In 1985, a major war rocked the world of anthropomorphic animals. The Penguin Wars, as they would come to be known, pitted penguins and other animals against one another. They faced off the only way they knew how: dodgeball. Well, a variant of it. While there was a secondary scuffle in 1990, the differences seemed to largely be resolved. Until now. The animals are angry, my friends, and the Penguin Gira Gira Wars have begun.
Okay, that makes everything seem more grave than it actually is. Sorry about that! Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars is actually a bright, colorful and poppy game! It is incredibly cute, filled with bouncy music and a delightful premise. In the Campaign, players follow a penguin named Riley who goes from shabby to chic. He starts out incredibly ordinary and alone, but longs for the rock star, clubbing lifestyle that comes from being amazing at chucking destructively devastating balls in an arena setting. He wants to be the best and reach GiraGira Land. This means beating other scrappies in five worlds along the way, inspiring Jeff the sheep, Cassie the panda, Samuel the koala, Dylan the capybara (I think?) and Alex the sloth to clean up their act and join his crew along the way.
The Campaign is organized in a rather brilliant way; you choose a world, then zoom in on Challenges pinned to Riley’s tour bus.
The Campaign is organized in a rather brilliant way; you choose a world, then zoom in on Challenges pinned to Riley’s tour bus. These fliers can offer opportunities to face random animals in matches, giving you stat boosting candies, coins and sometimes even emblems as rewards. You might have an opportunity to buy special moves for characters or new ball skins. Once you have boosted your reputation in an area enough and defeated enough random enemies, you can even face one of the named opponents in a more important match. (Jeff the sheep is the first of such foes.) Once you’ve fought enough, you can even purchase tickets to additional worlds. The difficulty scales well, the random matches have enough varying rules and unique properties to make even these filler matches fun, and it does not take too long to start building up individual player data for characters as you acquire them.
Getting into Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars is easy. At the risk of oversimplifying things, it is as easy as picking up a ball with the A button and throwing it by pressing the button again. Of course, this is the most basic possible throw. You can aim your shots, charge it up for a faster and more forceful throw and even pull off a special attack if you have built up your power meter enough. There is also a quick dodge, to help you get out of harm’s way. Winning is accomplished when the winner’s health is depleted, something that can be helped along by targeting an opponent. Hitting someone depletes their health and, depending on their fortitude, stuns them for a limited time. If you manage to get all 10 balls on the field on their side at once, they will cause an all ball barrage that deals more damage.
These battles work the same way in both the Campaign and Versus matches. Various rules can appear in either mode, altering the kinds of balls used and obstacles appearing in the field. The main difference is, the Campaign offers a chance to improve characters by earning candy. You can alter characters’ Ball Speed, Ball Power, Defense and Quick Stats. It is also possible to unassign these points at any time, letting you reconfigure characters on the fly. (Each one can collect a max total of 400 candies.) Player Data can even be carried over to the Versus modes, letting you play with your customized characters.
The online Versus in Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars is… not great. I have had a lot of problems trying to find matches. When I do get into one, they are noticeably slower than local matches. The good news is, local matches are really good! You have two options. One is a more standard approach where you can play 1v1 or 2v2. The screen is split, showing both sides, all characters are immediately available even if the Campaign has not been completed, and you can choose which background music and rule you want to use for the fight. You can also play a special 1v1 mode where the Switch is put in Handheld mode and placed vertically on a table between two people, with one person positioned at either side of the unit. This gives an overhead view of the action, making it seem like you’re actually fighting at the arena.
This is a game that knows what its theme is and sticks to it.
What is also really good is the general ambiance in Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars. This is a game that knows what its theme is and sticks to it. You come expecting flashy penguins that have somehow turned a variant of dodgeball into some neon club activity, and you get it. Each world absolutely pops, with arenas, obstacles, balls and characters that are vibrant, but not especially distracting. Rather, these colorful characters perfectly complement each other to provide a lively experience.
The music deserves its own accolades. Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars features characters who know what is hot. They look like they only listen to the freshest tracks. And so, City Connection chose some especially popular club scene artists to put together the soundtrack. Takashi Okamoto (12sound), who you may recognize from Eternal Poison and Blue Roses, is in charge of “Let’s Move Closer (GIRA GIRA Remix),” the game’s main theme, and also composed the “Highway Fanatic” track. Cytus players may recognize Yamajet’s work in “Glaring Disco.” Aurtas, Gratec Mour, Kent Alexander and Yu_Asahina round out the artists featured here. My only regret is that there is no jukebox function that allows you to listen to them as you please. (Though, you can get around this by going to local Versus and listening to the available tracks there.)
All of my praising probably has you hyped up and wondering if it is possible to pick Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars from the Japanese eShop and start playing. Yes, you can! This is a very import-friendly game. While the actual controls, rules in Versus and Campaign’s story are all in Japanese, most menu options and other elements are in English. You can very easily pick up and play through every part of the game without being able to read the language. In fact, the way in which it is prepared and organized almost makes me suspect it could be like another City Connection title, Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase, and get an English language option before any kind of worldwide release.
The Switch library is currently exploding. There are tons of amazing games available in its eShop. Don’t let Penguin-kun Gira Gira Wars fall off of your radar. This is a delightful game that is visually pleasing and fun to play alone or with friends. It starts simple, but gradually eases you into more difficult encounters. It encourages you to come back and build characters, challenging yourself. But, if all you want is a game you can sometimes bust out for 1v1 or 2v2 matches, that’s great too. As long as you avoid going online, you are going to have a good time.