Friday, May 27, 2011

Hani in the Sky (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
1 Difficulty level
8 Stages (loopable)
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Face
Published by Face in 1988

I'm quite sure that commending Hani in the Sky for its bizarre nature isn't enough to appease the confused minds of those who pay close attention to the cover of the game, let alone for the people who will eventually try it themselves. I did a bit of research and found out that the main character is a "haniwa", a type of clay figure made for ritual use and buried with the dead as a funerary object during the 6th century in Japan. In modern society haniwas appear as souvenirs and cute objects spread around the land of the rising sun, and one of the most common types of haniwa is shaped exactly like the game's protagonist Hani (sometimes written as Hanii or Hany). Therefore, you can rest assured you are not controlling a flying dildo while playing Hani in the Sky, is that clear?

My process of getting acquainted with this obscure shmup had three phases. The first one came with that WTF feeling related to thoughts such as "where are the power-ups?" and "this damn dildo thing is too slow!". The second phase came with the euphoria of enjoying the genuine fun factor while figuring out how to activate power-ups. And the third phase saw me tumbling down as the small hindrances all came together to spoil what could've been a smash PC Engine hit. I mean it. It's just sad to witness so much potential and great ideas wasted to a series of unfortunate design choices...

Am I upside down? I feel dizzy!

Hani in the Sky is essentially a vertical shooter, even though the character possesses the ability to turn its firepower in 8 directions - one button in the controller shoots and the other provides clockwise rotation only. Scrolling speed can be accelerated by staying in the upper third of the screen. Hani starts out very slow, but as soon as a few enemies go down it's possible to increase speed by pressing RUN followed by button I, which grants the player access to the game shop, much like the one you have in Fantasy Zone. The difference is that here you can access the shop any time you want except during boss fights. It's in the shop that you buy upgrades and activate/select them, as well as teleport to any stage you have already played. Since the game has no score you might think it's not necessary to kill everything in order to get to the end, but alas! Shopping requires "money", and money is only obtained by killing enemies.

Japanese is the only language used here, so it takes a while to get used to all options found inside the shop. Navigating the menus is a bit cumbersome due to how buttons are mapped: after pressing RUN, button I activates options/items and button II always sends the player back to the starting menu. Once in the shop you're allowed to purchase speed-ups (flame icons), autofire, a three-way shot (don't buy, you'll get it eventually), extra health, invincibility bubbles and homing special weapons. Once bought or won, these must be enabled to become active. You win items by defeating bosses (new weapons/armor) and by getting the interrogation marks found in one of the two sides of a splitting pathway. When this happens Hani is sent back to the splitting section so that you can choose the other side to continue the game. Don't bother trying to get the same item twice, it doesn't work. A few of these interrogation marks result in unexpected effects, such as turning the game black & white, making it go silent or sending you back to the first stage.

The journey of a heroic flying dick haniwa, with turbofire
(courtesy of YouTube user piko2advance)

The teleport function is quite handy when you're low on health and money, providing an easy escape as long as you're not fighting a boss. It's practically cheating, that's why I made the decision to not use it when going for the 1CC. This can be done with a little practice, provided you avoid getting hit at all costs (each health cell costs $7.500) and you make the right choices in the split sections. The biggest challenge is definitely the last boss, even when getting into the fight with full health, an invincibility bubble and a homing shot. And again, similarly to Fantasy Zone, using the controller's turbofire feels like cheating because the shot gets much more powerful than the one you have with the autofire item you buy in the shop.

Although technically simple, graphics in this game definitely shine in a few parts of the stage design and in some of the sprite manipulation found in a handful of bosses. Corridors are mixed with abstract landscapes, the first boss seems to have been kidnapped right out of Fantasy Zone, and a few later bosses spew loads of bullets without a hint of slowdown (which is not to be found anywhere in the game). I personally enjoyed the broken perspective and the endless Escher-like staircases of the 6th stage. The definitive winning aspect of Hani, however, is the soundtrack. It's catchy, moody and uplifting at the same time. I think I found myself humming the BGM for the third stage for hours after I played the game for the first time.

Click for the option menus translation for Hani in the Sky

Everything considered, the lack of scoring in Hani in the Sky is what ultimately kills its appeal, combined with the scrambled menu structure, the slightly awkward rotation gimmick and the unnecessary teleport function. Money can't be considered score, especially with the fact that the game loops but removes all the money you collected in the first round while inflating shop prices by 100%. Where's the motivation to go on?

The game is fun for what it is, but there's a limit to the dedication I can give to a challenge that's devoid of numbers, even when I'm playing with a honorable penis haniwa. I cleared it without turbo fire and without warping back, I guess I had almost $200.000 when I started the last stage.


  1. Ah, I've been waiting for you to tackle this one! I completely agree with your assessment of it -- i.e., it's an intriguingly unique game that's let down by a few missteps on the part of the developer. That said, I think it's well worth picking up and playing, as used and even new copies of it are pretty darn cheap these days. Hell, it's worth picking up just for the cover art, IMO :)

  2. @ Bryan Wow, I didn't know it was going for peanuts these days. And "unique" is indeed a good word for Hani in the Sky. :)

  3. Holy moly, that looks like a trip and a half!

  4. What?! This game is really good you say? Hmm, interesting...

    Oh, and why don't you use money as score? Now go! Onto the shmup thread to start score thread for this game based on how much money you have (without warping backwards milking, of course). And in the process, spread much awareness on how much fun this game really is. ... K, enough Edward blog reading for today, onto some shmuping action for today!

    - Sinful

  5. Wow. Thanks for breaking down the menu system. I figured it out through trial and error. I gotta say, I love deciphering old, obtuse games like this. It's like a puzzle game and an action game all in one.

  6. Is it not possible to rotate to the other "side" with a 6 button controller? Regards.

    1. No, it isn't.
      Actually I've yet to find any PCE shmup where the 6-button controller can be used. The only one I know that deviates from the norm is Forgotten Worlds, which uses the 3-button controller.