fbpx What Happens When You Cross a SNES Game with a Japanese Porn Star?
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One genre that was a dime a dozen back in the 16-bit era was the 2D platformer. They were as ubiquitous back then as first-person shooters are today. So what’s a small developer to do when you’re swimming in an oversaturated market and you just want to get your SNES game noticed? Hire a Japanese porn star to voice the main character seems like a good start.

Enter Polestar, Pack-In Video, and porn starlet Ai Iijima. The jokes here basically write themselves, but this was seriously a collaboration that happened in 1995 when these three entities united to create Magical Pop’n. Their creation also just so happens to be one of the best 2D platformers on the Super Famicom.

Magical Pop’n

Magical Pop’n follows a young princess whose kingdom is invaded by the armies of the Demon King. It’s up to her to fight her way through six themed stages and retrieve the magical gem that was stolen from her kingdom.

This set up is presented through several static cutscenes with a fair bit of Japanese text. Luckily, there aren’t really any other story bits outside of the intro and ending, so if you’re worried about a language barrier, there is basically none.

The stages are all basic tropes that have been seen before: city, forest, fire mountain, ice cave, castle, and so forth. The background art is cute and serves it’s purpose, but it’s really the level designs that steal the show. The later stages especially become labyrinthine in their construction and there are plenty of alternative paths and secrets to find.

Of course, we have to discuss the princess. It’s criminal that this character never got her due diligence in a continuing franchise. Part of her charm is her simple character design and fluid animations. The other huge part to her appeal, though, is her personality. This is where Ai Iijima comes in.

The lovely Ai Iijima.

Let’s talk a bit about Ms. Iijima, because she was actually a pretty incredible person. She got her start in the Japanese porn scene in 1992 and released several videos throughout her career. Even though she only worked in the industry for a little over a year, she found a huge amount of fame across all of Asia.

In 1993, she left adult entertainment, hoping to pursue a career in the mainstream. Unlike many who try a similar path, Ms. Iijima succeeded. She was outspoken about her troubled childhood and her days as an adult video star, speaking candidly on talk shows and variety programs on Japanese television.

She also contributed to quite a number of creative endeavors outside of television, creating the story for the manga series Time Traveler Ai, which used her likeness for the main character, and of course, providing the voice of the princess in Magical Pop’n.

In 2000, she released a semi-autobiographical novel called Platonic Sex, which was adapted into both a television movie and a theatrical film. Throughout her career, she was an activist for HIV and AIDS awareness at a time when most Japanese celebrities and even the public shied away from such discussions.

She remained a mainstay on Japanese television until 2007, when she cited health issues as the reason for her retirement from the entertainment industry. Even though her television career ended, she continued to update her personal blog.

However, just a year later, Ms Iijima was found dead in her Tokyo apartment at the age of 36. The coroner ruled the cause of death as pneumonia. There were also reports that she had been suffering from several health-related issues.

It was a tragic end to a bright and inspiring career, but at least she lives on in her body of work. A discussion about that could go in a more seedy direction, but let’s stick to the topic at hand: Magical Pop’n.

The princess just wouldn’t be the same without Ms. Iijima’s voice.

Since this is a 16-bit era game, Ms. Iijima really only provides a few sound bites that are passed through the Super Famicom’s sound processor. Even though there is no spoken dialogue, per se, these little bits of human voice add an extreme amount of character to the princess.

She shouts the names of her magical attacks, lets out little sighs and grunts (…while she’s pushing objects! Get your mind out of the gutter!), and she gives a quizzical little “Hm?” when you press up on the D-pad. Combining these sound bites with the idiosyncratic animations creates one of the best characters in video games, hands down.

You can breathe fire, too.

The princess’ weapon is a small, pink, magical dildo wand that she uses to strike enemies. (It really does look like a dildo, though. It’s weird). She also gains access to magical powers. Each stage usually holds one of these, and require a bit of exploring to uncover them. Some are straight up attacks, like a magic blast, while others are more functional, like a grappling hook. Still others serve functions for both exploration and combat, such as a fire attack that can also melt ice.

Speaking of the grappling hook, it’s one of the most unwieldy things about the game. If the end of the hook isn’t pixel perfect when you’re firing it at a grappling point, it will miss. One of the most frustrating moments in the game is attempting to get an extra life in stage 2 that requires you to grapple across a large gap, hitting several points as you move through the air.

It’s a nightmare, but if you want to find all of the items and extra lives in a stage, mastering that grappling hook is a must.

Better get used to this grappling hook.

On the topic of criticisms, one thing that can be said is the backgrounds in the stages are not all that detailed or interesting. The stages are maze-like, but there’s not a whole lot differentiating the separate sections. This becomes a problem especially in the last two stages where there are a lot of rooms and walkways that look similar. It’s very easy to get lost.

There is also no save feature. It’s not a long game, but you’re first time through, you will likely lose your way in some of the later stages, so expect this game to take about 3-4 hours during the first playthrough.

Beating up evil wizards is all in a day’s work.

If you are interested in playing this game, though, you will most likely be playing on an emulator. As per usual in this column, Magical Pop’n was never released outside of Japan, and actual cartridges are extremely rare and expensive. In fact, aside from special edition tournament carts and stuff like that, this is one of the most expensive SNES or Super Famicom game on the market.

Boxed copies are exceedingly hard to find. If they do crop up, expect to pay upwards of $1,200 USD. Loose cartridges can be found on eBay between $300-$500 USD. There are bootleg, fan-translated carts out there that are more reasonable in price, so you can always go that route if that’s your thing.

Whatever way you choose to play, definitely check out Magical Pop’n. It’s easily one of the best platformers from the 16-bit era.

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  • Harold Zotoh

    I love Magical Pop’n. It’s such a delightful game, and it’s a shame it was overlooked at the time of its release.

    Sadly, there’s next to nothing known about the game itself, the history of it, and so forth. Presumably all the reporting on it is in Japanese gaming magazines of the era, but they have never been scanned.