It’s a big, adventurous world out there begging for explorers to dig into its secrets and discover everything there is to know. The Master Explorer is a bit old to do the job nowadays, but he’s more than willing to take a pair of energetic kids under his wing, bringing them to new lands in search of medallions that prove their adventuring skills. Medallions or death, actually, because nothing says “teachable moment” like falling into a lava pit.
Poi is a Mario 64-style platformer made for modern machines, taking its cues from the early days of 3D console gaming and happily making its home there. It doesn’t do much in the way of updating the gameplay, but it’s hard to hold that against the game seeing as that’s the point. Poi is a tribute to the past using the tech of today, and if it doesn’t have the graphical polish of a AAA title it still looks good and plays like you might remember. Run, jump, find extra goodies, play a pile of mini-games, and grab all the medals you can find by exploring every nook and cranny of Poi‘s worlds.
The surprising thing about Poi is that, once you’ve beaten the game and look back, it was a major adventure in a relatively small space. The starting area is fairly tiny, there are four major worlds and a pair of smaller snow levels to explore, and a mammoth challenge area rounds out the end. The levels are so packed with goals, though, that they end up feeling much bigger than they’d be if you just ran from one side to another. Each run starts with the main objective spelled out, but it’s easy to get sidetracked and complete something different along the way. Collect 100 coins and find the medal vendor, play hide-and-seek with a fellow adventurer, or just get distracted by a tall structure that demands immediate exploration; the level design pulls you every which way and always rewards the diversion. The environments are nothing new, taking place in a western area, near a windmill by the sea, in a cave, and on the side of a volcano, but the near complete lack of waste space makes the game fee like platformer-concentrate.
Outside of the levels there’s still plenty to do. The explorers’ main base is a small sky-ship, and while the surrounding atmosphere is empty to begin with, the more explorer medals you earn the fuller it gets with new people bring challenges and mini-games along with them. One provides challenge levels designed around a focused theme, such as rotating giant logs with spikes, or jumping along a series of bouncy high-wires, while another has a series of wall-less mazes in a desert sandstorm, or flight courses using the retractable parachute. Other people tally up how many unique areas you’ve discovered in the levels, how many hidden golden gears you’ve tracked down, or fossils dug up. The Explorer’s Log holds all the information on what you’ve discovered and earned, making it easy to focus on the next step towards earning all 100 medals.
There’s a lot to chase after, and while overall Poi does a great job of recreating this kind of game, it unfortunately shows how much attention to detail is necessary to make it work. The occasional bit of misaligned geometry in an area I’m not supposed to be in is common even in the biggest games, so Poi gets a pass on that,
but not saving which of the two characters I choose to play as between sessions is a weird oversight. (-Update- Patched the day after this review went live.) The two cut-scenes at the start of the game are skippable, which you need to be careful of if you go to click through the text and accidentally exit out completely, but the fight before the final boss doesn’t allow this. The last fight is also an issue, because while Poi‘s weakest moments are its boss fights, the final one introduces an out-of-place new mechanic with no explanation. It’s also worth noting that, while Poi is light on story, the old man explorer lost his wife and medallions in a storm and, having set up that they’d adventured together for years, never mentions her again. After the storm he set out in search of his lost medallions and most likely collected on the insurance while thankful he was able to make her disappearance look like an accident.
Poi is an affectionate love letter to the 3D platformer, filled with challenges and a good number of mini-games to liven up the adventure. The tight level design allows a nice number of objectives in spaces that are noticeably smaller than genre standard, making the game feel far more focused than its inspirations. While another round of polish would do a nice job of knocking off the rough edges, the core experience is a lively game that remains fun and playable from start to finish. Poi isn’t out to revolutionize the 3D platformer, but instead remember and celebrate it, bringing it back from the brink of extinction with clear blue skies and an adventurous smile.