After more than a year’s delay, the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo finally kicked off with a softball match between Japan and Australia at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium on Wednesday, July 21. This is undoubtedly set to be one of the strangest Olympics ever considering several athletes have already tested positive for COVID-19 and the entire thing has the potential to turn into one giant superspreader event. Luckily for us watching at home, Google Doodles has just released an awesome and super cute 16-bit JRPG in its browser that’s completely COVID-free.
Doodle Champion Island Games is a full-length JRPG (which stands for “Japanese role-playing game”) that allows players to step into the shoes of Lucky, a calico cat competing in a series of athletic competitions against mythical creatures and other animals. And while there have been other Google Doodle games in the past, none of them have been quite as intricate as Doodle Champion Island Games. One could easily click on the game on Google’s homepage and find themselves still navigating the idyllic island setting of the game five hours later.
In the midst of such a controversial and confusing Olympics, Doodle Champion Island Games allows players to escape from a world stricken by a global pandemic and immerse themselves in the pure fun of an adorable 16-bit game. Turn on NBC to watch the Summer Olympics, fire up your browser, play through the numerous quests of Doodle Champion Island Games, and try not to think about how your favorite athletes might be swimming in a sea of coronavirus.
Doodle Champion Island Games Background
The first-ever Japanese roleplaying games were developed in the early 1980s and since then the genre has absolutely exploded in popularity. If you’ve ever played one of the early Pokemon games or any of the offerings in the Final Fantasy series (which nearly everyone has), then you pretty much know what to expect from Doodle Champion Island Games.
The game was made by STUDIO4°C, who’s made other popular video games such as Rogue Galaxy and Street Fighter IV. Doodle Champion Island Games is the largest interactive Doodle that has ever appeared on Google’s platform, and it’s an homage to the classic 16-bit video game style that has become an integral part of Japanese culture. So, when Google set out to start developing the game, they decided to stay true to the culture and hire Japanese artists to create it.
Many of the characters in the game are adaptations of mythical beings and animals from Japanese folklore and history. For instance, the archery mini-game depicts Nasu no Yoichi, a real Japanese samurai from the 12th century who was famous for his skill with a bow. The idea to make the main protagonist a female calico cat stemmed from the fact that this type of cat is very popular throughout Japan and that women are often portrayed as being scary or evil in Japanese folklore, a paradigm which the artists at STUDIO4°C wanted to flip on its head.
The game follows Lucky, our courageous calico cat hero, as she arrives on an island where a festival is already underway. Lucky takes part in competitions involving seven different sports including table tennis, rugby, skateboarding, synchronized swimming, archery, climbing, and a marathon. Google selected sports that were outside of the mainstream for this game, hoping to bring some of these more “obscure” sports into the limelight and render them using classic video game mechanics.
The game begins with a visually stunning and whimsical opening sequence that introduces players to Lucky and her competitors. Afterward, players are free to roam around the impressively large map, winding along pixelated paths in a manner very similar to Pokemon. Players are asked to join a team for which they compete, and every time you complete an event, your results are uploaded to a real-time global leaderboard.
Compete for Your Team Against the Rest of the World
Undoubtedly one of the coolest features of Doodle Champion Island Games is the fact that your results from playing the mini-games get uploaded to a real-time global leaderboard that shows which of the four teams is winning. The four teams are represented by four colors (red, green, blue, and yellow), which just so happen to be the colors in Google’s logo as well as the colors of the Olympic rings.
By allowing players to choose their own team and compete in a global competition involving other players from across the planet, Doodle Champion Island games give players a reason to keep playing: to push their color ahead in the leaderboard and prove once and for all that red (or blue or green or yellow) is the best color of them all.
While Google has not explicitly mentioned how long the competition will last, I think it’s safe to assume that it will span the length of the Summer Olympics, with the winning color being announced around the time of the real Olympics closing ceremonies.
Personally, I hope that they make this game downloadable once it’s taken off Google’s homepage, or that some talented programmer cracks the game and makes it available as a torrent or something (wink, wink) because I could easily see myself revisiting this game throughout the years. Plus, with how long this game is and how much effort clearly went into it, it would be a shame for Doodle Champion Island Games to run online for a couple of weeks and then fade out of existence entirely.
Highlights From the Game
The cut scenes from Doodle Champion Island Games are simply outstanding. The animation style is so cute and even a little bit trippy, reminiscent of a film from the Japanese animation cohort Studio Ghibli. You can watch most of the cut scenes from the game on the GoogleDoodles YouTube channel.
Among the seven sporting events and the numerous side quests and Easter eggs within the game, one of my personal favorites was the rugby game, which is really more like “Kill the Carrier” than rugby. The game involves passing the ball between Lucky and her teammates while trying to avoid being tackled by giant red and blue demons. The field is littered with obstacles and power-ups that can either help you or hurt you as you avoid the grasp of the demons.
The synchronized swimming event in the game was also a wonderful surprise for anyone who grew up playing Dance Dance Revolution. The mini-game works pretty much exactly the same as any Dance Dance Revolution game except for the fact that you’re controlling Lucky’s moves with your keyboard and you’re competing against a turtle.
Since skateboarding was included for the first-ever Olympics this year, it was only right that Doodle Champion Island Games should include a skateboarding mini-game and a totally awesome one at that. The game allows you to perform nose grabs, kickflips, and barrel rolls in front of a crowd of cheering pixelated animals.
Once you’ve defeated the champions in all seven sports and collect all of the seven sacred scrolls, you’ve beat the game, and your journey through Doodle Champion Island Games is over. The game ends with a final cut scene that features Lucky chewing on some three-colored dumplings on a stick. You can complete the game in probably 20 minutes; however, if you go through all of the side quests and look for all the Easter eggs, you could spend a whole lot more time on this game.
Overall, after discovering Doodle Champion Island Games organically just by clicking on it in my browser, I was thoroughly impressed by how well made the game was and how much fun I had playing it. It made me want to dig up my old Game Boy Advance SP and start playing through all of the old Pokemon games again. Doodle Champion Island Games is a testament to Japanese video game culture and a great way to spend an afternoon.