Normally the words muscles and man juice would never ever be used in the same sentence, right? Well think again, Extreme and Aksys Games have brought a rather fascinating Japanese franchise to the Western market titled Cho Aniki Zero: Muscle Brothers and it is filled to the brim with "a lot of muscles and juices." Lovely imagery right there. Released as a digital download for the PlayStation Portable, Cho Aniki Zero is a side-scrolling shoot'em up adventure with plenty of shooting and hilariously suggestive quirks on the side.
Cho Aniki Zero isn't heavy on the story, immediately casting players into the roles of either Idaten, a masculine young man, or Benten, a beautiful maiden with blue hair. The universe has enjoyed a lovely era of peace since the fall of Balzac, the villain responsible for monopolizing the galaxy's source of protein. That is, until history repeats itself and Balzac the Second is born, throwing what little protein is left in the galaxy into uncertain peril.
The premise of the game is flamboyantly interesting to say the least, and there hardly seems to be any end to the homoerotic sexual innuendos and visual stimulation. Even the game over screen is so erotically suggestive and hysterical as it features hot and sweaty musclebound brothers holding each other in embrace for too long, or too frequently. With that said, it's obvious from the outset that Cho Aniki is a game that doesn't take itself seriously at all.
Unfortunately, that's about all that sets Cho Aniki apart from any other side-scrolling shooters on the market. There isn't anything new or revolutionary to the gameplay and it sticks to the very basic tried-and-true mechanics of side-scrolling, bullet-hell mania. Players can pick either Idaten or Benten as playable characters and Adon, Samson or Micha and El for support. Players have within their manly arsenal the standard fare of upgradable attacks, bombs and the ever climactic Man Beam. Bombs can be picked up from fallen foes and using one destroys everything on the map, including shots from enemies. It's not a one-hit KO deal though as bosses obviously won't go down that easily. The Man Beam, however, is a powerful shot that can be blasted to deal massive damage to the point where the earlier bosses can be felled with a single hit. Using the Man Beam eats up Protein and collecting enough to power up another shot usually takes quite a while so it's not recommended to spam the attack.
Enemies are, as expected, quite troublesome and they often fill the screen with so many bullets that it becomes hard to manoeuvre. It doesn't help that they can be pretty hard to discern from the level backgrounds as well, which can result in pretty quick deaths. This becomes painfully frequent and noticeable further into the game. The downside is that once players hit the game over screen, they'll be forced to start from the beginning stage of the level with no power-ups at all, making survival in the later stages incredibly challenging and more about dodging shots rather than making them.
Graphically speaking, Cho Aniki's art direction is very stimulating, but more so in a naughty sense than anything else. Pretty much every single character and enemy are scantily clad and overflowing with so much muscles and sweat that it'll make even Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous. The game is also filled with plenty of dialogue that'll make the faint of heart blush: "Oh, oh god... it's coming" and "it's full to bursting with man juice" are just a couple of naughty lines thrown about in the game. The soundtrack, while decent, is quite uninspired with a number of techno tracks that loop over and over again across every level. The sound design is also a tad buggy, with sound dropping out in the midst of battle.
Interestingly, Aksys Games decided to forgo any sort of English dubbing, leaving the original Japanese voice overs intact. Depending on player preferences, this can be either a good or bad aspect of the game. The original Japanese audio track leaves much of Cho Aniki's charm untouched and players won't have to worry about any story-driven dialogue since there's hardly any in the first place.
Cho Aniki Zero: Muscle Brothers is a quirky game that may fascinate those interested in a wacky shoot'em up. However, those expecting any real semblance of a storyline and explosions on a galactic scale will be disappointed. The game delivers on the bullet-hell mania, but suffers from several drawbacks, like enemies that blend in with backgrounds, cheap deaths and buggy sound design. There isn't much else to Cho Aniki either aside from its wacky design and simple game mechanics. Just be warned though, that if played in public, the game over screen must be avoided at all costs.