Capsule Review: Poi

A 3D platformer strongly influenced by Super Mario 64. Play as a boy or a girl with a moveset nearly identical to Mario’s and explore levels and complete objectives to collect stars Explorer Medallions that unlock more levels. There are a handful of large-ish nonlinear levels that each contain several objectives, a bunch of smaller linear challenge levels that reward you for reaching the end, and a variety of collectibles/discoverables that can be turned in for medallions as well. There’s a lot to do and you have pretty broad freedom in the order in which you tackle it, though the harder levels don’t become available until you’ve gathered some medallions in the easier ones. A full playthrough, collecting all medallions, took me almost exactly ten hours.

The game has a very kid-friendly atmosphere with bright colors, light dialogue, and very little story beyond “You’re a kid - go exploring!” The challenge level also never gets especially high, though the difficulty curve can feel oddly spiky since the game doesn’t always give the player opportunities to learn and practice specific challenges in safe environments before presenting them in high-stakes versions. Several times I found specific enemy encounters or jumping puzzles nerve-wracking because each failure meant a death - until I found the right approach and then they were suddenly easy. For those seeking a greater challenge, there’s also a “New Game Plus” mode unlocked by beating the game once which mirrors the levels and shrinks the competence zone by reducing max health to one (and removing the purchasable health upgrade) so that all damage is now an instant kill.

The platforming is solid and the variety of moves at the player’s disposal mean that despite the moderate difficulty there’s actually a fairly high skill ceiling - a new player will be able to muddle through most challenges, but if you master the timing of the fancier jumps and learn the level geometry you’ll be able to take advantage of shortcuts and chain jump combos together to fly through the stages. Presumably, this is the main appeal of the “New Game Plus” mode - going back and doing everything better.

Not all of the content is created equal - some of the challenges (particularly the collectibles/discoverables) can feel like busywork, there are three terrible boss fights that don’t really involve platforming (and a decent one that does involve platforming), and the hub world is a bit tedious to navigate (making it annoying that you are pulled back to the main airship every time you collect enough medallions to unlock something). But even when the gameplay dips, the theme of lighthearted adventure comes across quite successfully through the visuals, soundtrack, and exploration mechanics. It’s satisfying to play through the variety of platforming experiences the game offers up while gathering all the medallions to become a Master Explorer.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game, collecting all medallions. I started a New Game Plus playthrough but stopped when it quickly became clear that the all-damage-is-death condition was going to be super-frustrating, due mainly to enemies rather than platforming hazards. Most enemies in Poi need to be dealt with by jumping on them, and I think there’s a good reason this is more common in 2D platformers than 3D ones. In 2D platformers, you can always easily see where you are relative to the enemies. In a 3D platformer, if you jump toward an enemy that’s moving irregularly you often have to point the camera downward to aim correctly. That can be pretty awkward, so forward-facing attacks tend to work better in 3D games. In Poi, the hitboxes aren’t very generous and it’s fairly easy to mess up here and there. That’s fine if it’s just one health point out of several and you can probably heal up before you mess up too many times. It’s not fine if it means instant death.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

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