Lost Games: Junji Ito's Uzumaki on Wonderswan

Foreword: 'Lost Games is a series of articles where I research and explore the games that we may never get a chance to play due to them never being released in English-speaking countries and having no available English translation, whether it be fan or official.'

In 2019, the indie horror adventure World Of Horror will be released on the PS4, Switch and Steam. Many (including myself) are really excited to play it due to its retro 1-bit Macintosh style aesthetics and an art style that pays tribute to the twisted manga comics of Junji Ito. While it is undoubtedly the definitive Junji Ito (style) horror game, believe it or not, it isn't the first. There were actually some officially licensed adaptions of Ito's iconic Uzumaki comic released for a handheld console called the Wonderswan. Produced by Bandai and developed by Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi, it was only ever released in Japan, meaning it is an unlimited source for lost gaming. While gamers in the west have been able to play some of its library without the need for translations, the vast majority is gated off to those who cannot speak Japanese. It's a fitting console for two games based on a niché Japanese horror manga to end up on really. A big shout out to user Opipeuter at MobyGames, without him, not much would be known at all about these games.

Uzumaki: Denshi Kaikihen

This one is nothing too exciting, effectively just being an interactive version of the manga. Played vertically (something that the Wonderswan could do), the game displays images, with text appearing over the top, telling the story. The interactive bit comes into play when the player is provided with opportunities to decide the choices that main character Kirie takes as she investigates the spiral curse of Kurôzu-Cho (see the second screenshot below for an example of a choice screen). As the game was released for the original Wonderswan with its monochromatic screen (colour versions of the console did come later), it plays in black and white. While at the time (2000) a lack of colour might have been a reason for Japanese players to choose another handheld console over the Wonderswan, I personally believe this game is a rare example where a lack of colour actually works in its favour. While the images on screen don't perfectly re-create Junji Ito's incredibly detailed artwork due to graphical limitations, the game still does a fair job of capturing the grim creepy atmosphere of the original, with its lack of colour matching the original manga and further exemplifying how unknown everything we're witnessing really is.

Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation

Released just a month after the previous game, Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation is the real interesting game of the duo. While the first game had players take on the role of Kirie as she investigates Kurôzu-Cho's spiral curse, in this game you are the spiral curse. 
At the beginning of the game, Uzumaki Sen'nin or "the spiral master" explains your role, then you are presented with a map of the town (pictured below), with your aim being to torment as many people as possible with the curse, including Kirie.
You spread the curse by travelling to various locations on the map and talking with the townspeople, as well as getting hold of important items. Items are used to make the curse more potent in specific areas, as well as interacting with specific people. The more havoc you wreak, the more areas open up.
Despite its sadistic premise, Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation provides a really clever take on the Uzumaki property. Whoever at the development HQ pitched this idea, I hope they got a pay rise for such a bat shit crazy, yet absolutely brilliant idea. It'd be like a SimCity game where you play as the natural disasters. While I'm not missing out too much on Uzumaki: Denshi Kaikihen (I can just read the Uzumaki manga) it really does suck that we never got this one. While Junji Ito's creations have gained quite the reputation over time, this game is still unknown enough to be overlooked when it comes to fan translations.


So, have you ever played a Wonderswan? Are you reading some Junji Ito horror this Halloween? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

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