Hanii, I shrunk the boxart.

 

One of the best things about importing games for a classic system is the idea that you could be the one that discovers the next great overlooked gem. While more popular consoles like the Famicom and Saturn have pretty much had all their gems discovered, systems that are more obscure in the west remain untapped.

This intrigues me.

And so in the spring of 2009 I plunked down the money for a Nec PC-Engine Duo-R (Duo-R from here on out) and as many games as my limited budget could handle. Look at the second half of that sentence and you’ll see that my focus was on quantity, not quality. While that may seem like a recipe for disaster, this line of thinking ended up leading me to some pretty unique games that were usually pretty close to enjoyable. Hanii in the Sky is one of those games.

In Hanii in the Sky, you play the role of Hanii (occasionally referred to as “Honey”), a flying object of phallic appearance* with a rotating arm. Your goal is to vertically scroll through the various levels in the game shooting enemies, and ideally making it to the end of the game where you’ll enter the heart of a cursed goddess to destroy a demon that’s making her evil.

What sets Hanii in the Sky apart from other shooters is its method of attacking your foes. While using button 1 to shoot, you can also use button 2 to rotate your moving arm/gun. This allows you to shoot enemies that appear behind and to the sides of you, making life a lot easier while also providing a novel approach to the potentially generic shooter gameplay. Throughout the level you can also press the run button (the PC-Engine’s equivalent to Start) to buy power-ups to upgrade your firepower.

Hanii in the sky starts off with the usual shooter levels, and to the casual observer it would appear rather plain. However, the more you travel into the game, the more creative the levels get, eventually turning into an Escher-esque scene where the enemies appear to be negative space in the backgrounds themselves. This showcases one of the games stronger points – while most shooters (especially those from the late 80’s) will ramp up the difficulty by simply throwing more enemies or bullets at you, Hanii in the Sky keeps you guessing what you’ll be thrown into next. This approach to difficulty is a welcome change of pace, and is what sets Hanii in the Sky apart from other shooters in the PC-Engine library.

As I said earlier, Hanii in the Sky isn’t amazing by any stretch of the word. It’s controls are pretty responsive, but admittedly awkward, and the music doesn’t bring much to the table either. Some people will also probably be frustrated the overall speed of the game, which is pretty slow on average. In the end, for all it does well, Hanii in the Sky stops short of the “buy it” mark, and probably won’t find itself on anyone’s import list anytime soon.

No, Hanii in the Sky is nowhere near a perfect game. However, by no means does this mean it’s not worth looking at. For me, Hanii in the Sky turned out to be exactly what I hoped: a bizarre spectacle of a game to help introduce me to a console whose library I would eventually fall in love with. Hanii in the Sky was developed by FACE, a developer whose other output on the PC-Engine consisted of some truly bizarre titles (Hanii on the Road) as well as a surprisingly good pinball game (Time Cruise). It seems FACE was not a fan of normality at any length, and because of this, Hanii in the Sky presents a pretty excellent case for import risk-taking: while what you find may not be perfect, it’s often very entertaining and very unique.

After all, outside of Salvador Dali’s mind, where else would you see a flying phallus shooting birds over a sea of tiles?

 

*Yes, yes, I know. Hanii is some sort of traditional Japanese thing. However, since I have no idea what its western analogue could be, all I could Google was “What is hanii?”. Google was predictably perplexed.