If “Kureshin × Bokunatsu” a) makes sense and b) sounds appealing to you, and if c) you haven’t already bought this game in the year since it was released in Japan, then we can keep this review nice and tight: buy this game! For those who don’t live in the humble part of the Venn diagram, let’s see if you’ve moved there at the bottom of the page.
So let’s start with the “sense” bit. “Kureshin” is the Japanese abbreviated name of Crayon Shin-chan, a manga series and anime sitcom about a Japanese family with two children and a dog, focused on Shinnossuke (Shin-chan), their mischievous five-year-old. It’s been running since 1990 and uses a distinctly wonky art style, a far cry from the wet-eyed haircuts grimacing against the strobing parallax that some exported anime brings to mind. Shin-chan spends his time annoying his parents, causing arguments, jumping into wild fantasies, regrets and making amends, in a neat loop of noisy hyperactivity and happy sentimentality.
“Bokunatsu”, meanwhile, is short for Boku no Natsuyasumi – My summervacation – a game series started on PlayStation in 2000 about a boy who spends a month of summer days in the Japanese countryside, exploring, hunting bugs, fishing, eating dinner and swimming, and generally letting his imagination find adventure in a place with nothing too exciting to do . While the endlessly titled Shin chan: Me and the Professor on Summer Vacation -The Endless Seven-Day Journey- is not a Bokunatsu game, it is developed by Millenium Kitchen, the creators of the original.
So that’s what’s happening here: Shin-chan and his somewhat crazy world have exploded onto the scene in a small farming village in Kumamoto. Shinnosuke finds errands to run for pocket money and has unfettered free time between meals to explore the dusty roads and lush riverbanks while cicada songs roll around him.
When the Noharas first arrive at Kumamoto Station, they are accosted by a crazy professor, who gives them a special camera that Shinnosuke uses to keep a scrapbook of their stay. You don’t use the camera as a player, but all important adventures and discoveries, including new fish and bugs you’ve caught, are snapped and added to the journal automatically. This journal becomes the central structural element of Shin-chan’s holiday story. Each day he shows his latest posts to a newspaper editor, who considers them for print. Delivering the content of these articles becomes the game’s most important advancement, as increasing the paper subscriptions far enough will win five-year-old Shin-chan a date with Yoshiko, the beautiful university student who works at the paper (a Shin-chan trademark romantic aspiration).
The action of the game involves running your little boy around beautiful hand-painted scenes, presented as dizzying sweeping vistas, intimate family rooms, dirty railway tracks and so on, all connected by enticing paths that lead to imagined wonders just around the next corner. Simple button presses will collect vegetables and herbs for the restaurant where you live, fish, water crops, battle figures, swing the butterfly net against creeps and so on. The feel is generally good, but with a couple of small niggles. It can be nearly impossible to discern, for example, whether an insect is in front of or behind Shin-chan from the camera’s perspective. This leads to a lot of fruitless swiping of the net. If this was a time attack, it would be annoying, but since it’s a relaxed vacation for a preschooler, we just did a few extra swishes and thought it was fine.
Another small pain point is that switching between fixed camera angles while moving between scenes can send you running in the wrong direction – it’s the same problem that Resident Evil had to deal with before. Endless Seven-Day Vacation provides “tank” controls on the D-pad to solve that, but also keeps free analog movement on the left stick. In practice, we appreciated having both at hand, although it doesn’t really feel like a neat and tidy solution to the matter.
There’s also a trade-off of playability in favor of atmosphere as Shinnosuke is reduced to an ant-sized dot in nature, seen from far up in the air, where the lights of the village make lovely constellations and the interwoven roads and tracks and bridges and rivers unravel at night, hosts the sound of lapping water and the insect life chirping around. It’s a bit tricky to walk around, and finding plants, insects and especially fish is a bit of a stretch to say the least. But then again, we’re not under pressure here, so prioritizing the fascinating rural atmosphere is justified.
However, what we haven’t mentioned yet is that there is a surprise up the sleeve of The Endless Seven-Day Journey. After setting you off on this perfect fantasy vacation with nothing to do, the game throws you a curveball. This is Crayon Shin-chan, “bizarre” is definitely on the table, and things go like this with the crazy professor returning a few days later. Without giving much away, the usual core escapism of Boku no Natsuyasumi becomes the backdrop for outlandish kiddy fantasy. The peaceful pace and low-pressure gameplay are completely untouched, but we found ourselves with a much more concrete and focused plot than before.
This is a clever twist on the Bokunatsu concept, and Millenium Kitchen pulls it off exceptionally well. There’s a big difference between the typical Bokunatsu event of doing nothing much for a month, but your life being irrevocably changed, and the sitcom rules of going as wild as you want, provided everything eventually comes back to that normal. You could argue that the ending here is a bit of a breakout to square that circle, but somehow it all just clicks. The days are peaceful, the sun shines and sets gloriously, and there’s not a care in the world – but there’s also a mad scientist trying to take over the earth. It shouldn’t be possible, but it is.
In terms of presentation, The Endless Seven-Day Journey is top class. The painted backgrounds speak for themselves, but the cel-shaded 3D models deserve a mention. Shin-chan is drawn in a style that looks impossible to render in 3D, but it has been pulled off by using multiple character models and flipping between them as the position changes in relation to the camera. The result is completely convincing and it feels like another small miracle. Music and sound design are generally of the same high standard – much of the music leans more towards anime craziness than countryside coldness, the latter better covered by evocative nature sounds. The voice acting is great, it sounds exactly like the cartoon. It’s not expressed throughout, but it’s quite a lot – all in Japanese. (However, there is no Japanese text option in this version if you want to read along.)
Aside from mixing two classic Japanese IPs together, Shin chan: The Endless Seven-Day Journey mixes together some pretty conflicting concepts and comes up with something special. You have the directionless, simple adventures of a child’s curiosity on a country holiday, but they are interrupted quite suddenly by a tightly directed (and completely absurd) plot. Goofy sitcom energy quickly becomes the drive and purpose of a game that could just be a wholesome meander-em-up. So there is the soothing magic of endless days of running around the fields and just seeing what catches the imagination, but also a heavy steering to play a story from end to end, packing the never-ending summer into a powerful and dynamic 15-20 hours . Now that you know what Kureshin and Bokunatsu are, if you think you like the idea of mixing the two, this game is very easy to recommend.