The Famicom was full of excellent games that never got a proper North American release including Parodius (a portmanteau of ‘parody’ and ‘Gradius’; a game that pokes fun of the classic shooter with funny references while maintaining the tight gameplay), Getsu Fuma Den (An Adventures of Link-esque adventure/platformer known for its excessive difficulty), and Moon Crystal (An ultra-rare classic I may cover in the future). However, one Famicom title that has been the subject of fascination for decades is ‘Takeshi no Chōsenjō’ (たけしの挑戦状), or ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ as it’s known in the US.
On its surface, ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ seems pretty straightforward. It’s your standard side-scrolling beat-em-up on the level of something like Bad Dudes mixing action and adventure elements. The twist is this challenge takes place in the ‘real world’. The game was the brainchild of one Takeshi Kitano, a famous Japanese comedian, actor and filmmaker who wanted to try his hand at game design. You may know him from ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ (‘MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge’ in the US) and over-the-top exploitation flick ‘Battle Royale’. The following is a study in what happens if the crazed teacher from the aforementioned bloodbath of a movie gets to make a video game…
You play an office worker who is bored with his life so he decides to seek a treasure hidden on a remote island. That’s all the setup. However, what follows is one of the most baffling and strange adventures you will ever play on a game console. It’s best to think of ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ as an amalgamation of an action platformer (you can beat up Yakuza and literally every other character in the game if you want to) and a late-80’s adventure title like Monkey Island or the previously-covered Maniac Mansion.
There are several steps you have to take to actually beat ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ and for most of them you are offered no hint or even a prompt, so you have to either know what to do, or approach the game as trial-and-error. Some of the steps even seem entirely superfluous until you see them from the game’s perspective and include, but are not limited to: Getting drunk at a bar, learning how to play the guitar, divorcing your wife, finding a treasure map… There’s even a step that requires you to ‘sing’ into the 2nd controller’s microphone (yes, the Famicom had very primitive voice support that was later discontinued) to win a karaoke competition.
All steps must be completed in the correct order, the correct way, otherwise it’s game over! The worst part is, Game Over is actually the death of your character in the story, so you have to start the entire game from scratch, repeating all necessary steps again without making a mistake in order to see the ‘true ending’. For this reason alone, as well as its famously cryptic missions, ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ has become infamous as one of the cruelest, most punishing games ever released.
Controversy surrounded this title at the time of its release with Kitano receiving criticism for intentionally trying to manipulate kids into buying his game that was far too difficult for them by leveraging his fame to endorse it. As such, for a time it was considered one of the worst video games ever made by some Japanese outlets. However, the game has since become somewhat of a cult classic as it was innovative in its design, implementing story elements and interactivity at a level that was nearly unheard of at the time, with the only series possibly coming close being a few of the ongoing RPG franchises on PC’s such as the Ultima games.
Of course, this is a Famicom game, so in order to play it in the US, you either need a Famicom console and a compatible TV, or a much-cheaper pin adapter to play it on your own NES. The great news is this game is dirt cheap! It typically runs under $10 online for a loose cart and I would say is worth picking up for collectors. It’s such a unique and fascinating attempt at creating a pseudo-sophisticated game blended with a level of trolling that only Kitano could achieve. It is hard to deny the evidence that ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ was really a massive marketing prank played on Japanese consumers in the early years of the Famicom’s run and there were actually fears that the game may mar the reputation of Nintendo and its publisher Taito, who demanded some effort be made to make the game even remotely possible for consumers to beat, so Kitano agreed by using the games’ various advertisements as hints on what to do to complete it, a meta game that was far beyond what consumers were expecting in 1986. Accessibility is key here and this was released at a time where most people were blown away by the impressive sound quality of Castlevania, having no idea that a game like ‘Takeshi’s Challenge’ could even exist. It is a testament to the forward-thinking Kitano’s personality that today titles like this not only could exist but do in various ways. However, before all of these ultra-interactive games from Deus Ex to Shenmue to GTA: Vice City to Yakuza, there was an utterly bizarre Famicom game from from the mid-80’s that laid the groundwork.