Maid_san's Caving Adventure

A maid wandered into a cave where the Benars live. Can she escape the cave safely by using her specialty "trembling" to get away from them?

I've been sitting on a SHOOTING CHICKEN REVENGE review for several months now. The first Kohei Gallery Xbox Live Indie Game, SHOOTING CHICKEN REVENGE is a great looking arcade action title which featured a girl blasting chickens in a kitchen. The game has sharp graphics and excellent animation, but the gameplay spoils the experience, subjecting players to repetitive action and grading them before they can advance through the game. This grading system is ultimately what has me stuck on my SHOOTING CHICKEN REVENGE review, and it had similarly threatened my review of Kohei's third title, The Maid_san's Caving Adventure. When first released, The Maid_san's Caving Adventure prevented players from advancing unless they scored well enough on the bizarre grading scale, an unnecessary and annoying roadblock given how arbitrary the ratings seem. Thankfully, Kohei has released an update which in addition to adding new content finally allows players to enjoy the game regardless of how well they rank.

The Maid_san's Caving Adventure has Ai the maid hopping about 20 levels (25 with the update) while avoiding Benars, troll-like creatures who will punch and club Ai when spotted. Ai has no attacks exactly; instead, she must avoid the Benars and stay out of sight by running and jumping by them when they're not looking or by crouching low to the ground so that they ignore her. The world turns gradually dark as she cowers on the ground, making it tough to plan out moves or dodge later threats such as spears and other threats later on. Along the way, Ai can collect three different sizes of stars which will reduce the timer by one, five, or ten seconds, and completing each stage in as little time and moves as possible helps in attaining a good rating for the stage. The game tracks the amount of steps and leaps Ai has taken along with the times she's cowered, been spotted, sneezed (after saying underwater for too long), and more to produce each grade, a rating system which can feel random when low grades are doled out even during speedy runs. The Maid_san's Caving Adventure is a playable platformer, but odd design choices keep the game from playing as good as it looks.

Kohei's third certainly looks good, too. The Japanese indie developer has given Ai and her Benar enemies a lot of care, all of their varied movements well animated and looking professional. Ai herself looks especially excellent, smoothly dropping to the ground when she's looking to hide and flashing the obligatory panty shot as she descends from platform to platform, breasts jiggling when she hits the ground. The effort isn't completely thorough, however, because while Kohei spent time giving Ai a cute sneezing animation, her movements underwater and collision detection at times feels disjointed and sloppy. The levels look flat but the artwork is excellent and richly colored. The opening areas looks great with their cracked rocky background and green moss dotting the brown surfaces of the cave, but the game really impresses in the final two clockwork stages and the added five sky palace levels. The angel statues in the game's finale, both decorative and hazards, are beautifully painted and highlight just how good Maid_san's Caving Adventure looks. The absence of a proper ending is disappointing -- just some text hinting at a sequel -- and the developer could have spread out the levels' themes a bit better as having the pre-update game end with just two stages using that wonderful bronze gear theme feels wasted after level after level of rock and ice stages, but this is just minor nitpicking as Kohei has again delivered another visually solid game.

It's just unfortunate that the gameplay never measures up to the graphics. There are a couple of infuriating stages, Stage 18 "Jump across the abyss!" and Stage 25 "Collapsing temple," which has plenty of obstacles ready to knock Ai into bottomless pits, and while they're nothing too painful, the annoyance of dealing with getting bumped to death in a game without checkpoints may be too much of a nuisance for some to bear. The rating system which nearly made the game unplayable on launch is still too convoluted to make the challenge enjoyable, and while players can finally advance through the game without having to appease the rating gods, poorly rated playthroughs will still leave much of the game's twenty records (awards) and ten songs unattainable as they're both tied into the grading scale. The two bonus Special Games, "Stomp on the mandrakes!" and "Skyfish Paradise," aren't all that interesting given how clumsy leaping on the burrowing, screaming mandrakes or riding on the skyfish are. In fact, it's riding the skyfish which makes stage 18 so aggravating to play, having to use the triggers to lunge the speeding skyfish lines up or down while Ai rides atop, speeding through gaps in the cavern while hoping the jerky flight controls cooperate. Other elements of the game feel worthless, adding little to or detracting from any enjoyment to be had in playing, such as the sneeze gauge which seems to be an excuse to just include a cute animation though at the expense of the player's safety. Ai is a competent but clumsy maid, and she stars in an equally adequate but clumsy playing game.

The Maid_san's Caving Adventure suffers the same way CHICKEN SHOOTING REVENGE does with aimless, uninspired gameplay which just doesn't make for an enjoyable experience, at least one good enough to match the excellent graphics and music. The production values coming out of Kohei Gallery are so high that it is disappointing to see the developer struggle to deliver a side scroller which wouldn't have to rely on the fantastic audio-visual presentation to get people to play. The low price and ability to disregard the grading system make Ai's adventure worth a look for platformer fans, but the game still manages to disappoint with all the ways it falters from being the above average game this should have been.

April 17, 2011
January 25, 2011 | 80 points
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