This is one game that won't be ported to North America or Europe. It's far too Japanese. Developed by the auteur Masaya Matsuura at his niche company NanaOn-sha (home of the inimitable Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy), it's a game in which you write kana to the rhythm of a Japanese rap.
Yeah, it's as weird as it sounds. But more beautiful than you can imagine.
Gameplay is devastatingly simple to pick up: you use the analog stick to create words in rhythm. You move it up to ink your brush, and press down to write. If you don't have enough ink on your brush, the letter are light and hard to read; if you have too much, they letters are blotchy. If you press down too lightly you skip a letter; if you press too hard, the letters come out thick and clumsy. I've never seen a game before that made aesthetic harmony the goal of the game.
The goals of the game are reminiscent of the artistic values of "the superb aesthetes in the twilight of their rule" to borrow Helen McCullough's phrase from the preface to her translation of the medieval romance, Yoshitsune. The Heian/Nara period saw a flourishing of refined elite culture among court aristocrats. Men and women of rank judged each other on their skills in poetry, dress, and calligraphy. Mojibrobbon draws from that culture, not only implicitly through the leveling-up conditions but also through the storyline, which is written in an old-fashioned classical style and references Japanese mythology.
The game also makes you a poet: the player can create new files with new words, which the in-game voice recognition software will chant out for you during gameplay. It is possible to write in English, although you must specify whether you'd like the voice to try to speak the words or just say the letters. After unlocking level nine, it becomes possible to send your poems as playable levels to your friends through the Mojibribbon network. This is also an echo of the poetry-exchange tradition in aristocratic circles in Japan. Sei Shonagon, the genteel author of The Pillow Book, carried out entire epistulary love affairs through poems passed back and forth. Not only were the words critical, of course, but she judged the writer also on his hand, his choice of paper, and his timing.
That rarefied world of aesthetic refinement has faded from the earth. The values of a class that was dying even then, overshadowed by the vigor of provincial warriors who studied the blade, not the pen, are disappeared. But perhaps a trace of that remains, improbable as it may seem, in this beautiful, lighthearted, playful game.
The Bell of Gion Monastery tolls
The impermanence of all wordly things
The color of sal blossoms shows the truth that
Even the most prosperous inevitably decline
The proud will fall like a dream on a spring night.
The valiant must perish, too, as
Frail as dust blown by a puff of wind.
- Heike Monogatari