March 17, 2014 11:26 PM | Lena LeRay
Update: The video footage originally embedded in this article has been replaced with the above footage from BitSummit which does show some of the parallax action and the 3D effects at work. We also have confirmation that the Windows version does not have parallax backgrounds.
Near the stage on the public days at BitSummit, heralded by a flag and a Famicom with a handmade cartridge in it was Kira Kira Star Night. Riki, its creator, is a manga artist by day. He has a serious passion for the Famicom, however, and has gone to great lengths to craft a Famicom game that can do things the system isn't supposed to be capable of. His efforts netted him first place in the Möbius Strip Prize for Innovation category and second place in the Vermillion Gate Award category at the first ever BitSummit Awards, but the game's full story is tied up in some strange knots.
As far as gameplay goes, Kira Kira Star Night is relatively simple. It's a platformer in which stars fly into view, move around in a preset pattern, and fly out again. The player's job is to move around and try to collect all of the stars. You can see in the video above that although it's a simple concept, it should be pretty hard to successfully get all of the stars.
The graphics are where Kira Kira Star Night really shines. The sprites and backgrounds are gorgeous, to start with, but Riki has got the game doing some things graphically which are supposed to be impossible to achieve on a Famicom. The video above doesn't really show it, but when I watched Riki play the game at BitSummit it had parallax backgrounds (in which different parts of the background moved independently, either at different speeds or in different directions). Hills in the near background moved more slowly than hills in the far background, and water had waves in it. It wasn't the smoothest parallax action I've ever seen, but it was still an extraordinary feat. He also showed a credits screen with 3D effects going on in the background. Since the Famicom can't do multiplication, he had to do a lot of math by hand to program those 3D effects into the game.
In addition to doing all of that math and programming, Riki had to make his own custom Famicom cartridge. He says he's had people from overseas ask him to produce more of the cartridges, but it's too expensive and time consuming to produce in large quantities. He's interested in finding a factory that can make the cartridges for him and crowdfunding their production. Luke Crane, Kickstarter's representative at BitSummit this year, showed him a successfully funded Kickstarter project for production of an NES cartridge that raised almost $95,000 from over 1,200 people and suggested that Riki talk to the representatives of Nigoro and Inti Creates about their recent successes with Kickstarter, giving Riki hope that production of Kira Kira Star Night cartridges could become reality.
Riki has something else to consider before going that route, though. One of the Famicom's original creators is his downstairs neighbor, and he had his own advice for Riki. "I showed it to the old man," Riki told me, "and he said I should take it to Nintendo. But if I do that, I won't be able to make the cartridges anymore." In Japan, modifying cartridges and making new ones is illegal, and although the big game companies turn a blind eye to fan games like Riki's, they can't ignore Kira Kira Star Night if he takes it straight to them. So maybe he could get the game officially licensed and published on Nintendo's Virtual Console service, but regardless of whether or not Nintendo approves of the project, if he shows it to them he most likely won't be able to make cartridges for his fans across the sea.
While Riki struggles with cartridge publishing dilemmas, however, you can get your hands on the game for your computer. It doesn't have parallax backgrounds, it's only available as a physical purchase, and it must be shipped from Japan, but for a little under $30 US plus shipping, you can get the game with a soundtrack CD and a book that contains the manual information, gameplay hints, fan art, and a development journal. The game itself has two files, one a native Windows .exe file and the other a .nes file for use with emulators. The purchasing information doesn't say whether or not Mac and Linux users can just pull the emulator file off of the disc. The English-language web site for Kira Kira Star Night only lists Alice Books as a place to buy it, but the Japanese web site lists several other storefronts including Amazon.co.jp.