Google’s latest playable “Doodle” unsurprisingly celebrates the ongoing 2021 Tokyo Olympic games but surprisingly furthers that event’s prominent video game theme by paying tribute to some of the most notable RPGs of the 8 and 16-bit eras.
The “lore” behind this Doodle game is strangely compelling. It casts you as a cat tasked with exploring Champion Island: a “world filled with seven sports mini-games, legendary opponents, dozens of daring side quests, and a few new (and old) friends.” Your goal is to choose a faction, compete in various sports events, find seven sacred scrolls, and perhaps finish a few optional challenges found throughout Champion Island.
The bulk of the Doodle consists of several Olympics-inspired minigames that are all relatively simple from a mechanical standpoint, but greatly benefit from both their accessibility and how they contribute to the Doodle’s surprisingly engaging theme. They also theoretically serve as the basis for the “meta competition” between the Doodle’s playable factions, but it seems like bots might already be ruining some of that fun.
This is a shockingly deep experience for a humble Google Doodle, and you can lose a lot of your day completing its challenges and finding all the hidden objectives. Based on what we’ve been seeing on Twitter so far, a lot of people have indeed sacrificed any chance at productivity for the opportunity to spend a little more time on Champion Island.
Of course, the highlight of this Doodle is its incredible sense of style which brilliantly combines anime cutscenes (which were contributed by Studio 4°C) with pixel art design concepts commonly seen in the “golden age” of 8 and 16-bit JRPGs.
While there are some fans who are already calling this Doodle an 8-bit tribute, its art style is actually based more on the 16-bit (SNES) era of JRPGs. From a pure art style perspective, the design of the Doodle could be called a blend of Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, but some gamers are already pointing out that it actually may most closely resemble the somewhat underrated SNES ARPG, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.
Actually, this entire Doodle feels like it was modeled after ARPGs from the 16-bit era (such as Star Ocean and Terranigma) which is somewhat odd considering that most people tend to think about turn-based titles when they think of the JRPGs from that time. Having said that, it’s pretty clear that Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest helped inspire this Doodle’s character designs, various side quests, and key elements of its general structure. The blend of those two forms is quite compelling and will almost certainly make you want to play some of the best JRPGs and ARPGs of those console eras.
Even more interesting is the fact that this whole Doodle could be called an elaborate tribute to the short-lived era of “sports RPGs” most of us know best from Camelot’s work on the handheld Mario Tennis and Mario Golf games. While those games didn’t lean quite as heavily into the “traditional” JRPG art style as this Doodle does, the idea of participating in various sports minigames as part of an otherwise familiar RPG adventure is certainly something we’ve seen before in those titles. Of course, it’s always fun when those two genres join forces, and with the exception of 2017’s excellent Golf Story, we really don’t see enough modern games that utilize that format.
It’s also very much worth noting that the minigames themselves are all clearly based on existing sports/rhythm titles. The dancing competition, for instance, is obviously based on DDR, while the skateboarding minigame combines elements of Skate or Die and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
So while this whole Doodle is certainly a glowing tribute to JRPGs (including some JRPGs that don’t often get the love they deserve), it’s really just a giant love letter to the history of video games that is honestly more ambitious, entertaining, and memorable than some of 2021’s biggest games so far.