Bustin’ Doesn’t Make Me Feel Good

  • Developer: Birthday (and Imagesoft as well? per GDRI)
  • Publisher: Banpresto
  • Release Date: August 3rd, 1991
  • Available On: Game Boy
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Unofficial Translation by: Stardust Crusaders, aishsha

Game Boy games lend themselves to sifting through and sampling like they’re channels on a television or shows on Netflix that you just keep scrolling through. They’re tiny enough to fit in a shoebox, the cover art oftentimes depicts something larger scale and more elaborate than they were able to provide (think like Atari 2600 box art), and they pretty much always get straight into the action so you can quickly see what they’re all about. Even though I’m the type to focus on one game until I finish it, the Game Boy was different for me. Whether it was during sleepless nights, blackouts when I had nothing else to do (with a Worm Light or GBA SP in tow, specifically), or when I wanted to game without access to a TV, I loved just popping in cartridges to see what would happen. I didn’t always stick with the games for long, but I always had fun doing it. I think that’s why I’ve always associated the Game Boy with obscurities or curious little games that you don’t really hear about often, but looking at it now, I don’t think that’s so true anymore.

Out of curiosity, I googled the names of a bunch of Game Boy games that certainly look and sound the part of being “obscure”, stuff like Miracle Adventure Esparks, Chalvo 55 or Burning Paper, and sure enough, everything had some kind of coverage through YouTube videos with comprehensive historical information or blog posts that briefly summarize the game while offering screenshots of the game’s packaging. There’s even a video that shows brief footage for every single game in the library! Maybe I’m just acting too old for my age and having a premature midlife crisis or something, but it really gets you thinking: is anything truly obscure anymore? Does the concept of a “hidden gem” even exist (or ever existed)? Do we seek the thrill of finding “obscurities” before other people beat us to the punch just to say that we did it before it was cool? Is it even possible for me to cover “obscure” games when it’s fundamentally impossible for me to fully represent the perspectives of people from other countries and what would be considered obscure to them due to my unremarkable American upbringing? Am I gonna have to adjust the tagline for this blog a little bit?

The Game Boy sold 118.69 million units worldwide according to Wikipedia; that’s more than enough people who had one to ensure that every game on the platform will have at least one person looking to put out the biggest scoop on the internet about it. The most obvious alternatives to my conundrum here would be to focus on things that truly aren’t accessible to most like old computer games or things like the PS1 that have the perfect combination of “tremendously large and interesting library with plenty of Japanese exclusives that require proficiency in the language” and ‘enough nostalgia/surface level visual appeal to get people interested, but not quite as over-saturated with information as Nintendo stuff is”, but I’m not interested in specializing into a specific field. I like to taste a bit of everything, you know? I’m also not one to chase trends and be left holding the bag when they inevitably move on: PS1 games with cool aesthetics and PC-98 visual novels feel like they’re all the rage nowadays amongst circles of gaming that are way in the deep end, but in 10 years, isn’t it possible you’ll see people complaining about those getting too much exposure and being over-discussed while they’re now interested in the ~real stuff~ like 6 hour long retrospectives on the Pippin or the Cassette Vision or something? I can try all I want to be at the forefront of what’s considered “cool” and “important” and “marketable in the YouTube era” before everyone else, but that’s pretty much impossible without luck or the right connections, so why not do things the way I prefer and on my own terms?

Got a long road ahead… I can’t even imagine playing through this game on the highest speed, low was hard enough!

