Japanese is a language that a lot of gamers out there, myself included, would love to learn in order to open a gigantic new sea full of games to enjoy. Sure, you can count on fan translations and some apps in order to try to enjoy any of the many imports out there, but you can’t compare it to actually knowing what’s written onscreen. Over the past few years, websites and online courses have attempted to teach people how to learn this really difficult language by various means, but it always ended up being way too difficult and not very entertaining. Enter Hiragana Pixel Party, a little hybrid of an educational tool and rhythm game developed by the same people who gave us one of the Switch’s hidden gems from 2017, Ultra Hyperball.
The best way I can describe Hiragana Pixel Party is one third endless runner, one third rhythm game, and one third educational tool. The game’s main goal is to teach you how to read both hiragana and katakana by means of playing a simple yet progressively challenging variation of Simon Says.
The premise is simple: a pixelated girl will initially teach you a few kana characters and make you press the appropriate button with the same character in order to jump some obstacles. After a few easy rounds, she’ll proceed to simply say a streak of characters, without showing them onscreen, and it’s up to you to remember what you’ve just memorized and pass through the obstacles. Do that for nearly two hundred levels on katakana mode and nearly two hundred more on hiragana mode and hopefully, at the end of the day, you’ll be able to finally figure out a bit of what’s written on Japanese games. The game doesn’t teach you kanji (that alone would make up for a much harder game), nor does it teach you how to formulate words or read grammar, but given the intention of being an introductory guide to finally figure out what each character means, I can’t even complain about that.
Technically speaking, the game has some pros and cons. The gameplay is extremely simple and, thankfully, responsive. It’s a rhythm game at the end of the day, so if you fail to jump an obstacle, there are big chances the mistake is your fault. The sound department has some ups and downs. While the soundtrack is adorable, following the same Game Boy Color style as Ultra Hyperball, the heavily compressed and digitalized voice samples get a bit irritating after a while, and that’s a bummer, given how they are your guide throughout the whole game. Finally, while the 8-bit graphics are cute, the game features some slightly disappointing and repetitive backgrounds.
Hiragana Pixel Party isn’t exactly a very engaging game in the sense of gameplay or complexity, but take it as a punishing yet competent educational pastime and you’ll be able to have more fun with it than you would expect. You need to be in the right mindset in order to fully enjoy it, however: if you don’t want to learn a bit of Japanese, then this isn’t the best title for you.
Copy of Hiragana Pixel Party provided by publisher.