A Glance at the Past: Mister Mosquito (PS2)

Mister Mosquito was released at a somewhat unfortunate period of time in gaming history. Back before the dawn of digital distribution, publishers were a lot more wary about publishing games with unusual and out-of-the-box concepts, and a game about flying around as a cartoon mosquito sucking blood seemed like the kind of game that might have never had the chance to leave Japan. Publishers had to invest more in releasing the game in other territories and with that came the risk of losing money on a game that might not have a niche outside of its home country. Thankfully, this mindset seems to be fading gradually in the modern day due to a mix of the indie renaissance making publishers realize that people will buy games with quirky concepts and the reduced costs of releasing games in a digital format through virtual storefronts. Games like Mister Mosquito are a lot more common now both from Japan and from other countries as the gaming medium opens up to more ideas, and when games these days aren’t localized for a perceived lack of profitability, the internet has made a wonderful platform for letting gamers tell the company how much they would have loved to have that game localized for them.

Mister Mosquito, unfortunately, came out at a time before that public perception and less risky means of distribution came to be, but thankfully, Eidos Interactive saw the potential of the game and took a chance, meaning that English speaking audiences would be able to get their hands on this unique game that many people thought would never get an international release! I remember seeing Mister Mosquito for the first time in a magazine I bought for its big Pokemon feature back when that craze was at its peak, and while my eyes drifted over the other games the magazine detailed, this strange little game caught my eye and stuck in my memory for years. Now, over ten years later, I finally got my hands on a copy of the game, and I got to see for myself what it’s like to be Mister Mosquito.

For a game about a mosquito, the gameplay is pretty much exactly what you imagine it will be. Mister Mosquito has to fly around and drink a decent amount of blood in each level. The task isn’t as gross as it could have been thanks to the game’s silly presentation and the cartoon design of Mister Mosquito himself. The cute little insect has decided his hunting grounds will be the house of the Yamada family, the bug needing to collect a certain amount of blood to survive the coming winter. To do so, the mosquito will take on the family members in various rooms of the house, avoiding getting spotted, swatted, sprayed, or touching any of the many bug traps the family begins to place around when they become aware of your presence. The story is incredibly cheesy in a good way. The three Yamada family members, the dad, the mom, and their daughter (who seems to be an adult despite how they treat her), seem to be growing distant from each other, but as you gradually begin to feed on them one by one, the family is united by their desire to remove the pest from their home and get incredibly ridiculous with their attempts to do so. At first you can expect typical swatting and attempts at spraying you, but soon the family has started implementing martial arts in their attempts to take you down! It’s wonderfully absurd, but the game does a poor job at presenting their situation to you. The cutscenes before levels are all oddly framed. The family all seem to be peering down at the camera, the top halves of their heads visible as they talk about their family woes or their growing irritation with the mosquito in their house. I thought at first maybe the mosquito was looking up at them as they talked, but the scenes seem to suggest this is more of an artistic choice than one with any grounding in the game world, and it’s not an angle that does a lot to make the conversations interesting. Outside of those group chats, you can hear them talking to themselves in the levels, but the voice clips are so quick to loop that they quickly become irritating, not helped at all by the poor voice acting. The story of the family you’re sucking the blood of is somewhat cute, the silly presentation at least making you feel less bad about your choice of targets.

Each level in the game consists of Mister Mosquito entering a room and having to find out the best ways to draw the amount of blood he needs from whoever happens to be in there. The Yamadas all have certain points on their body that he must draw the blood from, the main challenge being getting towards those spots unseen and feeding without getting noticed. The main thing to watch while you feed is the stress meter, an indication of how much your bloodsucking is beginning to irritate your host. If the stress meter gets too high before you take off, the person will swat you, resulting in an instant death. It’s not hard to keep track of the meter thankfully, but to draw blood, you must rotate the right control stick at a certain pace to manage the stress effectively. The need to rotate that stick so much during the main component of gameplay can wear you down quickly, but you’ll be forced to disengage quite a bit so it won’t fatigue you too much. The controls in general are definitely atypical and it will take a bit to get used to them. The game’s tutorial only comes up the moment instructions are relevant, making it strange to get going in the first level, but you’ll eventually find out how to control Mister Mosquito effectively enough. He’s got pretty decent movement and speed, but even after you get the controls down, the controls don’t allow you to pull off anything particularly precise. The only place where any precision would be needed though is the Battle events. If you irritate a person too much while feeding on them or are too easy to spot, the family member will begin to try and smack you out of the air. It’s impossible to suck their blood while they are like this, so Mister Mosquito has to press his proboscis into certain pressure points to relax them and get them to give up on the chase. Most of these battles aren’t particularly difficult, with the humans’ attacks barely denting your health bar most of the time. Whenever they attack you, the game slows down as if to suggest you can avoid it with some careful maneuvering, but you don’t have the level of control to dodge it once the slowdown has started so its mostly just bothersome. The more dangerous things are environmental hazards, with bug zappers, smokers, and areas coated in insecticide able to slash off a whole heart compared to the humans usually managing only a quarter or a half of one. Sometimes though, they can smack you into these traps, and when they start using bug spray, you have to fight them much more intelligently. There is a moment in the penultimate level too where the human has attacks that home in on you and erase tons of hearts all at once. Besides that battle, most of the others are fine and enjoyable and for the most part not even mandatory.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the game is how it can feel almost sensual at times. When Mister Mosquito bites young ladies, they moan almost as if they enjoy it, and some levels have music that sets a strangely seductive mood. One level in particular plays incredibly hard into this as Mister Mosquito is in the bathroom and is trying to feed on the blood of the bathing daughter by biting into the top of her breast. There’s nothing too explicit about that bathtub level, and the game does gradually start pulling back on the weird undertones especially when the parents are involved, but they will still be reacting to you attacking their pressure points during Battles as if you were giving them a relaxing deep tissue massage. It’s more humorous than off-putting though, Mister Mosquito standing on the side of silly whenever sensual or slapstick moments come up that might bother people otherwise if the tone was wrong.