Don’t worry, I’m not having a crisis of faith or anything (I’m far too stubborn to quit most things, frankly!), I’m just really trying to think about how I tackle games here. In this day and age, I just don’t know if the obscure angle is enough by itself at this point. There are plenty of awesome people out there doing some seriously impressive stuff that I could never hope to compete with, so I think I’ll best serve all you dear readers with a slightly different approach. Rather than focus on trying to sell you on the obscurity angle in all my first paragraphs, I’m gonna keep leaning into what I think I’m best at: thoroughness! Even if the game in question that I pick isn’t the most obscure thing on the planet (or isn’t picked at random as I have mostly been doing), if I can offer you a perspective that goes beyond the average review, one that discusses the emotional highs and lows of an experience while also covering all of its elements and really trying to understand what it’s going for, that’s something of value that stands out, right? Heck, I’ve got a 10,000 words or so post passionately defending Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness on here, which sure isn’t something you see every day! I’m at my best when I’m covering things that excite me the most (my JRPG posts are among my best, in my humble opinion…), so I want to lean into that whenever I can. I want people to think about these games and try them because they sound fun or because they have unique elements that appeal to them, not just because they’re obscure or exclusive to Japan or something. Basically, what I’m saying is this: if you enjoy long as heck posts about random things I find really interesting that dig deep and focus on the experience of playing them, you’re in good hands here!

Now, with that rant out of the way, let’s focus on a game that doesn’t particularly excite me at all!

When I was googling all of those Game Boy games, Peke to Poro no Daruman Busters actually stood out to me as relatively less covered compared to anything else I googled. There’s an unofficial translation (it has very small amounts of text, so I imagine that was a factor in it getting chosen), a video of a Japanese player playing it at a much higher level than I can, and a mention of Famitsu giving it a 19 out of 40 in issue #139, but beyond that, there’s little else. I expected that video to have plenty of comments from people talking about how much they loved it when they were younger, but nope, the comments were completely barren. It’s also one of those games that’s potentially missing a developer credit in spots; most places cite it as being developed by Birthday, the makers of top tier Dreamcast game Elemental Gimmick Gear, but according to GDRI, it may have had Imagesoft involvement. I’m not really sure what to make of this; the credits say “presented by Birthday” and if you look up the names in Mobygames, most of the staff did go on to work on Elemental Gimmick Gear, but I also know that GDRI is great and can be relied on, so I mentioned both companies at the top accordingly. Regardless, Birthday is a team that I’m super eager to dig into anything about because of my love for EGG, but this one feels like a serious miss. Don’t fret, we’ll get into it, but I’ll say now that this might be the game that I enjoyed the least on this blog!

I’m not sure what’s more of a nightmare to deal with, the Daruman or the blocks

Daruman Busters may also be an interesting case of a licensed game that doesn’t look the part to anyone outside of Japan. According to the readme that comes with the unofficial translation, Peke and Poko are mascot characters for a Japanese confectionery company called Fujiya that were created all the way back in the 1950s. Fujiya is a huge company that was founded in the 1910s, so their name is enduring enough to be recognized across the country. They also seem to have had at least one major controversy, too, so that’s always interesting! The modernized designs of Peko and Poko that you can find on the company’s website are quite different compared to what’s in the game and the names don’t quite match up either. If you’re observant, you probably noticed that I just said “Peko”, not “Peke”; that’s because the mascot on the company’s website is referred to as “Peko” and not “Peke”. What’s also weird about this is that the game itself doesn’t seem to include any kind of marketing for the company at all nor does it mention Fujiya in the credits, which gives me additional pause about the validity of that connection (no shade meant towards the translation team at all, to clarify!). Maybe I’m just being cynical here, but I feel like any company that was involved with licensed games around this time made sure to plaster their brand all over the game in comical and impossible to ignore ways. Cool Spot makes its connection to 7UP incredibly obvious right away and Zool has the Chupa Chups logo littering its environments in a way that made even younger me turn their head in confusion. Daruman Busters is a puzzle game that uses blocks, so making those blocks cookies like in Yoshi’s Cookie or other confections seems like the most obvious missed opportunity in the world if it was actually supposed to be a marketing tool for Fujiya. The story and dialogue is also all played straight as a story of saving a girl named Nana from the clutches of Daruma-inspired foes, no cheeky references to the company and their products or anything of the sort. It’s a strange, strange situation and there’s unfortunately no conclusive information out there that I could find, no interviews with the developer or articles mentioning the connection or anything. Guess there’s still some mystery left in the Game Boy library after all! (if you know anything about this whole situation that I wasn’t able to find, please do let me know!)

