Hello Kitty faces serious competition nowadays. Once the darling of Japan’s deep and beloved mascot culture, Kitty is under serious threat of being replaced by her direct rival, Rilakkuma. It’s almost poetic. Hello Kitty is the creation of the mascot company, Sanrio, Rilakkuma is the creation of the mascot company, San-X. It’s a real Romeo & Juliet “two houses in fair Verona”-level rivalry.
But Rilakkuma is definitely pulling ahead in many hearts. The animated Rilakkuma TV series is one of Netflix’s most beloved things. Rilakkuma saturation is also far more compelling in Japan (or, at least, it was the last time I was there), with far more interesting shopping, themed café, and special events going on. By contrast, Hello Kitty has become a conservative and traditional highly protected brand. A little like Disney has become loathe to use Mickey Mouse, Sanrio seems trapped in a space where the company refuses to take creative risks with Hello Kitty.
One area where both have work to do is when it comes to video games. Sanrio has also historically struggled to gain much traction with video games despite there being many, many Hello Kitty games over the years. There have been some Rilakkuma titles too, and most of them have also struggled to turn heads. However, if Korilakkuma Tower Defense – a new free-to-play game on iOS and Android – is anything to go by, perhaps San-X and its video game partners are starting to figure this out.
Korilakkuma Tower Defense is a classic take on the once-giant genre. You have a number of “towers”, and you place them in predetermined spots on a map. Those towers then attack enemies as travel past on a pre-determined path, and your goal is to place the towers strategically enough that no enemy successfully runs through the gauntlet and reaches the other side. If they do that they’ll cause damage, and if too many enemies slip past your defences, it’s game over.
In this case, the “towers” are characters from the Rilakkuma IP, in their various popular costumes and poses. See, the thing about San-X and Rilakkuma is that there is a new “season” every few months, and that season comes with a deluge of new merchandise, all bearing the new designs of the new season. It’s how San-X keeps the Rilakkuma fanbase spending, see. Sometimes the seasons are tied to particular holidays (Halloween, Christmas). At other times the seasons are just themed after whatever cute design one of the artists has come up with.
As a result of this, there are dozens and dozens of different designs and characters that fall under the Rilakkuma umbrella. That has allowed the developer to create a vast number of different “towers” to collect and use in the player’s battle party.
Because this is a free-to-play mobile game, collecting all these “towers” forms the core of the gatcha mechanic. I just know I’m going to regret venturing a thought on this, but so far, my experience of the game has been that it has been pretty reasonable on this. I’ve yet to feel the need to spend money, and I’ve got a decent set of “towers” in my party, including some rare and powerful ones. So far I’ve also been able to handle the difficulty level increase rate. It’s quite obvious that grinding will be involved at some point, because again this is how mobile games are monetised. I do get the sense that when I reach that point I will continue to play this through that though… and perhaps even through the developers some dollars, because it really is amusing and cute.
The little animations of all the various “towers” are adorable and had me laugh out loud at times. The enemies are all cute and charming. To put my joy at how “Rilakkuma-aesthetic” the game is, my house is full of Rilakkuma stuff because my wife loves the characters, so I’m already familiar with most of the designs and overall “Rilakkuma culture,” but I do think there’s a quality here that just about anyone can enjoy, however familiar they are with the broader character.
Also, if nothing else I’ve really enjoyed playing a traditional tower defence title again. It feels like it has been years since I did that. In short, Korilakkuma Tower Defense is light, bubbly, cute and charming take on a fun and casually entertaining genre, and a great vehicle to continue to drive San-X’s most valuable property even higher. This isn’t a review – this is just me bringing attention to a fun little mobile thing that I just discovered. However, it costs nothing to download and play, so if you’ve ever been curious about this Rilakkuma phenomenon is, here’s a good option for you.