A Chubby Cherub-esque platformer based on a short-lived Japanese animation by the creator of Doraemon.
Parasol Henbee is a Japan-only licensed platformer from SAS Sakata and Epoch. Remember them? They gave us Cyraid, a weirdo puzzle action game whose Japanese packaging did that “Clash at Demonhead” thing where it presented itself with the confidence and style of an existing media property even though it was actually an original production. Well, Parasol Henbee actually was licensed from an existing media property. In this case, the franchise in question was an anime series by the same title, dreamed up by Doraemon co-creator Fujiko A. Fujio. That means it kind of falls into the same bucket as Chubby Cherub on NES in that it has Doraemon-esque designs.
The game is cut from the same cloth, too. It’s a middling platformer with awkward flight mechanics, set in a combination of city streets and woodsy environments. With a little tweaking, this could practically be Chubby Cherub 2, despite coming from a different developer and publisher altogether.
In the anime, Henbee is an almost tapir-like character with a connection to dreams, and he carries around the parasol that lends the series its name. The parasol in the cartoon lets Henbee fly around at will, though that of course has to be somewhat limited in order to make for a balanced game. Honestly, though, I can’t say SAS Sakata entirely figured it out. Parasol Henbee for Game Boy tries to do a lot of things, and it has a habit of tripping over itself in the process.
For one thing, Henbee makes use of an Adventure Island-like stamina meter. This doesn’t tick down like Master Higgins’s meter, but it is refilled by consuming food found around each stage. The meter determines what Henbee can do. By tapping B, you can expend a couple of stamina points to cause him to spin into a whirlwind to knock out the various monsters that appear around the stage.
Knocking into a foe isn’t instantly fatal as it would be in some licensed games, which is a huge point in Henbee‘s favor. Collisions sap Henbee’s stamina, but you can take a few hits, and food recharge items are pretty generous. But it’s not ideal to go spamming attacks willy-nilly or squeaking by with Henbee’s stamina near empty, because the level of his energy meter has an impact on gameplay. When Henbee’s stamina is critical, the game becomes almost impossible: He moves sluggishly, can’t jump well, and can’t deploy his parasol; in effect, you might as well just give up.
Under normal circumstances, though, Henbee is a fairly versatile little guy. Besides running and jumping and spin-attacking, he can perform a few other notable feats. For starters, he can climb poles. The stages here tend to have multiple tiers, and some upper tiers—especially in town levels—can only be reached by scurrying up poles. Additionally, every stage has a sort of forced semi-3D perspective, similar to Double Dragon, which allows Henbee to move into and out of the screen. This is more limited than in Double Dragon or Final Fight—it’s really more like there’s a “near” and “far” position—but it creates “lanes” of action to navigate.
And finally, Henbee can use his parasol when he jumps to float gently to the ground. By pressing up while in mid-air, you’ll pop out an umbrella that causes Henbee to float somewhat erratically in the direction you’re pressing. You can cancel your drift and drop at any moment by pressing down, although there’s a bit of a delay in this that makes it hard to be precise—a real hassle when you’re dealing with moving platforms. The biggest problem with the parasol mechanic, though, is that it doesn’t play well with the near-far positioning system.
You move Henbee into and out of the screen along the ground by pressing up and down as well. Normally, you’d think a character with this ability and these somewhat fluid jump control physics would also be able to shift vertical planes in mid-air by tapping up or down, but no—I constantly found myself fumbling with the parasol when I wanted to move into the back action lane. It’s a minor nuisance, but it bears mentioning.
More annoying is the fact that the platform edge detection is awful. Parasol Henbee isn’t a tough game, and it dispenses extra lives like candy, but you can quickly find yourself hitting a wall any time one of the auto-scrolling “sky” stages shows up. These levels are all about platforming, and they tend to be needlessly taxing due to Henbee’s clunky controls, floaty physics, and tendency to slip through platform edges. It doesn’t help that this is a game without checkpoints, and the stages grow considerably in length as you advance. One slip-up and you’re back to the start of the level with a meager amount of stamina.
It’s a pretty lengthy game, too, considering. There are about 15 stages all told, although only 10 initially appear on the world map—the other five are revealed once you complete the 10th stage. By the time you finish the 10th stage, though, that’s less of an “oh neat, more game” moment than an “oh god, more game” kind of thing. It’s one of those games that almost manages to be fun, but it’s all just a little too under-baked to work out.
One thing it has working in its favor: Once you manage to get Henbee’s stamina more or less maxed-out, you gain a new ability. Rather than deploying your parasol to drift downward, you can use it to fly for a few seconds. This makes the more difficult platforming sections far more palatable, and it’s a testament to the designers here that the toughest jumping sequences in every level appear toward the end. If you manage to play smartly, collect all the food, and avoid using up your stamina by launching attacks or taking damage, Henbee will invariably have enough energy to sail past some of the more unfair action sequences.
Still, it would be better if the game had better controls and less flaky platform detection. The decision to throw inexplicable boss battles into the final few stages also brings it down. And that’s on top of the weird encounter with wild boars in the second-to-last stage, which rush back and forth at you until you manage to stun one and hop on its back to ride to the exit. Nothing like these encounters appear anywhere in the game, and they’re very obtuse. And if you fail you have to play that whole level all over again.
There are worse licensed games on Game Boy, though. Like Cyraid, this is a bit of a mess, but it’s a well-meaning mess that does more legwork than most licensed games of the era bothered with. There’s even a Cyraid nod: Every few stages, you encounter a bonus screen where you earn stamina and bonus lives by overturning hats, kind of like the jar rooms in Kid Icarus. Unlike in Kid Icarus, though, you don’t lose everything you’ve found if you uncover something bad. And the “something bad” here isn’t the Grim Reaper, it’s… the weird moon robot from Cyraid? A deep cut.