Set in Feudal Japan, the player must assume the role of a Shinto shrine maiden named "Sayo-chan" who must use her o-fuda scrolls and ohari wand to defeat a number of renegade spirits and monsters from Japanese mythology. The game is noteworthy for using a traditional fantasy setting in a genre otherwise filled with science fiction motifs.
KiKi KaiKai is an overhead multi-directional shooter game that requires the player to move in four directions through various levels while attacking harmful enemies as they approach from off screen. As Sayo-chan, the player can attack by either throwing her special o-fuda scrolls in eight separate directions, or by swinging her purification rod directly in front of her. These techniques can be upgraded by finding special paper slips left by defeated enemies that will either enhance their power or improve their range. Sayo can be damaged by coming in contact with an enemy, and can only be hit once before she is knocked out and must resume the level from a preset continuation point. At the end of each level, the player must face a powerful boss monster that takes several attacks to defeat and is more difficult than normal enemies.
Several hidden items can be found by attacking objects with Sayo's purification rod, and can be used to either enhance her attack or grant the player points. Once a certain number of points are gained, the player will gain another life and have an additional chance to complete a level. When all of the player's lives are exhausted, a "number match" screen appears with a random 3-digit number in 50-base increments (100, 150, 200, 250, and so on). If the last three digits of the player's total score match the number displayed, they are granted a free game; if not, the game ends.
The Famicom Disk System version of KiKi KaiKai introduced a few gameplay changes over the original arcade version, including new levels and enemies, as well as limiting the number of times the player may use Sayo-chan's ranged o-fuda attack, along with a second playable character: "Miki-chan", another shrine maiden who is designated as the player two character. Though several additional ports would be made over the years, each one would rely on the same basic game mechanics.
Shortly after the game's Japanese debut, a bootleg version called Knight Boy was released for arcades in various countries. This version, though not officially licensed by Taito, was an exact duplicate of the original KiKi KaiKai with an altered title screen, and contained no new gameplay elements or features.
KiKi KaiKai has been ported to numerous home consoles and personal computer systems since its original arcade release. The game's first console version was released for the MSX on February 10, 1987, with minor gameplay adjustments. On August 28, 1987, a version for the Famicom Disk System was released entitled KiKi KaiKai: Dotouhen, which added two-player support and a new playable character, "Miki-chan". A PC Engine version was released three years later on March 27, 1990, which was largely based on the previous Famicom Disk System instalment. The game made the jump from consoles on June 12, 2003, when Taito developed a java-based version of KiKi KaiKai for mobile phones called KiKi KaiKai: The Bizarre World. A port programmed by MediaKite appeared on May 14, 2004 for Windows-based PCs, and a web-based game service was launched on Taito's Japanese website later that year courtesy of EZWeb.
KiKi KaiKai was also made available along with various other classic Taito titles in a number of compilations. It would appear in the Japanese-only Taito Memories Vol. 1 for the PlayStation 2 on July 28, 2005, and again in Taito Pocket Memories for the PlayStation Portable in 2006. Bandai's 2006 plug-and-play TV controller, Let's! TV Play Classic: Taito Nostalgia 2 would also contain a version, as well as a new character, Kakurenbou. The game would be officially released in English for the first time as part of Taito Legends 2 for the PlayStation 2, PC, and Xbox released in North America in May 2007, and later in Taito Legends: Power-Up for the PlayStation Portable.
A modern continuation to KiKi KaiKai, KiKi KaiKai 2, was originally in development for the PlayStation 2 console by Starfish Entertainment and set for a 2006 release, but was canceled early in its development only to reemerge as the unlicensed spiritual successor with title Kiki Kai World, which later became Heavenly Guardian when published.
It is also likely that the Touhou series of Shoot'Em-Up games were inspired by this game, considering that the main character in Touhou "Reimu Hakurei" resembles Sayo-chan/Pocky in both appearance and job.