw with Wonder Momo: She isn’t a heroine, she’s an actress. That was what made her original game so great and unique, but it makes telling a story with her or putting her together with other videogame characters somewhat difficult. Her sudden powers always have to be explained.
Wonder Momo’s themesong actually showed up in Taiko no Tatsujin once which caused an unusual turn of events. The song inspired Japanese nerd idol Halko Momo-i to don Wonder Momo’s outfit and preform her own rendition of the game’s music on stage. In a way it was like fulfilling a prophecy, someone actually doing a real Wonder Momo stage show. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Halko Momo-i (who I was previously a fan of due to her music in the anime MOUSE) because that takes some guts to pull off. Guts and awesome nerdiness.
This in turn sort of cemented Halko Momo-i as the “real life” Wonder Momo and thus she would go on to voice her in the Queen’s Blade spin-off title Queen’s Gate: Spiral Chaos.
Sometime, someone will have to explain to me why they made the Queen’s Blade games strategy games when the series is all about a fighting tournament.
But perhaps the strangest chapter in the history of Wonder Momo is being written right now. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Namco funded a webcomic site called ShiftyLook with the intention of making webcomics based on obscure classic Namco series. Mostly stuff that has a cult following in Japan, but is utterly unknown in America. One of these comics would be Wonder Momo: Battle Idol from Udon.
I have to be honest, I have never seen a webcomic try so hard. At first I was very pessimistic. That clearly wasn’t the real Wonder Momo they had there, she wasn’t an idol (she really wanted to be though), and she didn’t put on a stage show. However they would later reveal the protagonist to be the Original Wonder Momo’s daughter as well as introduce a far-too-relateable overreactive fangirl who would take on the role of Amazona (Momo’s rival in the original games). It would bring up all sorts of obscure plot points and callbacks to the original game as well as continually find ways to work in the idol plot and stage shows of sorts. The webcomic was often full of self parody but it’s heart was in the right place. As I said, writing a story about Wonder Momo is very hard due to the fact that she isn’t a heroine.
Speaking personally, I would have made it Earth-2 myself.
Now things get real strange as Namco is making an anime based on the US webcomic. What’s more? Guess who is voicing The Original Wonder Momo? Halko Momo-i. Strangely she will not be doing the themesong. That honor goes to…English rockband Area 11?! Yes it would seem they’re turning Wonder Momo into some kind of bizzarre international media collaboration…which is bizzarre considering how unapologetically Japanese Wonder Momo is.
I would also like to point out how amused I am that the anime makes the photographer guy/love interest look a lot younger.
This also comes with a new Wonder Momo game from Western developer WayForward Technologies of Contra 4, Double Dragon NEON, Shantae and DuckTales Remastered fame.
This, however, is where I become hesitant as their track record with games based off existing franchises is shaky at best. If they love a game, they take it too seriously and if they’re unfamiliar with it, they often mock it in it’s own game and sometimes things go horribly awry.
Double Dragon NEON is beloved but an odd beast. On one hand it plays like Double Dragon and is indeed a damn good game. On the other hand it shits all over the canon of the series and its characters. There was no post-apocalyptic future, no secret of Sosetsu Ken, and strikingly little Abobo love (really? Just a big biker dude?). It focused more on parodying the 80s in an over-the-top fashion. Indeed there was a charm to this with many great songs and funny moments, but it just isn’t Double Dragon. I guess this didn’t sting so much only because we already had the cartoon and Double Dragon V. No matter how much it mocks the Lee brothers, at least it’s not that.
Centipede Infestation is another story though. While it has some clever writing (“My father was in the Missile Command”), they managed to utterly botch the core gameplay in the worst way possible. Making it a twin-stick shooter is one thing. Adding Tower Defense elements is not a bad new twist. However, the big problem? The Centipedes are just regular enemies that ONLY take damage in the head and do not break apart into smaller centipedes. Yes, that’s right, the thing that makes Centipede what it is, the titular enemies, are just generic mooks with nothing special about them. How exactly do you fuck that up so hard?!
A good middleground would be BloodRayne: Betrayal. On one hand they reworked the game into a somewhat anime-styled sidescrolling brawler with Castlevania elements. However the game was overly silly in many ways what with the rocket/drill coffin that Rayne used to enter the stage and much of the conversations seeming to mock the game itself. I enjoyed it, but I don’t care about BloodRayne and I can only imagine how much this could piss off it’s core fans.
Contra 4 then represents the flipside. Contra 3 was absolutely beloved at the WayForward offices and thus the game took itself too seriously to the point of actively de-canonizing Neo Contra. One look at Contra Rebirth shows WayForward and Konami had very different ideas about the series. Konami leaning it towards a silly parody of action movies while WayForward kept things super serious.
This brings us to the new Wonder Momo game, to which I am very hesitant about.
Admittedly much of this comes from the fact that I’ve been dreaming about a new Wonder Momo game for years. Except I would have made it an Idol Management Simulation/Action Game hybrid with players auditioning multiple actresses for the role of Wonder Momo, arranging and advertising the stage show, setting pyrotecnics and adjusting the difficulty of the show to bring in crowds with a focus as much on performance as it is beating the stage. Afterall, that is the aspect I find most wonderful about Wonder Momo: the fact that it’s a stage show. It’s a dynamic utterly unique to that one game.
Being based on the new webcomic though, this obviously won’t be the case. Stage shows play a near nonexistant part in the story. They happen but the focus is on actual heroics. Admittedly the comic itself has a very jokey self-parodying style which will fit well with WayForward’s own tendancies. For a game based on the webcomic, they’re a perfect fit even if I just expect the game to be a reskin of BloodRayne: Betrayal/Batman Brave and the Bold/Thor DS. Heck, those games are good so I really wouldn’t mind it.
The issue I have, it seems, is more that it’s based on the webcomic in the first place. Being a game based on a comic based on a game inadvertently waters down it’s premise with the requirements of narrative. As far as I can tell, the stage show setting is utterly removed from the game making it Just Another Action Game and robbing it of what made Wonder Momo unique in the first place and this is what pre-emptively disappoints me.
However, this is all just conjecture. Afterall, the webcomic made me absolutely livid until a few months later when they revealed the Original Momo and the story became more fleshed out. Now I kind of respect it and like it at times. Perhaps the game based on it will follow the same path and do something unique with the concept. As a fan of WayForward, I would have faith in them…but once bitten, twice shy.
…can you guys just do more Kickstarters for original games so I don’t have to go “This is a good game, but it kinda disrespects the source material” again and again? Please? I promise I’ll fund them all.
(EDIT: Yes I did just spend 3 hours writing this about a fucking Android game and of course I’m getting the game and gonna watch the crap out of the anime. Egad sometimes my rampant uncontrollable fanboyism astonishes even me.)