If you fail a level, the Daruman will slowly walk to both sides of the screen and punch both characters before running off with Nana. Normally it’d be annoying to have to watch the slow animation, but I kinda love how harsh it is!

Confections are treats that are meant to be enjoyable to as many people as possible, but Daruman Busters is a game that’s incredibly eager to filter out anyone but the most determined of players. This game is seriously, seriously brutal in its difficulty, brutal enough that even I almost threw in the towel at points! The concept is straightforward on paper: across seven levels of the tower with nine levels each, your goal is to use Peke and Poko (who are parked on the left and right sides of the screen) to launch blocks horizontally, create matches to make them disappear, and leave the Daruman with nothing to stand on, preventing it from climbing to the top and capturing Nana. Sometimes there are two Darumen (I assume that’s the plural form of Daruman), sometimes the Daruman will have special abilities, and they throw in more types of blocks as you go, all of which add some nasty wrinkles to the proceedings, but this is very much the formula for the entire game. There’s only one environment for every level and there are only three music tracks to select, the one you select playing on repeat until you lose or exit and choose another one. Sounds like a pretty standard formula for a puzzle game overall, aside from the whole controlling two characters thing, but it’s in the details where things get much more complicated, much more challenging, and much more cruel.

Heed his warning to get ready

To eliminate blocks, all you need to do is match two or more of the same block together. Easy, right? Well, this game has some weird rules that make this more complicated than it needs to be. Simply putting two blocks of the same color together isn’t enough, no, you specifically have to ensure force is directly applied to one of the blocks in the match for it to count. If two blocks are right next to each on the edge of the play field, you can just press A or B to have the applicable character hit the block and that’s that. If blocks are separated by a gap, you can hit the one closest to you and it’ll keep flying until it hits another block, which can be used to make matches from a distance. Matches can also be made vertically if a block falls from above and lands on one beneath it. The best way to do that is on the edges of the play field where one character can hit a block across to the opposite side and if the block it hits isn’t the same one, it’ll bounce off and drop straight down. This is an essential strategy for getting anywhere in the game, but as we’ll get into in a bit, the game loves to make this as inconsistent as possible. If you hit a block in a way that doesn’t cause a match, it’ll shift the entire row over by one space in said direction. Even if there’s a block a space away and you shift the row by hitting a different block so that two identical blocks are now next to each other after the move, they won’t be eliminated – like I said, if you’re not directly applying force on one of the blocks involved in the match, it doesn’t count. I don’t know why that is, but it’s pretty frustrating when it messes up your plans for the umpteenth time! Matches won’t happen automatically if a block spawns next to another one, you still have to apply force to make the match happen. Puzzle games generally do best when they’re intuitive to figure out, but the strange rules of Daruman Busters make it so you never quite feel comfortable. Even as I was getting better at the game, I would still attempt things that seem like they should work but just don’t. You’d think indirectly shifting a block over so it falls a single space onto an identical block should count as a way to make a match, going by the logic of pretty much every other puzzle game out there, but nope!

This might look simple on paper, but trust me, it’s anything but

The arena, which is a tall 7×13 box, feels like it’s just as much of an enemy as the Darumen are. Alongside replacements for any blocks you launch from the side columns (the outer columns will always have 13 blocks) blocks are also constantly reappearing from the bottom of the screen in the middle five columns and helping the Daruman reach its goal. They come at a consistent tempo per level, but you still have to figure out that tempo in the first place and try to work around it, which causes all kinds of headaches. You’re given a visual of which type of block is coming, but you don’t know which of the five columns it’s going to appear in. This results in an endless number of situations where you’re lining up a shot and about to make a match, only to get blocked the exact second you shoot. It’s infuriatingly common (especially in the faster levels) to the point that it feels orchestrated to happen as often as possible, and in a game where you have two time limits and very little room for error, this kind of harshness comes off as foul play. If your plans get messed up too many times, it’s possible to end up in a situation where an entire row is filled by blocks and is thus completely immovable. If that happens, you’re out of luck until incoming blocks happen to give you new opportunities. It’s tempting to push blocks around to try and create matches that didn’t exist before, but you’ll quickly find that this strategy rarely works and you’re better off trying to make easier matches on the sides. It’s a real bummer and a good incentive to reset and try again!

