A fast-paced arcade action game based on the classic Japanese amidakuji puzzle.

Late October 1990 brings us another game from Coconuts Japan, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was by Konami. Soreyuke!! Amida-kun looks an awful lot like a memorable portion of Konami’s arcade classic Amidar. Even the names are almost identical. And yet, Konami’s name doesn’t show up anywhere in the game or the packaging. Amida-kun was developed by a company called Sofix, a company whose only other known credits consist of a pair of PC Engine visual novels based on the anime Yawara! There’s no mention of Amidar, no “thanks Konami!,” no acknowledgment of what has come before. So, you may be asking, is that legal!?

Yes, it’s totally legal. Soreyuke! Amida-kun is legal for the same reason Nintendo, NTVIC, and Use could publish games that were basically just Battleship: The core idea here may or may not have been inspired by someone else’s trademarked and copyrighted work, but even if it’s a complete rip-off of another game, Coconuts Japan can get away with it by pointing to prior art. Just as Battleship was derived from pen-and-paper war games dating back to the 19th century, and just as blatant Monopoly knock-offs can exist thanks to the fact that Monopoly was a thinly veiled swipe of an established property called The Landlord Game, Amida-kun can safely take a bite out of Konami’s lunch by leaping back into the past.

Both Amidar and Soreyuke! Amida-kun take their inspiration from a traditional Japanese game called amidakuji. This accounts not only the similar ideas at play but also the similar names. Amidar dropped the “kuji” and stylized its title by drawing out the final syllable (it’s Amidaa in Japanese), while Soreyuke! Amida-kun just turns the “kuji” into the Japanese honorific “kun.” This makes Amida into a character name and results in a title that means, roughly, “You did it!! Mr. Amida.”

Now, even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably seen some variant of the amidakuji game before. In fact, I guarantee you’ve seen it on Game Boy: The bonus screens in Super Mario Land amounted to simplified versions of amidakuji. The idea behind amidakuji is simple: You have multiple parallel lines connected by random sticks that run between the lines at different places. Your goal is to draw a line from one end of the sticks to the other—the catch being that any time you encounter a perpendicular connector, you have to move across it and begin moving down the adjacent line.

Amida-kun takes this idea and expands on it very slightly by adding an interactive element. There’s an adorable little puffball at the top of a set of four vertical rails who makes his way down toward the bottom, but only one rail has a safe terminus—the rest end in deadly skulls that murder adorable puffballs on contact. This little proto-Kirby guy begins each round with a quick roulette that results in him selecting a semi-randomized rail on which to begin his journey. You don’t know where he’s going to begin his descent, so within every one of the game’s 100 stages, there are four possible starting states.

You have to keep said puffball from dying horribly on its way home by controlling a wide blocky dude—presumably this is Amida-kun himself—who can create linkages between the vertical rails. When set into place, our puffy pal will treat Amida-kun like any other rail and walk across him. Then, once the cute little blob has made its transit across Amida-kun, you can move to a different spot on the screen. The only limit on how many times you can create a new link comes down to how quickly you can move and how many vertical spaces there are along the puffer’s descent.

There is one small quirk that makes the game slightly more challenging than simply lining up Amida-kun in the proper spot: In order to make him work as a horizontal link, you have to press the action button to switch from ambulatory to stationary mode. And, when you want to move again, you have to press the button again to switch modes. So while it’s possible to, say, let your puffy buddy cross on one row and immediately move to the next column and create a second link one row down, you need fast reflexes in order to hit the release button, shuffle over and down, then activate crossing mode again before the rambling dimwit wanders beyond your range. This task isn’t unreasonably tough on the lowest game speed, but bump the speed up too much and you need insane reflexes to pull off such tight maneuvers.

That said, you need great reflexes and strong planning abilities even at the lowest speed. Amida-kun’s world is full of danger; besides the skulls at the bottom of most rails, you’ll also have to help the walking blobber avoid skulls on certain horizontal links as well. After a while, the game begins throwing other complications at you. For instance, some horizontal links appear at an angle, which creates “dead space” into which you can’t move Amida-kun. Before long, you’ll begin dealing with reverse paths, which send the marching puff-nugget heading back in the direction he came. Or warp tiles, which will teleport your hapless chum to the matching warp tiles elsewhere on the screen, which can prove either a great help or a deadly hindrance depending on where the warp leads.

Amida-kun gets tough in a hurry. It’s not a bad or unfair sort of difficulty, though—it’s just that you have a very limited range of interactions available to you, and you have to deal both with the hazards scattered throughout each stage as well as the unpredictable, random starting point to which you need to work against on the spur of the moment. It’s not the most amazing game ever created, but as far as Game Boy puzzlers go, it definitely does feel like a breath of fresh air. There are no boxes to be pushed, no tiles to be matched. You just need the ability to respond quickly to a mindless idiot’s self-destructive march through increasingly deadly screens.

Again, there are 100 stages here, and you only get a password to save your progress every 10 levels. Amida-kun lets you choose the speed with which our tubby moronic chum ambles along the rails. These serve as a difficulty setting (ranging from “tough” to “dear god what have I done?”). You can also select a variety of musical themes for at the beginning of each level, which is a nice touch—even the best music can become grating if you hear it looping while banging your head against a vexing challenge, so the option to switch it up counts for a lot.

As for the Konami connection… it’s unlikely they were too concerned about this game that hewed so closely to one of its own arcade classics. It’s not like Amida-kun was the first competing game to lift the amidakuji concept from Amidar in any case; Pony Canyon had published a game called Amida-Kuji on MSX back in 1983. 

Anyway, while Amidar had been fun and successful, its time in the sun had been nearly 10 years earlier. By this point, Konami had moved along to richer, more original concepts and were probably happy to leave this interpretation of a dated arcade game to someone else. Soreyuke! Amida-kun never came to the U.S., so it just might constitute a Game Boy hidden gem… assuming the premise appeals to you.