Thursday, 8 October 2015

Pop'n Magic (PC Engine)

There are a lot of cute Japanse games with Pop and/or Magic in the title, usually platformers or colour-matching puzzle games. In this case, it's a platformer with a very mild element of colour matching thrown in as a gimmick. More specifically, it's a Bubble Bobble-esque single screen platformer with a heavy emphasis on finding the best ways to make points items appear  from killing enemies.

As usual with this subgenre, your main weapon doesn't directly kill the enemies, just puts them into a harmless, immoble state, in this case being a magic orb in one of three colours (depending on the enemy): orange, blue or yellow. These orbs can be picked up and thrown around by the player by holding down the fire button, and the idea is to throw them at other orbs. Then, if the two orbs are the same colour, they turn back into enemies, which yields no benefits to the player as far as I can tell. But if they're different colours, one of the orbs will bounce around dropping power ups and points items as it goes, before disappearing.

Which orb disappears depends on the colours involved, in a rock-paper-scissors arrangement: blue destroys orange, orange destroys yellow, and yellow destroys blue. If you're unable to make an orb (or orbs) disappear in this method, you can do it by shooting them a few times, but you only get one item out of it this way. So, the key to scoring high is defeating enemies and destroying their orbs in an order that only leaves you with one leftover at the end of the stage. The fact that you'll always be left with at least one leftover is a bit of a weakness to the system, as it makes the ends of stages a little bit awkward and unsatisfying, even when you've technically done as well as possible on the stage.

Putting mechanics to the side, the game's excellently presented, with full-screen animated cutscenes, lots of voice acting, and bright, colourful graphics throughout. Also, as you might expect, the stages are split into themed sets, with a bossfight at the end. What you might not expect, though, is that each stage has its own background, and each theme sort of has two sub-themes. For example, in the woods stages, the first half will be the woods during daylight, with the second half being the woods at sunset. The spooky stages start outside a haunted mansion, gradually getting closer and going inside. It's a nice little touch.

Pop'n Magic isn't a bad game, but it doesn't particularly stand out, either. If you really like Bubble Bobb-likes, there's no harm in giving it a try, but there are plenty of better ones too.

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