Even when you’ve got a Daruman near the bottom, the fight is far from over

Having to keep track of two characters, a whole lot of blocks, and a constantly revolving door of opportunities and restrictions is already a lot for anyone to deal with, but those Darumen aren’t gonna sit around and do nothing! These guys are persistent jerks that do everything in their power to climb to the top and ruin everyone’s day. At first they’ll (usually) remain stationary, but as the level goes on, they’ll hop around to different columns in an attempt to climb upwards while avoiding the abyss below. Hitting them with blocks will cause the block to bounce off and fall before it reaches its destination, but if you fire a block above them, it’ll land as normal. Sometimes, it’s easy to predict where they’ll go – they’re naturally going to move if they’re on a block that’s about to disappear and they have an easy way out – but sometimes, they’ll just move whenever they feel like it. This isn’t much of a problem in most levels, but sometimes, you’ll have levels that start out with columns already stacked to the top. If the Daruman decides to jump on those high columns (they can’t jump from the bottom to the top, but they can still jump really high), you can lose the round literally as soon as it starts! It seems like they’re more likely to move if you fire off blocks without making a match, but it’s not consistent by any means. To test this, I used save states to retry the start of levels multiple times, and sure enough, my results were not the same every time. In most attempts, they moved back and forth fairly frequently, but not after every shot, match or otherwise. Sometimes, they’d move immediately for reasons I couldn’t 100% pin down, and on rare occasions, they didn’t move at all. Considering how important their position is at all times, it’s really detrimental to have the logic behind their movements appear to be so obtuse. You’ve probably noticed this through line by now, but this is a game that demands rigorous levels of focus and planning while also wanting to make sure doing so is as difficult and unreasonable as possible.

The audacity it takes to throw two Darumen at you!

The basic Darumen (both big and small variants) only have their mobility, but there are more advanced types that have sneaky tricks in their rhetorical pockets. Several of the Darumen come with reflective coating that’ll bounce any blocks back at the original sender, causing them to get knocked out for several seconds. It goes without saying, but this is really annoying when combined how blocks suddenly appear and shift the columns upward! The other common ability they pack is an earthquake that’ll stun you for several seconds and is something they can pull out whenever they feel like it. Luckily, they clearly indicate when they’re revving up for the attack, so you can launch a block at them to get them to stop. Of course, you’ll probably do this in a panic, which can lead to the block you use messing up a potential combo, but them’s the breaks, I suppose. The last and (thankfully) least common type is the one with the huge mouth and gluttonous appetite. These fellows turn left and right and eat any blocks you launch at them, causing the column they’re on to increase in size. Talk about a pain! Though they can be obnoxious, these Daruman variants are really one of the only ways the game tries to mix up its formula at all, so their presence was enough to keep me paying attention. Even so, they still feel underutilized, with the one that eats barely appearing at all, and they never combine multiple types at the same time. If a stage has two Daruman, they’re both going to be identical. That’s probably to prevent nightmare situations like a shaker and an eater at the same time, but considering how repetitive this game gets (even the final boss doesn’t do anything different except wear a crown!), any attempt at something more interesting or a clear willingness to test a different skillset every now and then would have done wonders.

