The middle class Japanese family just couldn’t catch a break in the late 1990s and early 2000s, could they? Besides having to deal with the economic ramifications of the Lost Decade, many were put in situations that caused them to risk life and limb. Take the Tanamatsuri family, as highlighted in Incredible Crisis. On a very special day – grandma’s 80th birthday – the family had to deal with all manner of ludicrous obstacles. Their day-to-day routines were interrupted by snowboarding bank robbers, kaiju teddy bears, and so many sinking boats. Other families had their interpersonal relationships put to the test, such as the Yamada family. In the particular summer highlighted in Mister Mosquito, they were plagued by the eponymous bloodsucking pest. For them, he brought about more than itchy bites; he nearly tore the family apart!
Mister Mosquito is an interesting game, and not just because of its goofy concept. For its original release on the PlayStation 2, on June 21, 2001, it was published by Sony. In the west however, it was picked up by Eidos, and released under their Fresh Games banner. I find myself drawn to these types of games, games in which the platform holders themselves had a significant involvement, but regional divisions opted not to publish. No doubt Sony’s western branches ran the numbers and came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth their time to localize and distribute a game like Mister Mosquito. From a business perspective, this was probably the right move; for as much as the Japanophile in me loves the variety of games distributed through the Fresh Games banner, I do wonder if it was a worthwhile venture for Eidos?
Regardless of Sony or Eidos’ involvement and fortunes, the developers at Zoom were the ultimate party responsible for this game. Reviewing their past work provides no indication they’d make such an odd game. The studio was founded in Sapporo circa 1988, and in the years between that date and Mister Mosquito’s release, they seemed to have an inclination for developing mecha action games. The Sharp X68000 was their platform of choice early on, and the Genocide series of side-scrolling action games appears to have been their calling card. Similarly, in the PlayStation era they’re probably best known for the Zero Divide series of 3D fighting games. A few other notable titles include Lagoon and Phalanx, both of which originated on the X68000 but received SNES ports, with the latter featuring an especially memorable box in the United States. Work on licensed titles paid the bills through the years, like the Super Famicom exclusive Coca-Cola mascot Dolucky games, but following a transition to mobile development, the studio appears to have run its course.
Assuming the role of Mister Mosquito himself, I buzzed about the Yamada’s home, sucking their blood across twelve stages. Save for the grand finale, which took place in the entire house, each stage was set in a single room. The first stage, for instance, was set in the room of Rena, the Yamada’s seventeen year old daughter. Following a day at school, a field trip day no less, she turned in for the night. Earlier in the day she had applied bug spray, and its remnants were still present. Flying into her radio power button or the light switch prompted her to get up and deal with the annoyance. Besides heightening my pesky presence, this helped to dissipate the bug spray and give me an opportunity to suck her blood. In her case, there was a single location I could work from. Once I landed, undetected, I clicked in the right analog stick to insert my needle and then rotated it in circular motions to start drawing blood. To avoid getting swatted, I monitored a pair of meters indicating the host’s stress level. Oftentimes, it took multiple sessions to fill a vial. When I filled the necessary number of vials, the stage was finished.
If one of the Yamada’s happened to notice me, a battle ensued. Alerted to my presence, they hunted me down with relentless vigor, swatting me at every opportunity. My only recourse was to fly into relaxation points highlighted on their bodies. Doing so had a calming effect, returning them to their previous routine, although it was anything but for me. These sequences forced me to reckon with the game’s touchy flying controls in scenarios with little leeway. I had the ability to adjust my insect avatar’s flight path in a true three-dimensional sense, but it was difficult to line up a good trajectory to hit the human’s relaxation points. In close quarters, I just couldn’t get him to circle around as much as I needed, and so the best strategy was often to fly to the opposite end of the room and lock-on to the relaxation point straight on, swatting motions be damned. Despite the difficulty in doing so, it was thrilling to lock-on to a relaxation point or bloodsucking spot and rapidly accelerate right to it.
