If “Kureshin × Bokunatsu” a) makes sense and b) sounds appealing to you, and if c) you haven’t already purchased this game in the year since its release in Japan, then we can keep this review tight: buy this game! For those who don’t reside in this modest Venn diagram node, let’s see if you’ve moved there by the end of the page.
So let’s start with the “making sense” part. “Kureshin” is the Japanese short name for Pencil Shin-chan, a manga series and anime sitcom about a Japanese family of two children and a dog, centered on Shinnossuke (Shin-chan), their mischievous five-year-old. It’s been running since 1990 and uses a distinctly wobbly art style, a far cry from the wet-eyed haircuts grimacing against the strobe parallax that some exported anime conjure up. Shin-chan spends his time infuriating his parents, instigating arguments, pretending, repenting and reconciling, in a neat loop of boisterous hyperactivity and blissful sentimentality.
“Bokunatsu”, meanwhile, is short for Boku no Natsuyasumi – My summer vacation – a series of games started on PlayStation in 2000 about a boy spending a summer month in the Japanese countryside, exploring, chasing bugs, fishing, dining and bathing, and generally letting his imagination find adventure in a place with nothing too exciting to do. Although the endless title 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 slightly crazy world have exploded onto the scene in a small farming village in Kumamoto. Shinnosuke finds errands to run for pocket money and has free time between meals to explore dusty roads and green riverbanks as the songs of cicadas swirl around him.
When the Nohara family first arrives at Kumamoto Station, they are accosted by a wacky teacher, who gives them a special camera that Shinnosuke uses to keep an album of his stay. You don’t use the camera as a player, but all of your key adventures and discoveries, including new fish and bugs you’ve caught, are taken and added to the journal automatically. This diary becomes the central structural element of Shin-chan’s vacation story. Each day he shows his latest entries to a newspaper editor, who evaluates them for printing. Delivering the content of these articles becomes the main point of progress in the game, as increasing print subscriptions enough will allow five-year-old Shin-chan to win a date with Yoshiko, the beautiful university student interning at the newspaper (a Shin-chan- characteristic romantic aspiration).
The action of the game is to have your little kiddo racing around beautiful hand-painted scenes presented as staggering panoramas, intimate family rooms, dirty train tracks, etc., all connected by attractive paths leading to imaginary wonders just around the corner. Simple button presses will gather vegetables and herbs for the restaurant you’re staying at, fish, water crops, battle figures, swing your butterfly net at creatures, and more. The feel is generally good, but with a few minor flaws. It can be nearly impossible to discern, for example, whether an insect is in front or behind Shin-chan from the camera’s perspective. This leads to a lot of unsuccessful net rustling. If it was an attack on time it would be infuriating, but since it’s a relaxing vacation for a preschooler, we just did a few more swishes and thought that was fine.
Another small problem is that switching between fixed camera angles when moving between scenes can cause you to run in the wrong direction – it’s the same problem Resident Evil had to deal with a long time ago. The Seven-Day Endless Vacation provides “tank” controls on the D-pad to address this issue, but also retains free analog movement on the left stick. In practice, we’ve enjoyed having both at our fingertips, though it doesn’t really seem like a neat and tidy solution to the question.
There’s also a playability trade-off in favor of the atmosphere when Shinnosuke is reduced to an ant-sized spot in the scenery, seen from afar in the air, where the lights of the village form beautiful constellations and the Intertwining roads and tracks and bridges and rivers, dissolving into the night, welcome the sounds of lapping water and chirping insects. It’s a bit tedious to walk around, and locating plants, insects and especially fish is a bit overkill, to say the least. But, again, we’re not under pressure here, so prioritizing the fascinating rural vibe is warranted.
What we haven’t mentioned yet, however, is that there’s a surprise up the sleeve of The Endless Seven-Day Journey. After throwing you on that perfect fantasy vacation with nothing to do, the game throws a curveball. This being Crayon Shin-chan, “weird” is absolutely on the table, and so it goes with the wacky teacher’s return a few days later. Without giving much away, Boku no Natsuyasumi’s ordinary escapism becomes the backdrop for kiddy’s extravagant fantasy. The leisurely pace and low-pressure gameplay are absolutely intact, but we ended up with a much more concrete and focused plot than before.
It’s a clever trick for the Bokunatsu concept and Millenium Kitchen pulls it off exceptionally well. There’s a big difference between the typical Bokunatsu arrangement of doing nothing for a month, but your life being changed in unforgettable ways, and the sitcom rules of getting as wild as you want, provided that everything eventually returns to normal. You could say the ending here makes a bit of a loophole to crisscross this circle, but somehow it all clicks into place. The days are peaceful, the sun shines and sets gloriously, and there’s no worries 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 first class. The painted backdrops speak for themselves, but the cel-shaded 3D models deserve a mention. Shin-chan is drawn in a style that seems impossible to do in 3D, but it was achieved by using multiple character models and flipping them when position changes relative to the camera. The result is perfectly convincing and it looks like another small miracle. The music and sound design generally meet the same high standard – much of the music leans more towards the madness of anime than the chill of the countryside, the latter best covered in evocative nature sounds. The dubbing is excellent, it looks like the cartoon. It’s not voiced everywhere, but there are plenty – all in Japanese. (However, there is no Japanese text option in this version if you wanted to read.)
Apart from mixing two classic Japanese IPs, Shin chan: The Endless Seven-Day Journey mixes up some pretty contradictory concepts and offers something special. You have the simple, directionless adventures of a child’s curiosity on a country vacation, but they’re interrupted quite suddenly by a tightly directed (and utterly nonsensical) plot. The goofy energy of the sitcom quickly becomes the driving force and purpose of a game that could only have been a healthy meander. So the is the soothing magic of endless days of running in the fields and seeing what captures the imagination, but also a heavy direction to play a story from start to finish, packing the endless summer into 15-20 impactful and dynamic hours . Now knowing what Kureshin and Bokunatsu are, if you think you like the idea of mixing the two, this game is very easy to recommend.