There's weird, and then there's weird. Sure, games like Katamari Damacy and Gitaroo-Man may have some weirdness to them, but very few titles in history are a match for Chulip in the category of stupefying strangeness. And we're talking strange with added helpings of bizarre stacked on top. All you really need to know is that "chulip" is Japanese for "kiss," and you run around town kissing people in this game. ...no, we did not make this up. None of what you're about to read is made up, regardless of how difficult that may be to believe. It's an adventure game at its core - we think - but it includes some puzzles and a little exploration, along with that whole kissing thing. But before we blow your mind with the details, let's just get started with the less insane aspects.
The graphics are unique just like the concept, even though they aren't quite as refined as we would've liked. The town itself consists of some nice design and decent detail; the characters are awfully strange walking caricatures, and the environment - while a little drab - still fits the atmosphere. We're not really sure where the inspiration for the visuals came from, but it seems the developers were going for a relatively poor neighborhood with plenty of shops and houses but not as many civilians. There's some muddiness and blurriness to the textures, and it takes away from the overall presentation. Thankfully, though, you'll spend most of your time staring in awe at what's happening on screen, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the graphics. They're hardly impressive, but they score points for being original, at the very least.
The sound is where things start to go a little nuts. We almost expected the truly freaky soundtrack, which consists of some laid-back vocal ditties and vintage Japanese folk/pop tunes. But it goes well beyond "unique" here, as the voices of the characters are the weirdest in recorded game history. You have English subtitles and the voices are in Japanese (maybe?), but the voices seem to be developed by a certain psychotic progression. It's as if they first recorded the voices with a synthesizer, dunked it in water, and recorded the result. If you're not laughing hysterically at every word spoken in this game, you don't know what humor is. The rest of the game consists of over-exaggerated sound effects (just walking is really loud and crisp) that tend to drown out the soundtrack at times. So it's an interesting potpourri, in truth...just not of the highest quality, unfortunately.
The gameplay is downright absurd. There, we said it. But bear in mind, "absurd" doesn't translate to "bad," it's just...absurd. The concept is as follows: you are on a quest to land your one true love, and while you know who she is before the game even starts (heck, you get to name her), you'll have to work very hard to successfully give her a kiss and land her as an actual girlfriend. Along the way, you'll have to kiss other people in order to gain levels, which will thus increase your heart gauge. You'll also do little chores and tasks for the townspeople, which will give you more money and more chances to give random individuals a big smack-eroo. And when we say "random," we darn well mean it; one of the first people you kiss is a "retired man in a garbage can." Later, you'll kiss a boxer and something that doesn't even look human. This is your life as a poor - both literally and figuratively - love-struck boy in a very silly town.
This town doesn't just accommodate above-ground residents, by the way. No, there are underground resident as well, and they range from what appear to be flower people to little big-nosed walking heads with no arms. At first, you can only peek at them through holes in the ground, where they tell you a password and perhaps other tidbits of info, but later, there's more interaction. Further, the town has all the basic amenities, such as a phone booth to place calls, a bath to relax, a variety of shops (antiques, candy, etc.), a train station, a park, and a hospital. You'll also meet all manner of characters, who certainly are characters in every sense of the word. Now, if you don't get out and meet people, you'll never move along with the storyline, so it's best to interact as often as possible. Just be wary: if you lose all your hearts, the game is over.
And speaking of which, we have to delve into some of the major drawbacks in Chulip. The save system is terrible; you can only save in the bathroom at your house - yes, really - and you often don't want to return when you're so far away during the day. And there are multiple ways to lose all your hearts, and thus, the game. Some are impossible to predict; how were we supposed to know the spinning globe at the park would chuck us off and "kill" us immediately? Considering everything you do in any given day, and considering how far away you can wander, having only one save spot at your house was a bad idea. Factor this into the very mysterious game layout, and you'll often find yourself wandering aimlessly, only to suffer something ridiculous and be forced to start over from your house at the start of the day.
Thing is, it's often difficult to know what to do next. You're given hints from the newspaper, your father, and civilians, but that's about it. On top of it all, you've got a limited amount of time every day; the clock continues to roll at a very fast rate, and you must coordinate your activities around the clock. For example, someone will only be a certain place between 1:00 and 6:00 p.m., or a girl will only meet you at 2 a.m. It can be very frustrating to find out you're where you needed to be, only you're not there at the right time, so you find yourself constantly checking the clock with each step. This puts a serious hurt on the gameplay, if only because you start to become obsessed with that one facet of your day. All the charming exploration tends to fall by the wayside, and in the end, it feels more like work than fun.
You can purchase a variety of goods, some of which will restore hearts and others will assist you in your mini-missions. During it all, you're looking for people to kiss, and you have to time the kiss when you see little musical notes around their head. If you miss, and they're in this rage ("anger puffs" appear around their head), you'll just get knocked backwards and suffer a loss of hearts. And if you try to kiss your girl when your reputation isn't high enough, you'll just get swatted. You've got some puzzles to figure out here and there, and you need to help people whenever you get the chance, but outside of that, there isn't much left to say. It's a cute little adventure, to be sure, but it's bogged down by a poor save system, a general lack of direction, some very boring control, and a lot of useless dialogue.
However, when a game is this weird, it's definitely worth seeing. We couldn't possibly recommend a purchase, regardless of price, simply because it doesn't seem like there's enough here to constitute a whole game. It also becomes increasingly difficult to become interested in your day-to-day romantic pursuits, and the amusement only lasts for so long. On the other hand, you'll spend at least a few hours with a smile on your face and an overall feeling of surprise and shock, just because you can't believe a game like this got made. If you're really into the strangest of the strange, Chulip is probably worth a rent; make sure you have a few friends around who you can share your laughter with. Well, provided they share the same sense of humor. This is one ridiculous game, and while it has its moments, the whole allure just wears off very quickly.
6/7/2007 Ben Dutka