Sunday, July 31, 2011

Design & Color: Pu·Li·Ru·La

Let's talk about a beautiful game.

Taito's Pu·Li·Ru·La is an arcade beat 'em up known mostly for its bizarre imagery and badly-translated dialogue. It's well-known as having great graphics, but discussion of those graphics tends to begin and end with "look at how wacky this is! Oh, Japan!" Pu·Li·Ru·La has been one of my favorite arcade games for years, so I'd like to make it the focus of its very own Design & Color post: there are a lot of beautiful details that can get lost when you're zooming through this short and easy game.

Screenshots taken mostly by myself, although I did nab some (noted below) from the Hardcore Gaming 101 article too.

This is from the introduction to the game. This first shot of Radishland is inspired by antique maps with their dense linework and textures, particularly on the land and sea. The clouds are more fanciful, and serve not only to take up most of the empty space in the upper right, but their dramatic curls and swirls hint that Radishland might be more fantastical than it first appears to be. Pu·Li·Ru·La is not what most people would think of as a realistic game, but it balances some surprisingly concrete imagery with over-the-top cartoony characters. You'll see what I mean later on.

These are two of my favorite screenshots, and they come from stage two, "Crystalline Mountain." There's a lot of beauty here: the composition of the gems that provides balance with the open sky on the left, the geometric shading in sharp bands of color across the crystals, the varied but very mellow color palette, and the very subtle stitchery texture in the sky. Click these so you can see it more clearly: it's an easily missed effect, but it reinforces the artifice of the game world. Radishland is a wonderland, so it's okay for the sky to be green or the sea red. The player can accept this without much of a challenge. 

via Hardcore Gaming 101 

Stage 3 (the "Town of Delusion") is the stage the game is most well-known for, and unlike stage 2, it challenges the player's expectations immediately. It's a pastiche of photographs and drawn pixel art, and it opens with the image of a Japanese woman on a flagpole and that blue-haired head bobbing around. There isn't very much thematic connection between the various pieces of art in this stage: most of it is related to Japan in general, although the lady with the headscarf and the roses looks more like it came from a Renaissance painting (note the cracks on her face, as if from paint).

This is the boss of stage 3, a kabuki actor who fights with his hair. In the background are symbols of ancient Japan: a geisha, Mt. Fuji, and (off to the right) a sumo wrestler. In that respect, the theme of the stage might be traditionalism or antiquity in general. Purely aesthetically, the kabuki actor's design is great: a lot of detail is packed into it, including the patterns on his kimono and pants. I really love the strong shade of red used for his hair and pants, and the eye-catching yellow, too. It pops out well against the muted color palette of the rest of this room.

After you defeat the kabuki actor, he turns into this man, who was the dreamer all along. Although you only catch a cursory glimpse of this screen before it gets covered up with dialogue boxes, it's worth examining: the town is an old European town, rather realistic-looking, with a detailed bridge and a patterned street that recedes into the distance. Note that it's a European town. There's a lot of contrast between this man's colorful, energetic Japanese dreamland and the city in which he actually lives, and his flamboyant kabuki dream-self compared to his rather meek-looking actual self.

Stage 4 is a desert. This complementary color palette of yellow and blue is very strong, although the colors themselves aren't overly saturated. But they split the screen up into two distinct fields, and it even (pretty much) follows the rule of thirds. There's a lot of empty space in this screenshot because of the height of all three characters, but it's very striking.

The desert background here is kind of odd. It's really realistic and smooth, lots of color blending here, which is a marked contrast to the pixel characters. As long as we're talking about smooth vs. pixelated, then it's worth pointing out that the dark-dark black shadows in this game are pretty distracting. It'd be nicer if they were grey like the outlines of the characters, or even just partially transparent.

Inspired by Relativity, 1953

Stage 6 has the most complex artwork in the game, all inspired by the works of M.C. Escher. This is a dazzling stage: the foreground is nothing special (although the cobblestone pattern is very sedate and works well), but the backgrounds, holy cow. These backgrounds are very complex, twisting in and out of each other as the player is led deeper and deeper into the stage. Considering that you're drawing closer and closer to the boss (who is a magician that disguises himself as a formerly friendly character), it makes sense that the theme of the art would be confusion, disorientation, and things not being as they appear.

There are a bunch of these background images, including some of Escher's man/devil tessellations, but I'll just point out a few:

Inspired by House of Stairs, 1951

Inspired by Gallery, 1946

Inspired by Waterfall, 1961

Astonishingly, this stage culminates in a screen that is a huge departure from everything before it. You only see it for a second before the cobblestone street disappears and you fall downwards:

Which is, frankly, pretty terrifying. The muted grey/brown color palette of the rest of the stage gives way to a riot of color: angel/devil tessellations in red, black shadows creeping over plants and the ocean, and, off to the right, a glimpse of a setting sun that's more creepy than anything else. The pixelwork here is lined, grainy and dense, which is another throwback to old-style inkwork. It's alienating.

Pu·Li·Ru·La can be a pretty scary game. Check out this picture from stage 5. the player's so concerned with marching through this deadly field of flowers that they can gloss right by the horrifying pixel art in the background:

Which I'm almost certain is inspired by another piece of classic art, but I can't remember which one. The area this comes from is a monochrome town where time has stopped, and that explains the color scheme, but not a whole lot else. Just something to make the player quietly freak out, I guess.

But in the end, the player saves the day, the boss is defeated, and everything is back to normal in Radishland. Thanks for playing! And thanks for reading, too. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow. It's great to see a thoughtful look at a game so easily dismissed as colourful weirdness.