I’ve been informed by the shadowy consortium that occupies the penthouse floor of TouchArcade Towers that I am not allowed to talk about any video rental shops for the next few reviews. Fine. Fine. I wasn’t going to talk about any of them today anyway. Frankly, by the time Zupapa! ($3.99) showed up in any arcades, video rental shops were about to begin their descent anyway. This is a game with an interesting history, and it’s really fun to play on top of that. Wins all around. Let’s talk about both of those things, shall we?
Let’s start by talking about Face. Face was a Japanese developer and publisher that first popped up around 1988, and it was around for a relatively long time as those things go. None of its games were especially big hits, and only a few of them ever saw release outside of Japan. That said, there was a certain flavor to many of its efforts. Face made some very unusual games that had a lot of character to them, with Hany in the Sky on the PC-Engine (the Japanese Turbografx-16) being a great example of that. Its best game was probably Money Puzzle Exchanger, a charming variant on Data East’s Magical Drop that still has a cult following to this day. It was a company whose output always felt like it was one or two small changes away from being great, and in light of that it wasn’t terribly surprising when it shuttered its doors somewhere around the year 2000.
Zupapa! makes for a great excuse to talk about Face. It was first shown by Face at a Japanese arcade exhibition in early 1994, which would have likely seen it come out alongside some of the company’s other arcade games around that time. It disappeared after that, which was odd but not completely unprecedented for Face. It buried an entire Time Cruise game, after all. No, the really curious thing about Zupapa! isn’t its disappearance. It’s that it showed up again after the death of Face, published by SNK in 2001. Presumably when the company closed down, SNK decided to pick it up and use it to bolster the release schedule of the aging NEOGEO system. But this was during the brief span of time that Aruze owned the company, just before the bankruptcy of the original incarnation of SNK. Why was it picking up long-dead games? Was Zupapa! finished by Face, or did SNK have to bring it to the finish line? Questions we’ll probably never have the answers to, friends.
Still, knowing that Zupapa! was originally meant to arrive in 1994 does help us understand how such a modest game arrived so late in the console’s life. Zupapa! is a fixed-screen platformer, a genre that had its heyday in the mid-to-late 1980s with games like Bubble Bobble, Snow Bros., and Rod Land. They were fairly scarce after Street Fighter II made its impact in the arcades, but you still saw the occasional release here and there for a couple of years after. By 2001, it was practically as dead a sub-genre as the fixed-screen shoot-em-up. A very odd release in what was otherwise a sea of fighters and Metal Slug sequels on the platform. But hey, we’re looking back more than twenty years later. The whole library is vintage at this point. Still, that genre’s place in time relative to the NEOGEO itself means there aren’t too many games like Zupapa! on it, something that helps this game shine even brighter.
Zupapa! shares a lot of traits with the best games in this genre. The graphics are colorful, detailed, and well-animated. The levels have a lot of variety to them, and you’ve got a rather large number of them, with forty-five in total spread across nine worlds. The bosses are huge and really creative, and the different enemies are fun to deal with. The goal on each stage is to clear out all of the enemies, all while getting as many points as you can. You can’t take too long to do it, either. Beat them all and you’ll be whisked to the next stage. You can play with another person, but that’s obviously a bit of a pain in this mobile release. It’s too bad, because as fun as it is solo it’s even better with a friend.
Games like these always have some kind of gimmick for how you attack the enemies. Bubbles, snowballs, vacuums, slamming them back and forth into the ground with your rod, and so on. In Zupapa!, you have two ways to tackle your foes. First, you can punch them. It has limited reach, though you can get a power-up to extend it. Smack them and then touch them to finish them off. It’s reliable but it won’t earn you many points. No, if you want to get those big scores, you’ll have to engage with the game’s main gimmick.
There are little creatures named Zooks populating each stage. If you touch them, they’ll follow you around. You can throw them at enemies and they will start pounding on them, immobilizing them. Up to four can be attached to an enemy at once, though even one will stop the enemy in their tracks. Touch the enemy and not only will they be taken out, an explosion will trigger, taking out any other enemies it touches. Its size is based on how many Zooks were on them. Enemies that are defeated by an explosion will leave behind foods you can collect for points, and the more you take out at once the higher the point values of those foods. It’s in your interest to try to set things up for those big scores. I mean, unless you just want to play through the game and don’t care about scores. Even then, exploding a bunch of enemies in one go is sometimes easier than knocking them out individually.
Each stage layout presents its own challenge. Sometimes the Zooks are easy to get at, while other times you’ll have to go past the enemies to get them. Sometimes you have a lot of room to maneuver while other times you’ll have to squeeze in with the baddies to get at them. There are special gimmicks like springs and breakable walls, and some interesting hazards too. I’ve always found that the best games in this sub-genre have a strong focus on varied level designs, and Zupapa! carries itself quite well in this regard. None of the themes overstays its welcome, and you’re always facing something new. The bosses are genuine highlights, but make sure you grab a speed boost power-up before facing them if you can. This is an arcade game, after all. It wants your coins, not your forgiveness.
As you can probably tell, I like Zupapa! a lot. I’ve always been fond of this particular kind of arcade game, and if you’re like me then I think you’ll have a good time here as well. It’s a little trickier to play with touch controls than it is with a controller, but it only uses two buttons so it isn’t particularly egregious so long as you’re not completely turned off by virtual buttons. If you play with an external controller, then you really have no worries at all here. Sadly, you can only play multiplayer if you have enough controllers and a display you can share, but that’s nothing new for the ACA NEOGEO line. I’m going to save us the usual paragraph here and say you get all the usual options and extra modes here, and those Score Attack and timed Caravan modes work pretty well with this game. Hamster’s done a good job here.
Zupapa! is one of those games that is really hard to hate. It looks nice, plays well, and has plenty of game to offer for your buck. Provided you’re okay with the control options you have access to and aren’t repelled by fixed-screen platformers, I think this is one of the easier ACA NEOGEO games to recommend. It’s just good, simple fun, and that’s something that has always translated fairly well to mobile play.