Review: Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival

Sometimes, first-party Nintendo games do not manage to get a worldwide release. Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is one of those games. An adventure game with input from Sakura Momoko, the mangaka behind Chibi Maruko-chan, Shigeru Miyamoto, Indieszero and Nintendo, it tasked people with throwing a carnival using the power of the internet. It was unquestionably charming and odd, offering an aesthetic not often seen in the medium. It is also to the rest of the world’s detriment that it never appeared outside of Japan.

Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is one of those games that gives unimaginable power and responsibility to small children. A Carnival Fairy has appeared to a young boy or girl, which means that individual is responsible for organizing Colortown’s carnival. This means someone has to visit the town’s nine districts, waking up guardian gods and convincing people to participate or help with the carnival. You begin in Blacktown, which seems like a pleasant enough suburb, and eventually get access to Yellowpark, the Japanese-themed Pinktown, the futuristic Purpletown and every other region in the city.

But how can one child possibly make all this happen in a town bathed in endless sunlight? Through the power of the internet!

But how can one child possibly make all this happen in a town bathed in endless sunlight? Through the power of the internet! Immediately after being chosen by the Carnival Fairy, the child’s father gives them a MiniP@ computer. This allows them to look at a map, get emails and go online. While some residents of Colortown will agree to attend the carnival after you greet them and automatically hand out a pamphlet, some require a bit more work. For example, after talking to an apprentice monk in Pinktown, you will need to head back to Blacktown, look up crows online, check near a tree to retrieve an object that will only appear there after you learn more about the bird then return the lost item to the monk. He will then let you enter the temple to visit his master, and both he and his master will agree to attend the carnival.

This means there can be quite a bit of variety to convince people to join in the fun in Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival. Which is necessary, since you need to talk to people and reach certain objectives to gain access to new areas of Colortown. (What appear to be sentient stuffed animals impede your progress if you do not pick up the pace.) Initially, only your home district of Blacktown is accessible, but eventually you get to open up one area after another. Each one is filled with humans, monster people and even the occasional ghost. Talking to all of them and working out their troubles is necessary to get the eight gods’ stars and possibly manage to have all 100 people attend the carnival. Since everything is accomplished by looking information up online, talking to people and looking around, it means getting heavily invested in the world.

And what a world it is. Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is this gorgeously goofy place. No two characters look alike, even the people who could have just been one-time encounter NPCs. They have distinctive features, online profile pages describing themselves and personality. The same can be said for Colortown. Each district has a unique aesthetic, adding to the atmosphere. The animations are all on point for everyone. Even the main character is not exempt from the intense focus, with an example being that they skip instead of run and will trip and faceplant if they are skipping and hit a small rock on the ground. The commitment here is intense.

This attention applies to Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival’s virtual world too. If you have forgotten what the internet looked like in the Angelfire and GeoCities era (or have not visited the Space Jam website in a while, this game will take you back. The website layouts, use of backgrounds and images, information provided and replica browser all perfectly fit the late 1990’s and early 2000’s aesthetic. If looking through the game’s fake pages was not enough, it even allows you to go ahead and create your own, outside of the main campaign. This original site could be shared with another Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival player.

Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is the epitome of pleasant.

The nature of the game does mean it can sometimes be a little frustrating. While the Carnival Fairy is always by your side and you have a whole fake internet to visit, sometimes I would find myself rather lost. After all, creatures keep you from reaching new areas of Colortown until certain objectives are met. If you miss out on a suggestion or do not know what page to visit, either due to not paying close enough attention or a translation issue getting in the way, it is possible to find yourself stuck until you visit the right webpage or talk to the right person. This is a game that requires your attention and a basic level of fluency to be enjoyed.

Sakura Momoko no Ukiuki Carnival is the epitome of pleasant. It is the kind of game you play when you need to get away from the troubles of the real world. Is it too gloomy outside? It is always bright and sunny in Colortown. Having trouble getting people together? Over 100 people in the game all want to be your friend and attend your carnival, even if you need to run a small errand or learn more about them first. While there may be an occasional figurative or literal stone in the path when you are skipping along, you only stumble for a moment before finding your footing and making this town a better place again.

Score: 8/10
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: July 5, 2002
Developer: Indieszero
Platform(s): GBA
Questions? Check out our review guide.
This review is based on an imported product. It is based on the experience of playing the game with little to no knowledge of the language, and the content may change if/when released in other regions.

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