At first glance, Chulip might remind gamers of farming-simulator, Harvest Moon, seeing as both games are published by Natsume, and both feature super-deformed characters on a quest for love. However, once you have looked past these surface-level similarities, you might discover that Chulip is, at the very least, much more focused on kissing than Harvest could ever hope to be. Yes, you heard right: kissing. Chulip derives its name from a delightful little pun: "Chu" is the Japanese onomatopoeia for kissing, and "lip" refers to the protagonist's grotesquely oversized lips, which he constantly thrusts in the general direction of anyone he sees.
Chulip plays out much like a classic adventure game, albeit with a certain uncanny zaniness unique to smaller Japanese games. You spend most of your time roaming around Long Life Town searching for a special stationary set that was stolen from your dad's house. Apparently, the only way to win a girl's affections is to write her a heart-wrenching letter professing your love. To recover your coveted stationary set, you will need to scour every single trash can and hole in the ground that gets in your way. Unfortunately, you and your father have recently moved to Long Life Town, and the berg's completely off-the-wall denizens don't take kindly to strangers. For the first hour of the game, you will find that people around these parts don't much want to help a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and they certainly don't want to kiss him.
The game opens with a dream sequence, where you envision yourself meeting your true love, and kissing her under the watchful gaze of a talking tree. As you awake from your slumber and head out into the real world, you encounter the girl from your dreams, who at once asks you if you want to kiss her. If you do try to go for the gold, however, she will smack you down, and insult you due to your family's unfortunate economic standing. In order to get her to accept your advances, you need to increase your reputation in the community. Strangely enough, in the town of Long Life, the only way to better your name is to kiss the hell out of everything in sight. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the main problems with Chulip. The dialogue is so abstract, and your objectives so obfuscated, that it is difficult to tell just who might willingly accept your tokens of affection.
As you work your way through the game, you will receive training in the ways of love from a Mr. Saturn look-a-like named Michio Suzuki (we're not quite sure if this is a reference to the Japanese mathematician of the same name). The lovable little pink head with legs will call you to his underground lair to teach you different ways to approach members of the opposite sex. Successfully kissing someone will result in a strengthening of your heart (life total) and an improvement of your reputation among the finicky citizens of Long Life Town. As you improve your reputation, more and more people will willingly interact with you, and you will be able to complete new tasks and access new parts of the humble city.
While this all sounds like a grand ol' time, the gameplay in Chulip quickly becomes tiresome. You will often find yourself wandering around without any clue what to do for an interminably long amount of time. The game is more-often-than-not completely vague about your current goals and objectives. This makes for some particularly frustrating stretches of game time, as the solution to a problem is usually located right under your nose, despite being completely obscure in its justification. The consequences of your actions are never clear before you attempt them, which is too bad. You will find yourself dying often throughout the course of the game, and under progressively more frustrating circumstances. Being that exploration and trial-and-error are the backbone of any classic adventure game, it is incredibly irritating that Chulip punishes the player for doing just that. Since saving can only be done by taking a toilet break, it becomes especially annoying if you die after not saving for a long stretch of time.
Another unfortunate aspect of the game is that there is a clock in the upper corner keeping track of the passage of in-game time. Certain tasks can only be completed at specific times of day, which is hardly intuitive. Worse than that, the underground citizens of Long Life Town will only leave their abodes during certain limited times of day, leaving you with very little chance to figure out how to win their affections before they disappear below ground once again. Seemingly, the game's publisher, Natsume, realized the potential frustrations inherent in Chulip, and rather than fixing them outright, Natsume included a mini-strategy guide in the game's instruction manual. This guide does make the gameplay experience a little more friendly, although it hardly covers the entirety of the game, leaving you stranded at some point without a lifeboat.
Visually, Chulip is actually surprisingly easy on the eyes. While the textures are often blurry and the animations totally unrealistic, the character designs are truly top-notch. Long Life Town is populated by all sorts of odd characters, from a leather-clad gimp to a telephone pole with a face. Everyone in the town has his or her unique personality, and this actually comes through in the game's wacky dialogue. The art style for the game is exceptional, and is matched only by some of the quirkier games out there, such as the Mother series or Katamari Damacy. Nevertheless, there are many technical shortcomings to the graphical presentation of the game. Although the environments are littered with subtle details, almost everything is completely static and muddy-looking. The environments are also very restrictive, and often come off feeling claustrophobic.
Chulip is also pretty much devoid of any interesting sonic content. Instead of employing spoken dialogue, the game employs the same sort of gibberish popularized by Chibi-Robo and Banjo Kazooie. What little music the game does have is mostly acappella and entirely boring. We here at IGN love our acappella, but the musical stylings of Chulip can't touch the greats like Rockapella and
those guys from Scrubs.
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