The game does manage to give you quite a few different level types to explore, only repeating a few through the course of its rather short runtime. If the game was simply about just feasting on blood, it would probably be a less enjoyable experience, but they give you a few extra goals in each level to keep things interesting and add a new layer of challenge. Mister Mosquito can collect EX tanks hidden throughout the levels that allow him to suck additional blood, and if you manage to get them all and fill them all the way up, you unlock a hard mode. The game probably doesn’t have enough going for it to justify a run through hard mode, and even though the game tries to frame it as a sort of second story where you come back to feed on the family after a winter away from them, it only changes some dialog and a bit of the visual design… and those dialog changes mostly boil down to them appending the word “again” to any statement about what characters are doing. The story doesn’t even really make sense by repeating itself, but hard mode’s just there if the gameplay really captivated you, and collecting the EX tanks and filling them up is more enjoyable just for the sake of doing it. In addition to that, the Battle segments of levels all have a time goal that if you can beat, you’ll unlock new colors for your mosquito. Battle segments are easy enough to enter and finish and can be repeated if you fail at your attempt, and on the whole the time limits aren’t too demanding either. The last form of collectable are heart rings, but I feel the game dropped by the ball a bit on these. You need to collect 100 heart rings to get an extra heart for your life meter, but the rings are so tiny that its hard to spot them and so sparse in the levels they’re not really worth looking for. It’s certainly not fun to track them down. More visibility for the rings or a smaller threshold for getting that extra heart could have made them better, but its the EX tanks and Battle timers that make levels more interesting than the basics. If you only go for sucking blood the game would be a lot less enjoyable I imagine, so these give it an extra bit of challenge to keep you entertained.

Without those collectibles though, the levels waste a lot of real estate. Sometimes they’ll add a few gizmos you can interact with to confuse the family or set them up for you to begin to feed, but most of them are pointless gimmicks and very few are even required. Most the time, to have a person expose their weak spots, you simply have to wait for them to complete their slow movement cycles. Managing the stress meter is a big enough limiter for a challenge, but flying in place and waiting for someone to complete a rather lengthy walk around the room before you get your brief window to feed is just boring. Despite these waiting periods, the game as a whole is rather short, and you can see all it has to offer in one evening. This is probably to the game’s benefit though. It does as much as it can with its simple set-up and ends before it can grow stale. It shifts things gradually enough so that the later levels are challenging in different ways, but since the gameplay never evolves, it bows out before it overstays its welcome. It really is just a game about a mosquito going around sucking blood, and rather than trying to milk any complexity out of that, it does what it sets out to do and then closes things off before you grow tired of it.

THE VERDICT: Mister Mosquito managed to take his blood-sucking journey outside of Japan, and I am glad that people outside of that country were able to experience it. Perhaps more importantly, the game didn’t have to compromise anything to get localized. The game clearly takes place in a Japanese household still, and although there is a moment where the game calls one place “The Japanese Room” as it struggles to describe the room to westerners, it carries over everything that makes the game charming and cheesy. Mister Mosquito isn’t really a game you’ll spend too much time with, but if the thought of playing as a mosquito appeals to you in any way, then the game gives you exactly what you ask for without adding too many frills to it.

And so, I give Mister Mosquito for the Playstation 2…

A GOOD rating. If you can adjust yourself to Mister Mosquito’s world and controls, it makes for an enjoyable evening of entertainment. There isn’t much to do in the small selection of levels, but what you can do makes for a unique experience that lets you put yourself in a mosquito’s shoes for a short while. Depending on how you choose to play it or how you feel about the subject matter, you might be put off and walk away unimpressed, but if you open your heart to Mister Mosquito, it’s a delightful little time-waster that is at least worth a brief look.

Unfortunately, while Mister Mosquito managed to get localized, it seems to have confirmed the general fears publishers had during that era of gaming. Poor sales were their reward for taking a risk, and the sequel never ended up released outside of Japan. I am very interested in learning what the sequel did to evolve the gameplay, but sadly, it will be much harder to play because of it never getting localized. Perhaps in today’s gaming landscape, Mister Mosquito would have been given more attention and love, but back then, the little bug’s future got squished when it was just getting started.

If you do want to spend your time playing as a mosquito though, then rest assured, Mister Mosquito certainly doesn’t suck.

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