A young blue haired girl and her pet rabbit must save her father as he is promptly sucked into a neverending whirlpool of shoot-em-up action in Doki Doki Steam, what I'll be calling this odd little action title whose proper name, ???????????????, both means nothing to my monolingual sensibilities nor offers a reasonable translation on any of the available Internet translation services. The one constant among all Internet translations were the words "Doki Doki Steam," and that alone seems appropriate enough for what is a port of a 2006 Japanese arcade style game which takes place at one of the steam baths so popular in Japan. Although the included manual is Japanese only, this simple arcade title features an unusual control scheme but one readily understood with just a play or two, allowing Doki Doki Steam to be playable to all, regardless if they bathe for hygiene or pleasure.
It's so rare that a game comes along and feels truly unique, and this is where Doki Doki Steam delivers. The girl is constantly falling down a well after her sinking father, and the player must utilize her grappling rabbit to both secure her position as well as attack the enemies and defend herself. Glowing dots line the background in ever changing patterns, and the rabbit can be launched in any direction by aiming with the analog stick or D-pad and pressing the A-button. Holding the A-button down will tether the girl to the point until either the player lets go of the button or the latch point scrolls off screen. While secured to the point and hanging from her grapple rabbit, the girl can then fire in any direction by holding in the direction opposite she wants to fire -- the shots will push her back, and she will fire forward. It's an awkward sounding system, but it makes sense during play, and the rabbit holds surprising versatility, being able to absorb shots and latch onto enemies as well.
Doki Doki Steam is a pure arcade action game with the simple goal to last as long as possible. Any hit or contact with the water will sap one of the player's lives, but more can be obtained through an experience system in place where fruit can be exchanged for additional lives. Each defeated enemy and absorbed shot will produce fruit, and after accumulating the total specified in the top-left corner of the screen, the game will reward the player with an additional life. While the extra lives take longer and longer to earn as they're earned, the enemy threats will dump more and more fruit on screen, often blanketing the display with giant collections of watermelons, strawberries, bananas, and more. Skillful movement will ensure that the player lasts as long as possible, and the girl's father can be used as a platform in a pinch, bouncing her back up to the top of the screen. Doki Doki Steam is a fun action game which will test players' ability to survive an endless onslaught of rubber ducks, guys in barrels, turrets, and giant octopus-like creatures.
If the game has a flaw, it's the repetitive nature of the enemies used in the game. The four mentioned types are all that the girl will face, though each type grows more difficult the deeper father and daughter descend into the bath. Yellow ducks which were once cannon fodder become hopping mad, turning red and leaping up after the player. The giant octopus things which serve as a sort of boss creature will grow with each encounter until they themselves nearly occupy the entire screen some several hundred meters below. While the repetition is disappointing, the difficulty curve is excellent, and the game is a perfect example of "just one more" style of play a la Mr. Driller, where the challenge and pick-up-and-play style make it difficult to ever be satisfied with one's progress and walk away from the game. It's unfortunate that the game itself fails to recognize this with its high score list which records the 20 best local high scores and depth reached yet cannot be bothered to allow the player to post a name, but a botched high score list is a small price to pay for an excellent game with such a small price.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the developer Nepia World might have been scared by Microsoft's peer review wizards into branding Doki Doki Steam with a 3/3 sexual content rating. There is nothing sexualized here in the least, and it's sad that it's just one of a number of strikes against the game finding an audience. If the Japanese name didn't scare people off, then surely the "hardcore" action and "short" nature of such arcade games will. Still, those looking for a challenging and unique game would be remiss in not giving Doki Doki Steam at least a try. While the gameplay mechanics may not be for everyone, it succeeds in providing an original, fun experience with excellent 16-bit-esque graphics and sound.