Even with Capcom and Konami beat ’em ups beating each other up in the arcades, other companies didn’t just sit idly by and let them take all tokens. One of them turned out to be arcade giant, Taito.
Taito really didn’t need an introduction to the arcade scene. Their biggest title turned out to be one of arcade history’s biggest, if not THE biggest, titles ever made – Space Invaders — which also turned into the Atari VCS’ “killer app” when a port of the game was released for it in 1980.
I’ve also sunk countless quarters in many other hits of theirs from Jungle Hunt to Elevator Action and their three-screen behemoth, The Ninja Warriors. They were also responsible for distributing some of the first beat ’em ups such as Technos’ Renegade and Double Dragon. Like Atari before them, many of their contributions were key to shaping the arcade scene in the 80s.
In 1991, during the heady beat ’em up era’s golden years, Taito decided to go in with one of their own — as in, not licensed from or distributing for anyone else — and Pu Li Ru La was unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
It’s also one of the weirdest games ever to come out. It was like the beat ’em up version of Konami’s arcade release of Parodius in 1990, only crazier.
How crazy? Let’s find out!
Pu Li Ru La begins in Radishland, a charming place with rustic towns in a medieval setting. Each town, however, has a magic key that controls the flow of time in their area, and an evil baddy has appeared to steal them — freezing the towns and causing them to have “received damage”.
As awesome as Konami’s artists were in creating living cartoons with their arcade adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons, they weren’t the only ones to wield the magic pixel artist wand. Taito’s designers did a fantastic job with Pu Li Ru La’s anime visuals. Bright colors, goofy attacks, and a weird, funk-filled menagerie made this one of the strangest journeys any player could have experienced.
On the opposite side of that was the abysmal English translation. In beat ’em ups that had a lot of text, like Capcom’s, the stories might not have been Shakespeare but they were solid enough to serve as a bit of welcome motivation. And they were often told decently well without any really glaring issues. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Pu Li Ru La’s.
Still, it gets its point across as an action game in a big way. Unlike other beat ’em ups, most enemies in this game die with one hit from your ‘magic stick’. The attract mode lays out the basic story for the game (starting it dumps you right into the action) which reveals that you and your sister both received magic sticks that also make you immune to the frozen time effect of the stolen keys. They also make great weapons to whack enemies with.
Some enemies take a bit more of a beating (especially the bosses), but it also stands out from the beat ’em up pack by not using names to identify enemies (the way a lot of Capcom’s does), or health gauges (except for the players and the bosses the way some of Konami’s does). Scoring is handled in the traditional fashion. Enemies don’t “die” either; they change back into the small animals that they used to be and can be picked up for extra points as they run away. Bosses transform back into people who point the way forward.
The action is also extremely snappy — no combos to speak of, team attacks, weapon pick-ups, destructible objects — just pure, beat ’em up action with a simple attack, jumping, and eight-way movement in some of the strangest, side-scrolling stages ever put to an arcade PCB. These are straight from the Twilight Zone of the Arcade.
Special attacks are also from the same place with one of them summoning a stampede of animals. These are measured by how many staves are in a gauge at the top of the screen and are also randomly generated. Fairies, hidden in floating pumpkin heads, can also be collected to boost the number of specials you can use.
That also makes it a pretty short game, even with six stages, thanks to the extremely fast pacing the simple action creates. Players can continue their game from where they had died and the score is also retained in a nod to the formula Capcom has also used. But the game is actually a lot of fun and the ending tops it off with a welcome finish. It doesn’t start back up with a new loop the way some of Konami’s beat ’em ups do, though.
The game was ported over to the FM Towns and the Sega Saturn. It also came over to the PS1. It came over to the PS2 as a part of the first Taito Memories Collection, but when that came over to the US as the Taito Legends Collection, Pu Li Ru La was cut. Also cut in the arcade version that came West was a controversial scene featuring two female legs with red thigh highs and a wooden door between them out of which came a pink elephant that came out. It does appear briefly in the end credits as part of a screen montage, but the screen would stay in Japan.
As one of the weirdest beat ’em ups ever made, Taito really should have included this in their compilations. In terms of truly strange ideas to have come out for a beat ’em up, Pu Li Ru La wears that as a badge of supreme honor and given the arcade’s strange history, more is always welcome.