Capcom, Konami, and to a lesser extent Sunsoft are revered for putting out legendary NES titles. Their reputations are wholly deserved as some of the fondest NES classics, the ones we get misty eyed thinking about, came from one of these three publishers. Natsume was one of the most underrated developers of that period with a resume just as good. Shadow of the Ninja, Shatterhand, Abadox, they were monsters. Just when I think my appreciation for their 8-bit works couldn’t be greater I stumbled upon Mitsume ga Tooru. This is an incredible action game that will remind you why 8-bit platformers are so beloved. Go track this down!
Based on the Osamu Tezuka manga of the same name Mitsume ga Tooru tells the story of Hosuke Sharaku, supposedly the last of a clan of three-eyed monks. That assertion is challenged when another three-eyed monk named Godaru destroys the city and kidnaps Sharaku’s friend Chiyoko. It’s a simple rescue the damsel story and doesn’t delve into any of the manga’s history. Although completely in Japanese there is a fan translation but it is unnecessary. What little text there is simply informs you that you kicked the boss’s ass. And besides we don’t play platformers for a gripping narrative anyway.
In some ways the game reminds me of Mega Man. Hosuke is a fairly large sprite and like the Blue Bomber cannot duck. Your primary weapon are weak shots fired from the third eye on your forehead. By holding down the attack button you can call up the Red Condor, Hosuke’s spear which performs a few functions. It can be used to attack, which is pretty effective as it travels forward and backward. It can also be used as a platform or trampoline in midair.
There are no items; gold drops from enemies in varying denominations. Gold can be spent in shops to buy weapons, restore health and even extra lives. All 3 weapons (hyper aura, psycho wave, and super-sonic) have varying uses. The Psycho Wave in particular is nearly game breaking since you can aim your shots after firing. With this you can kill enemies from a distance although it is pretty weak. Death will remove your weapons but by the second level you’ll have so much gold it isn’t really a penalty.
The levels themselves borrow heavily from Mega Man yet don’t feel too derivative. It has all of the standard tropes such as instant death spikes, bottomless pits, and a few forced scrolling segments but if it isn’t broke….you know the rest. The controls are responsive which is a must as the game is equal parts platforming and blasting enemies. The levels are long and while they aren’t big on secrets occasionally you’ll find a second shop if you need it. Every level brings new enemies and challenges such as the pink oni of stage 2 that are always conspicuously placed or the disembodied heads of the following level that block your passage.
The difficulty is about perfect if a little bit too easy in my opinion. Amassing a large amount of gold takes no time at all. You can buy every weapon in one shot as well as fully heal yourself when necessary. Granted you have to actually survive until you reach the shop and the game does a good job of hiding them at times but still, it’s a moot point. The boss battles are some of the most fun since their patterns are easily decipherable but still emphasis execution. The last bosses in particular put up a worthy fight and brings a satisfying end to such an awesome game.
If there is one area that could have been improved it would be the game’s length. Not because I think it is short but because some of the game’s better mechanics aren’t fully explored. Five stages sounds short however each level is pretty long and fulfilling. The last level especially could have been split into two parts. Using the spear in myriad ways doesn’t come into play until close to the game’s finale. These moments are so well implemented, with numerous traps and scenarios that you’ll wish there more. If the game were one or two stages longer it would have been perfect.
As a 1992 release Mitsumi ga Tooru sits comfortably beside other late generation titles. The sprites are very large, expressive and well animated. The bosses especially are so well designed that you’ll look forward to the next encounter not only because their mechanics are fun but because they look incredible. What is most striking about the graphics is the extensive use of parallax scrolling. Nearly every level has it and it sometimes goes 2 layers deep which is very rare for the system. And the game becomes increasingly more beautiful the deeper you progress. Even the music is incredible. If the music sounds familiar that is because it was done by Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, who also composed for other Natsume works such as Wild Guns and Shatterhand. This really is the total package!
Mitsume ga Tooru is an amazing game and one of my favorite platformers on the system. That is high praise considering how saturated the genre is on the system. But it should come as no surprise as Natsume were on fire with the NES. Since it was a late release it can be a bit pricey but is worth it in my opinion.