Retro Game Of The Week: Yume Penguin Monogatari (Famicom)

Yume Penguin Monogatari
Yume Penguin Monogatari is a game all about penguins. And sex. Also fat shaming. Truly, I can’t think of any retro game quite like it.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.

Yume Penguin Monogatari (hey, I completed a Japanese degree recently, this one’s “Dream Penguin Story” if you want a literal translation) is an 8-bit hybrid platform game with alternating side-scrolling shoot-em-up sections. That’s a genre mix that practically screams 8-bit console style.

Coming from Konami, you could also expect it to be at least reasonably fine-tuned in terms of its gameplay mechanics.

Still, Yume Penguin Monotagari is a weird one, because of its plot and how that affects its central gameplay.

You play as Penta, a penguin with a serious case of lust for Penko, a female penguin. Your classic love story, right?

Yume Penguin Monogatari

Penta loves his helicopter hat nearly as much as he lusts after Penko.

Not quite. Penta is a somewhat portly chap for a penguin (which in the frozen wastes should be a big plus; all that blubber helps keep one warm and all that)… but Penko is very judgemental, declaring that Penta needs to shape up or ship out — or to be specific, she’ll instead hook up with bad boy Penguin Ginji.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

Penko, the female penguin (naturally, bright pink, the way penguins are not) is one SERIOUSLY judgemental lady.

Yeah, it’s weird, and one of only a few games I can think of that use fat shaming as any kind of narrative hook at all. Certainly the only one from the NES/Famicom generation that I can think of.

So what’s a penguin to do when he’s got a serious case of lust in his loins but too many pounds on his frame? He’s constantly chasing Penko through levels that alternate between platform jumping challenges and shoot-em-up levels to get to a phone in time before Penko dumps him.

Ginji’s a sneaky sod who gets his henchmen (henchpenguins?) to force-feed Penta, thus keeping him fat.

Yes, really, this is Yume Penguin Monogatari’s central gameplay hook, made even less appropriate (though these were different times) because the way that Penta shed any excess pounds is by taking diet drugs to stay in shape.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

Super-Judgemental Lady Penguins! Is the paramour in your life on the porky side? Force feed him diet drugs — what could possibly go wrong?

It’s such a bizarre concoction of a game plot that it somewhat skates around the issues of being so grossly offensive (seriously, Penta, there are other lady penguins out there that aren’t quite so judgemental!) simply because it’s so silly.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

It was only after he started to see floating pig-snouted ships that fired apples that Penta started to wonder if the diet drugs were affecting his perception.

However, the weight loss gimmick also inverts one of the classic elements of 8-bit platform games. In basically every other one, if you see a shiny apple or other floating collectible, you grab it for the points.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

Every other game: Grab the fruit for extra points or power-ups!

Penta must not do this, because all the food floating in a level, plus that thrown or fired at him will add to his weight. Also weirdly falling into water is an instant fast-track to fatness. Maybe he has some kind of allergy to water? Poor Penta. We should be helping him, not scorning him!

End a level above the pre-set weight limit (indicated by a broken heart, aww) and you fail. Take too long in a level in an effort to score more diet drugs and you also fail.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

Run out of time, and Penko will call you to dump you. 

What’s more, when he’s heavier, Penta can only do a simple belly flop as his attack in platform stages, or move slowly in the shoot-em-up parts.

Keep slim and you jump further and have better attacks, including a projectile in the platform levels at his thinnest.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

SCIENCE FACT: Suitably slender penguins attack by shouting “PO” at their foes.

Wrapping your head around not collecting everything, and instead avoiding it is a mental shift that takes some time to get your head around. Once that’s done, however, Yume Penguin Monogatari really isn’t that hard at all.

There’s only six levels, and while they loop the once (for plot reasons I won’t spoil here), you can continue endlessly on all levels but the sixth.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that within an hour or so of owning Yume Penguin Monogatari for the first time, I had finished it. I had fun doing so, though, mostly because like a lot of Konami’s output of the time, it’s really nicely built, both in terms of animation and of variance.

Levels don’t overstay their welcome, and while the challenge is really only light, if you can follow the story, it’s fun to do so — presuming, again, you can look past the whole fat-shaming part of the game, or the way it promotes diet drugs as the solution.

So to sum up, this is a game about how if you’re a male penguin, the way you can get to some lady penguin action is by taking a LOT of speed and not eating apples or cakes or onigiri or anything else, all the time, because this is a totally normal and physically and psychologically healthy approach to life.

I’m starting to understand why Yume Penguin Monogatari doesn’t have any sequels…

How to play Yume Penguin Monogatari today

Yume Penguin Monogatari

That’s my cart-only copy above, found in (if memory serves) the Surugaya Retro store in Akihabara’s junk bin for about 1000 yen. It was on my “I’m aware this is an ‘odd’ Japanese exclusive game list, so I took a punt on it. While it’s a simple enough game to finish, it’s a fun time while doing so — so it’s recommended.

However, it’s also a rarity in the Konami library in that it’s never been re-released in any other form, even though much of its 8-bit library pops up here and there in compilations and the like. Maybe it’s the fat shaming or diet drugs and the way its core themes haven’t aged well, at a guess?

So if you want a legit copy, you’ll have to chase one down online. A quick check of eBay suggests that it fetches around $60 for a loose copy, though boxed copies are considerably more pricey.

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