Wonder Project J is a “raising simulation” (think Tamagotchi) originally released on the Super Famicom.
I actually first heard about Wonder Project J when GameFan magazine previewed the second game in the series. Just like the original, the sequel never ended up being released outside of Japan, but both titles got fan translations. Now WPJ2 certainly didn’t seem to have the same Lolita complex that plagued Princess Maker 2 (although there were traces of it), but I still wanted to check out the original.
And I did, so here are the notable bits:
- The presentation is pretty unique for a SNES game. The sprites are quite varied in size and contain lots of frames of animation. The backdrops are also — for the most part — hand-drawn and not tiled.
- The premise of the game is basically a spin on the tale of Pinocchio. This provides an instantly recognizable setup and work well with the raising simulation aspect, i.e., Pino, the Wonder Project, needs to become the equivalent to a real boy, and this is done by completing various tasks that are based on his numerous statistics.
- There’s a significant separation between the player and Pino. The player directly “communicates” with a robotic fairy, who also serves as the game’s cursor, and then she in turn gives suggestions and interacts with the boy-robot himself. There’s some heavy breaking of the fourth wall here, too, as both Pino and the fairy tend to directly address the player.
- Pino starts off as an incredibly naive and charming little boy. Without the player’s guidance, he’ll run into walls, attack animals, and try to consume all sorts of inedible objects.
- Pino is largely autonomous and will automatically approach and investigate the things that interest him. If you leave him alone long enough, he’ll even travel from one area to another.
- The fairy can be used to make Pino — if he’s trusting enough and not in a foul mood — approach specific items or pieces of scenary. This results in a short sequence where Pino attempts to puzzle out the function of said object, after which the player, via the fairy, can either approve or deplore his actions. This is a central mechanic of the game, and it works fairly well. Pino’s actions are based on his statistics, but there’s still quite a bit of randomization, and the setpieces themselves are pretty entertaining. Putting the player in the role of a caretaker also works to create a bond between himself and Pino.
- Pino’s statistics are in a constant flux as virtually every action in the game changes multiple variables. There’s still an overall progression to his growth, but it’s filled with lots of fluctuations on a micro-level. Even the game’s numerous items enforce this principle.
- Various cutscenes are employed in the game, often to present a challenge and outline its requirements. During these segments, the fairy addresses the player and tells him to sit back and watch how Pino reacts. These setpieces not only serve as goal-dispensers, but are also used to further the storyline and character progression.
- Whenever Pino fails a challenge, the fairy offers up clues as to how to beat it, and even mentions other NPCs that can provide further advice.
- WPJ itself is split up into chapters, and at the end of each one a new “circuit” is activated. These circuits represent Pino’s human-ness and the player’s progression in the overall quest. The chapters themselves also require various tasks to be completed, and this approach provides the player with a constant stream of mini-goals that are tied together by an overarching story.