Part of what made it so hard to accurately line up with the relaxation points on the humans was the game’s impressive scale. From my perspective they truly appeared as massive hulking monsters, and for them, I must’ve been true-to-life: a barely visible pest. Just flying around the rooms, inspecting the objects inside and searching every nook was fun in itself; the developer’s really nailed the scale! With an assortment of collectibles hidden in each stage, there was good reason to explore too. The most common were Heart Rings, which increased my health for every fifty I found. EX Tanks were honestly the most important however, as finding and filling all granted a new game plus sort of mode. Although I didn’t intend on playing through the game twice, retrieving each of these increased the game’s challenge and lengthened my playthrough. If I solely focused on the core objectives, Mister Mosquito would’ve taken a couple hours to beat; instead, I spent right at six hours with the game. If I had more common sense, I may’ve been able to beat the game sooner, too!
For about half the game, I hadn’t recognized the purpose of the stress meter when I was sucking blood. You see, it was also present while flying, but in that “mode” represented a tachometer. As I sucked a human’s blood, their stress level rose and eventually, they’d smack me. This resulted in immediate death and I’d have to restart the stage, which was pretty frustrating if I’d previously spent fifteen minutes gathering collectibles, or was nearly done filling blood vials. I thought the only way to avoid instant death was to watch for a tell, but it eventually got to a point where I couldn’t react quick enough to escape. Well, Jenny enjoyed watching me play while she crocheted, and finally she connected the dots for me: that heart rate looking meter was my host’s stress level. D’oh! Filling vials was much easier with this realization!
She didn’t have an interest in playing Mister Mosquito, and personally didn’t care for the game’s jazzy lounge music. I was a fan, but then again I’ve looked up hold music on YouTube, so go figure. The score was composed by Akihito Okawa and Houzou Okazaki, internal composers at Zoom, and in addition to a handful of jazz songs, they worked up some soft rock and funk tracks to accommodate the mood of a moment. Likewise, battle scenes were accompanied by tense orchestral pieces. With the exception of the jazz and funk, most of the soundtrack was inoffensive and forgettable. Unforgettable, though, was Reckless Cyclist, a hidden two-player minigame. Unlocked by rotating the right analog stick thirty times at the main menu, this wild minigame had two salarymen riding bicycles atop a narrow, infinitely tall pillar. The objective was to be the last man
standing riding, by intentionally knocking the other off, or goading them into ramming your avatar, and jumping at the last second. Just as weird and memorable as Mister Mosquito itself.
As the Yamada’s grew more and more annoyed with their guest, their patience with each other also grew thin. Each stage was preceded by a cutscene with evermore familiar framing. These cutscenes featured the Yamada’s hashing out their woes and tactics, and often highlighted their emotional weaknesses. But it was as if the camera was always on the ground looking up, only able to capture their heads. This was an odd choice, perhaps done to visualize the family unit putting their heads together, or to show they always came back to each other no matter how harsh they’d been. Whatever the case, I loved the consistency. And they did up their tactics. With each completed stage, they grew more bothered and used more insecticide, bug zappers, and even karate, to defeat me. It got to be pretty tough to avoid the rising poison of a mosquito coil when a nearby air conditioner was blowing it around, but I managed.
Better than most, games like Mister Mosquito highlight cultural differences in business decision making, as well as the decentralization and autonomy of large companies. It may just be personal perception, but it seems like nowadays, when Sony or Nintendo develop or produce a game, they’re starting from a point of releasing it worldwide, whereas twenty years ago, they may have just been thinking nationally. Whenever a game like Mister Mosquito or Katamari Damacy released in the west, it seemed like something we were lucky to have. Now that I’ve played it, I can confirm we were indeed lucky to have received it. It’s unlike anything else I’ve played, and despite some annoyances with flight controls or battles, it was a joy to play. The absurdity of it all kept a smile on my face and despite its brief runtime, indubitably ingrained itself in my memory. Too bad the sequel never released in the west.