Review: Poi: Explorer Edition

Poi, much like Yooka-Laylee, sprang to life thanks to Kickstarter. Whereas Playtonic’s game paid more homage to Banjo-Kazooie, Poi drew its inspiration more from Super Mario 64 — with a dab of Super Mario Sunshine thrown in for good measure. As either a male or female protagonist, you will explore worlds and not only find medallions to help your mentor, but also find things for the inhabitants of the worlds you’re in. Poi offers an experience that provides a healthy amount of thrills for 3D platforming fans.

Poi starts you off with a surprisingly useful tutorial where you’re taught skills while also accomplishing things, which makes what would normally be needless busy work seem like something that helps you achieve your greater goal. No matter which character you choose, you can hop on enemies to take them out while also running across the world to uncover new items and areas and even slide down large hills if you so desire. The environments give you a lot of terrain types to work with and you never feel like you’re going to be punished for trying something new.

Part of the fun of a 3D platformer is seeing something high above and thinking “okay, if I jump from here to there to there, I should be able to make it”. Then you try a few things out, fail a few times and finally succeed. Poi allows you to see something off in the distance and then explore the surroundings and see what happens. One area may allow you to tightrope walk up and then move things around to uncover a new small area filled with goodies. Coins are a common part of platformers — and they’re used here to buy gear to aid you in your quest or even open up new levels. The Super Mario Sunshine homages come in the form of separate side levels akin to SMS’s core platforming zones that test your skills. These can be anything from cage-crawling areas to a fun and challenging slide, and even just a large pure platforming zone. These areas cost quite a bit of in-game money, but are worth it to not only gain the skills they teach you, but also increase your medallion count. Unlike a lot of 3D platformers, simply exploring the world won’t net you a ton of its greatest treasures.

With Poi, you are put in much smaller areas and given a single overall goal to accomplish to move on. The game’s sense of scale is minute compared to a larger, big-budget offering, but with that lack of size comes an increase in focus. Poi takes what could be a weakness and turns it into a strength by making sure the player is always kept on-track. There is a clear formula where you go from a level to the hub of your airship and then use that to progress throughtout the world. You can do the side levels or do more levels within a chosen world until you find enough medallions to unlock new worlds. It’s a great system because everything feels like it builds towards your final goal.

As a result, small victories feel more important and your time never feels wasted. Often-times, it’s easy for a 3D platformer to just become a sea of things to collect and you lose sight of the in-game goal, or even just why you wanted to play the game to begin with. Poi keeps the collect-a-thons to a bare minimum for core progress, allowing you to still try and collect as much as you want just for fun. You can also buy in-game tools like shovels and a compass to aid you in your adventure — as rare fossils can mean a lot and you can also dig up things like hearts and coins to ensure that you have enough money to buy things or heal up quickly in a time of need.

Poi controls nearly-perfrectly, with a logical button mapping for the layout and responsive controls that allow you to get where you want to with ease — most of the time. Like many 3D platformers, the camera can be the game’s undoing and that does creep into the adventure when you’re trying to maneuver around tight spaces. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to center the camera again and move it where you need it. It’s also nice that missing a jump won’t result in death and will just send you back a bit, and that death just costs you your coins –so it’s not a huge penalty even if a bad jump sends you right into the path of an enemy.

Poi‘s difficulty curve is gradual and fair, without major spikes in difficulty that can turn a game like this into a chore. The most you ever have to worry about is a boss battle or having to regain all of your coins due to a death. This can make grabbing extra items tougher, but also forces you to get better at the core platforming. Using either the Joy-Cons with the grip or a Pro-style controller feels natural, with the stick movements being responsive on either device. Jumping is a breeze no matter what kind of device you’re using either, ensuring that either hopping on an enemy or landing on a platform or tightrope can be done with relative ease.

Visually, Poi is a solid-looking game with some room for improvement. The overall graphic design seems to be shooting for an HD GameCube-level — which isn’t bad, but does look outdated in a sometimes-bad way. The environments themselves vary between looking good in the ground scheme of things thanks to impressive lighting while also being quite flawed due to fairly small amount of color being used for each area. In a sense, this does fit the genre — but there isn’t much in the way of shading done for the colors, giving things a flat appearance. It seems like they may have been going for a Mario 64-style of environment design with all of the bold colors, but the overall lack of color hurts things. The characters within Poi all have a cartoony appearance, but lack much in the way of a personality visually. Character animation is solid though and conveys what it should fairly well — whether that be the joy of finding a medallion or carefully moving through an environment to sneak up on an enemy.

Musically, Poi falls a bit short of providing a memorable soundtrack. The songs are catchy and fit the worlds, but don’t stick with you. They aren’t very hummable, nor do they hook you into the game. The same goes for the hop and bop sound effects, which get the job done but don’t stand out in any way either. The sound design as a whole keeps in line with what you would expect a 3D platformer to have — but none of it has a lasting quality.

Closing Comments:

Poi‘s greatest weakness lies in its sound design, but the core game is well-crated and a lot of fun. The smaller world size keeps players focused on the task at hand, while keeping mandatory collect-a-thon parts to a minimum puts a stronger focus on the platforming action. Thankfully, this is the game’s strongest point and anyone looking for a solid 3D platformer should check out Poi. It controls nearly-perfectly, with only an iffy camera causing issues from time to time. It looks solid for the most part too, with impressive lighting adding some impressive visual flair to what can sometimes be bland-looking stages.

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Reviewed Item
Poi: Explorer Edition