Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki: Crazy Adventures in Obscure Video Game Movie Tie-ins – Dank Zine Podcast
There’s a lot of strange and wonderful things to be found in the world of obscure video games, and one of those things is even more obscure movie tie-in games. These are usually licensed games based on movies, and they can range from being great (like The Lion King) to being absolute rubbish (like E.T.). Today, we’re going to look at a movie tie-in game that falls somewhere in the middle of weird: TAN TAN Tanuki for the MSX.
Checkers TAN TAN Tanuki was published by PONYCA (aka Pony Canyon) in 1985 for the MSX and Sharp X1. Pony Canyon is a big publisher in Japan, succeeding in different areas including music and movies. In MSX and PC gaming world, they were already well known for publishing games based on films like “Champions”, “Jackie Chans’s Project A” and “Back To The Future”.
I’ve talked about Pony Canyon before in a previous obscure movie tie-in article (read all about Star Virgin here). Founded in 1966, Pony Canyon is a well-known Japanese record label and publisher, publishing movies, TV shows, and anime, and has been involved in the video game industry since the early days. They published many games for many gaming platforms, such as the MSX, from their last game, Virtual View: Nemoto Harumi for the PlayStation 2 in July 2003. At note, Pony Cannon was also infamous for the development and localization of the Ultima and Advance Dungeons and Dragons franchise in Japan.
I thought there was something wrong with my copy of the game when I started it up, but no. Thats the start screen.
One of their most famously, yet obscure movie tie-ins is Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki. Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki is a game based on the 1984 Japanese movie of the same name. The movie is about a group of young idols called Checkers, and their adventures as Tanuki raccoon dogs.
Super fun J-Pop Rock Segment
Let’s talk a bit about Japan’s idol music scene in the 80’s because it’s relevant to our story.
The Checkers were a very popular Japanese pop-rock doo-wop band formed in 1980 and disbanded in 1992. They were a pop icon of their time to the point the kids copied the hairstyles and fashion of the band members.
The Checkers had a unique sound that blended elements of pop, rock, and doo-wop. They were known for their catchy melodies and upbeat lyrics. The Checkers were also known for their stage performances, which often featured choreographed dance routines.
In addition to their musical talent, The Checkers members were also known for their good looks, which made them even more popular with fans. The Checkers disbanded in 1992, but they remain one of the most popular Japanese idol bands of all time.
Like most pop idols from Japan in those times, it was not unheard to have these idols appear in other forms of media, whether movies, TV shows, or video games. Such is the case with Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki.
So… you like obscure video game raccoons, right?
Okay. The Checkers were HUGE in Japan, and the only thing I could argue of them being obscure is that they were HUGE… in Japan. However, they were HUGE IN JAPAN enough that they came out with a movie produced through Pony Canyon in 1985.
CHECKERS IN TAN TAN Tanuki is the first Japanese movie starring Checkers, where they all play themselves in this adventure fantasy. In the story, the Checkers are psychic raccoon dog Tanuki living in peace in the woods in the mountains, jamming out playing their upbeat brand of 50’s rock and doowop. However, one day that all peace and good simple raccoon livin’ gets torn apart when an international conspiracy group “Operation Lamphun” shows up. The goons go off on some sort of Pokemon “gotta catch em all” plan to kidnap the raccoon and try to abuse their supernatural powers for…. reasons. Possibly to take over the world. Pure villainy stuff.
The main raccoon dogs (The Checkers) escape from their peaceful lives and sneak into a freight train bound for the big city in Tokyo, with hijinks and of course songs along the way. With their passion for their favorite music in their hearts, they disguise themselves as humans and head for the city.
It’s a weird, yet cute dive. There’s no fan dub or fan subs that I found in my first sweep on the internet, so I was reduced to watching the upload on YouTube using their subtitle feature. It’s not that difficult to follow along. It’s slightly reminiscent of those early Beatles movies, but if Japan got its weird raccoon dog paws all over it.
The movie is… interesting. It’s a product of its time and place. It was the eighties in Japan, and this was right in their economic boom, so wacky creative projects like these were very common. The movie is cute, the special effects are great, the Checkers are likable enough, and the songs are… well, they’re eighties Japanese pop songs. So, you know, take that for what you will.
As the way things went in those days in Japan, the movie and the band were popular enough to get a video game tie-in for the MSX computer system.
Who doesn’t love an insanely hard video game with Raccoons in them?
At first glance, the game appears to be little more than a quick cash-grab tie-in to the movie. However, those who take the time to play the game will quickly discover that it is much more than that. Playing this game for even 5 minutes will quickly reveal that this is a most difficult and obtuse game.
The premise of the game is simple: The lead signer of Checkers Fumiya must make his way through a series of increasingly difficult Pac-Man style levels and collect his other band mates. When he walks, he leaves musical notes behind him. Hey, guess what? Fumiya can only walk on the paths with no notes, as if he’s ashamed of his little musical raccoon garbage trail. This makes planning each move carefully essential to success.
In addition, players must be careful not to let Fumiya touch any other children dumping out of what I assume is a giant slinky, as doing so will cause him to lose a life. You’ll notice they all have different colours and each colour behaves slightly differently as you race around the board.
You’ll notice this little red raccoon-dog thing having a snooze. This is important, because he’s vital to getting a score and finding your missing band mates. To get him to open his eyes and help you out, you’ll need to wake him up. Just walk over him, and suddenly a crazy little tune will start playing. He’ll march where your trail of trash-notes are, taking down children if they get in his way.
This is how you cash in that score. Different colours of kids will equal a different ranking, but the ones you want to focus on are the gold kids. Those gold kids are your missing band mates, and you need to collect 6 of them per stage. The game will remind you by spelling out a word next to the score at the top. Do that over and over for 16 stages, and there you go. Checkers!
The game looks overly cute and very low-end, but it’s tough as nails. That’s part of the charm of these old 8-bit computer games. It’s a classic example of an “obscure” game that is well worth seeking out for fans of the old-school gaming challenge. And this game, simple as it is, has a dangerously addictive challenge.
The full Tanuki package
Because this was produced by Pony Canyon, Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki got the full production treatment. The marketing campaign was: “Let’s have girl friends over, play with Checkers”. Imagine that! Throw a party and really impress the girls with the laser disk movie playing on your 21″ screen TV while the cooler bunch of you dance to the official Checkers in Tan Tan record spinning on the decks. Get you and your friends to wear the blue paper Tanuki masks as you all cuddle around the MSX and challenge each other to go for the best score. Maybe that girl you had your eye on in English class will want to hear how good your English skills are, and you can impress her with your translation skills reading from the manual from the overly adorable box the game came in. You know girls love that stuff, and girls love Checkers, and so do you, because you are the one who put this party together. And yes, you totally could live out this tanuki-raged fever dream, because Pony Canyon was nice enough to provide everything.
Even if you’re not familiar with the movie, this game is still a lot of fun. It’s a great example of a simple movie tie-in game that works. If you’re lucky enough to come across a copy, it’s definitely worth picking up, but be prepared to payout, because this game is something of a collector’s item due to the fact that it is official Checkers merchandise. But it’s worth it, because you’ll have a lot of fun playing this game. People will be impressed that you own an official Checkers game after explaining to them about 80’s J-Pop boy bands.
And if you find yourself at one of those Checkers in TAN TAN Tanuki parties, don’t forget to invite me. I’ll be the one wearing the blue paper mask and singing along to the official record. See you there!