No matter how many hours I poured into this game, even after doing my best to understand the mechanics and watch that video I mentioned to see what they do, I never really felt like I got any better. I was able to complete every level, but most of the time, it just felt like it came down to luck. The two power-ups that occasionally appear on the outer columns only exacerbate this fact with how essential they are for getting anything done. The missile will stun a Daruman (the one that’s highest up if there’s two) for several seconds, giving you time to take the floor out from underneath them or get your bearings without them pulling any nonsense, and the first aid kit will remove all blocks of a specific type depending on the one you threw at it. Both of these power-ups were a core part of my strategy and the only way I could figure out how to beat some levels, but they come up randomly, so having to wait and stall for time until they showed up always felt a bit wrong, somehow. It’s not, because the game sure as heck isn’t playing fair, but still, I do wish the game felt more consistent and fair without them. As it is, the Darumen are just too damn slippery and and the arena is so stacked against you in its design that the power-ups feel like a band-aid for some suspect design choices. Because of how the game works (you launch blocks, which makes distant combos the most reliable because they don’t stop until they hit something), it’s incredibly difficult at times to get anything done if the Daruman sticks to the middle three columns. If even a single block is in your way, there’s nothing you can do to remove it directly if you don’t have the right piece already lined up. Instead, you have to think outside the box, so to speak, and focus on launching blocks to the opposite side in a way that gives you new blocks to work with on the outskirts without giving the Daruman more room to escape or blocking off the other character. Thus, a lot of levels end up making you solve simple problems in a really roundabout way. Instead of just removing a block, you have to throw pairs upon pairs over to the other side just so you can get some new ammunition, and if you press the button one too many times or the arena shifts in a way that screws you over, all you can do is repeat until you get lucky.


In case it wasn’t obvious, Daruman Busters is a long, frequently agonizing experience. The game is so challenging and so unforgiving that it feels impossible to get into a groove with it. Sometimes you’ll think you’re improving when you happen to clear levels quickly, but inevitably, the game will knock the confidence out of you and force you to toil in a single level for what feels like forever. Some of the starting block arrangements are downright sadistic and with how the level itself is constantly getting in your way, how unpredictable the Daruman behavior is, and how hard it is to actually figure out how this game wants you to play it, I found myself increasingly exasperated with it. It was so taxing to get through that it soured my mood for an entire weekend! You can actually skip around to any level you want, thankfully making it so you don’t have to win in one sitting or play through the entire thing, but of course my foolish pride wouldn’t allow me to do such a thing! Honestly, don’t be afraid to make use of the feature if you actually want to check this game out; it’s really the kind of game where once you’ve seen a few levels, you’ve seen everything it has to offer anyway. I usually like to make sure to say some nice things about any games I don’t love here, since I do think just about every game offers something of value, but I’m finding it to be a struggle with this one. The concept is interesting and I’ve never quite played a puzzle game like it that also expects so much out of you, but I’m starting to think that’s for a reason or three. It’s highly frustrating, exhausting to play, offers little in the way of variety or rewards for doing well, and it doesn’t even have a noteworthy aesthetic or soundtrack to soften the blow. A 19 out of 40 from Famitsu is pretty rough, but honestly, I think they went a bit easy on it! I really don’t like to end posts negatively like this, especially with a developer that would go on to make a game I absolutely adore (seriously, go play EGG), but when a game makes me come this close (picture someone pinching their thumb and index finger together very closely) to throwing in the towel and rethinking why I’m even doing this whole thing because it’s such a nightmare to get through, it would be downright dishonest of me to leave you for the day with a positive “well, give it a shot anyway because it’s interesting and I think it has a lot of potential!” line. I can’t stop you, obviously, but if you really wanna give this one a shot, brace yourself for some tough times ahead.

More Screenshots


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2 thoughts on “Peke to Poko no Daruman Busters

  1. I’ve done some light Googling, and I can’t find any source corroborating the Fujiya connection. Even the back of the box doesn’t mention the company, which I think they’d have to if they really were using their mascot.

    I think this is just a case of the translator mistakenly conflating Peke/Poko with Fujiya’s Peko.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I think you’re right, it just seems unlikely that they would ship the game without any mention of the company in and outside of the game if it really was linked to Fujiya. Peko is only one letter change away from being the same as Peke and Poko, so I guess I can see how the translator got there if they knew about the company’s characters, but yeah I agree they’re mistaken.


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