The NeverEnding Story
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)
If “Kureshin × Bokunatsu” a) makes sense and b) sounds appealing to you, and if c) you haven’t already bought this game in the year since it was released in Japan, then we can keep this review nice and tight: buy this game! For those not residing in that modest nub of the Venn diagram, let’s see if you’ve moved there by the end of the page.
So let’s start with the “making sense” bit. “Kureshin” is the Japanese shortened name for Crayon Shin-chan, a manga series and anime sitcom about a two-kids-and-a-dog Japanese family, focused on Shinnossuke (Shin-chan), their impish five-year-old. It’s been running since 1990 and uses a distinctively wonky art style, a long way from the wet-eyed haircuts grimacing against strobing parallax some exported anime brings to mind. Shin-chan spends his time infuriating his parents, causing arguments, leaping into wild make-believe, repenting and making up, in a neat loop of boisterous hyperactivity and happy sentimentality.
“Bokunatsu”, meanwhile, is short for Boku no Natsuyasumi – My Summer Vacation – a game series kicked off on PlayStation in 2000 about a boy whiling away a month of summer days in the Japanese countryside, exploring, chasing bugs, fishing, having dinner and a bath, and generally letting his imagination find adventure in a place with nothing too thrilling to do. While the never-endingly titled Shin chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation -The Endless Seven-Day Journey- is not a Bokunatsu game, it is developed by Millenium Kitchen, creators of the original.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)
So that’s what’s going on here: Shin-chan and his somewhat madcap world have exploded onto the scene in a little farming village in Kumamoto. Shinnosuke finds errands to run for pocket money and has unfettered free time between meals to explore the dusty roads and verdant river banks while the cicada songs wheel away around him.
When the Nohara family first arrive at Kumamoto station, they’re accosted by a wacky professor, who gives them a special camera which Shinnosuke uses to keep a scrapbook of his stay. You don’t operate the camera as a player, but all your key adventures and discoveries, including new fish and insects you’ve caught, are snapped and added to the diary automatically. This journal becomes the core structural element of Shin-chan’s holiday story. Each day, he shows his latest entries to a newspaper editor, who evaluates them for print. Delivering the content for these articles becomes the main progress point of the game, as boosting paper subscriptions far enough will win five-year-old Shin-chan a date with Yoshiko, the beautiful university student interning at the paper (a Shin-chan-trademark romantic aspiration).
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)
The game’s action involves running your little tyke around beautiful hand-painted scenes, presented as staggering sweeping vistas, intimate family rooms, dirty railway tracks and so on, all connected by enticing paths leading to imagined wonders just around the next corner. Simple button presses will gather vegetables and herbs for the restaurant where you’re staying, fish, water crops, battle figurines, swing your butterfly net at critters and so on. The feel is generally good, but with a couple of slight niggles. It can be near-impossible to discern, for instance, whether an insect is in front of or behind Shin-chan from the camera’s perspective. This leads to a lot of fruitless swishing of the net. If this was a time attack, it would be maddening, but since it’s a chilled out holiday for a preschooler, we just did some extra swishes and thought that was fine.
Another little pain point is that switching between fixed camera angles as you move between scenes can set you running in the wrong direction – it’s the same problem Resident Evil had to deal with way back when. The Endless Seven-Day Vacation provides “tank” controls on the D-pad to solve that, but also keeps free analogue movement on the left stick. In practice, we appreciated having both at hand, although that doesn’t really feel like a neat and tidy solution to the matter.
There’s also a trade-off of playability in favour of atmosphere when Shinnosuke is reduced to an ant-sized dot in the scenery, viewed from far up in the air, where the lights of the village make gorgeous constellations and the interweaving roads and tracks and bridges and rivers, dissolving into the night, host the sounds of lapping water and insect life chirping about. It’s a touch fiddly to walk around, and locating plants, insects and especially fish is a bit of a stretch to say the least. But, again, we’re not under pressure here, so prioritising the mesmerising rural vibe is justified.
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)
What we’ve yet to mention, however, is that there’s a surprise up the sleeve of The Endless Seven-Day Journey. Having set you going on this perfect nothing-to-do fantasy holiday, the game throws a curveball. This being Crayon Shin-chan, “bizarre” is absolutely on the table, and things go that way with the return of the wacky professor a few days in. Without giving much away, the ordinary-core escapism of Boku no Natsuyasumi becomes the backdrop for outlandish kiddy fantasy. The peaceful pace and low-pressure gameplay are absolutely untouched, but we just found ourselves with a much more concrete and focused plot than before.
This is a clever turn for the Bokunatsu concept and Millenium Kitchen pull it off exceptionally well. There’s a big difference between the typical Bokunatsu arrangement of doing nothing much for a month but your life being unforgettably changed, and the sitcom rules of going as wild as you like, provided everything’s eventually back to normal. You could argue that the ending here makes a bit of a cop-out to square that circle, but somehow it all just clicks. The days are peaceful, the sun shines and sets gloriously, and there’s not a care in the world – but also there’s a mad scientist trying to take over the Earth. It shouldn’t be possible, but it is.
Presentation-wise, The Endless Seven-Day Journey is top-class. The painted backdrops speak for themselves, but the cel-shaded 3D models deserve a mention. Shin-chan is drawn in a style that looks impossible to make 3D, but it’s been pulled off by using multiple character models and flipping between them as the position changes relative to the camera. The result is perfectly convincing and it feels like another little miracle. Music and sound design generally meet the same high standard – a lot of the music leaning more towards the anime wackiness than the countryside chill, the latter covered better by evocative nature sounds. The voice acting is great, sounding just like the cartoon. It’s not voiced throughout, but there’s quite a lot – all in Japanese. (However, there’s no Japanese text option in this version if you wanted to read along.)
Apart from mashing together two classic Japanese IPs, Shin chan: The Endless Seven-Day Journey mashes together some quite contradictory concepts and comes up with something special. You have the directionless, simple adventures of a child’s curiosity on a rural holiday, but they’re interrupted quite suddenly by a tightly directed (and completely absurd) plot. Wacky sitcom energy quickly becomes the drive and purpose in a game that could have been merely a wholesome meander-em-up. So there is the soothing magic of endless days running round fields and just seeing what catches the imagination, but also a heavy steer to play a story from end to end, packaging the never-ending summer into a punchy and dynamic 15-20 hours. Knowing now what Kureshin and Bokunatsu are, if you think you like the idea of mixing the two, this game is very easy to recommend.