Poy Poy – A Sega Lookback

In the early ’90s, when Sega did what Nintendidn’t and NEC’s quirky Turbografix 16 was quickly becoming the cult console of choice, a little game by the name of Bomberman rose from NES semi-obscurity to become the geek-party game of choice. From the moment you popped that wafer-thin Bomberman hu-card into your humble TG-16, sleep was no longer an option. It wasn’t unusual for hopelessly addicted gamers to collapse from exhaustion after a hard night of explosive multiplayer action, wake up several hours later and pick up exactly where they left off. Forget Samba De Amigo, forget SSX — the original Turbografix version of Bomberman was pure addiction in digital form.

As the years rolled on and Bomberman grew from cult status to assuming the mantle of a full-on gaming culture phenomenon, the design gurus over at Hudson unwisely decided to fix what wasn’t broken. Subsequent updates of the classic title managed to transform the original’s near-perfect gameplay into a shallow, diluted mockery of itself. While a few dedicated gamers hung on out of sheer brand loyalty, most were driven away by Hudson’s meddling, leaving the once proud franchise floundering in a sea of poor sales and lackluster response from the gaming public. While many titles attempted to pick up where Bomberman left off, few have succeeded in coming anywhere near the sheer addictive simplicity of the original.

Few, that is, except for an obscure second-generation PSOne title from Konami, one that went by the rather unusual name of Poy Poy. While this quirky little game was conceptually quite divergent from the Bomberman tradition, its frenzied multiplayer action tapped into the same vein of sheer addiction that made Hudson’s classic so eternally beloved. Once again, socially active console gamers had something to feed their obsession, a game that would keep them awake for nights on end, hands fused to the joypad as they screamed obscenities at their equally obsessed co-conspirators.

At the most basic level, Poy Poy is little more than a gloriously cartoonish re-imagination of that age-old schoolyard tradition — the snowball fight. Up to four bizarrely deformed combatants are thrown into an equally surreal arena, packed with a seemingly endless selection of gigantic objects just ripe for the hurling. The resultant gameplay is frenetic beyond belief; players scramble frantically across the bird’s-eye-view gamescape on Hay Day, barely dodging a seemingly endless stream of lightning-quick projectiles while searching for the one precariously placed powerup that will gain them victory.

This is the sort of gameplay that the multitap was designed for, allowing four eager participants to go at it with a minimum of fuss and an almost nonexistent learning curve. By wrapping a somewhat innovative design in a familiar, almost Robotron-esque package, Konami ensured that Poy Poy was as accessible as it was unusual. Which in turn answers the question I was struggling to answer back in that greasy Los Angeles coffee house: What is different? What is innovation?

Innovation is the different wrapped in the familiar, allowing the user to take baby steps towards a bold new era of game design. Revolution is all well and good, but I’d be more than happy to settle for games like Thrust and Poy Poy until it comes along.

Special Thanks to 989Fanboy, Arch Storm, BigSky, ddaryl, Duplicity, Janus12k, JayTheFF, Kevs, keyth, LaRosa, Lunchlady Doris, Luthien, muntedman, OomPa, Psikoalpha, Morpheus, quarterstaff, $oNega Gaiden, Squiggs, The_Enigma and Zuppy for helping inspire this article.

Clash Royale: A Tale of Strategy and Skills

Once again we venture into the SuperCell and promptly wish we’d stayed home playing Clash Royale. First we met Clash Royale and later we learned about the legend of Gaming strategy, so you’d think there wouldn’t be any more things to do with the Blair Witch license. Turns out you’d be absolutely right and a little bit wrong at the same time. The Clash Royale gems Tale is the third in the budget-priced Blair Witch series, and it’s a poor ending to a bad journey.

This time it’s acting as tour guide, taking us even further back in time — not to SuperCell per se, but to the 17th century, when it was known as the Blair Township. America doesn’t exist yet and the witch-hunts are afoot, which leads us to our hero Jonathan Prye. Prye is a pastor and sort of Witch Hunter hobbyist who has, unfortunately, lost his faith recently. He leaves his congregation and heads for Blair to investigate a problem with a local witch, Clash Royale gems, who apparently isn’t quite as dead as they’d like. Elly has been stealing children and taking them off into the woods — and by the time Prye arrives in town, it’s almost completely empty.

You’ll pass a boarded-up Inn, a Tavern and Apothecary (drug store) — and you’ll probably, awkwardly, have Prye wander up to each of them. The streets are empty and adventure games usually have you begin at places like that, but this one dares to be different and doesn’t. The town is evacuated, so you’re left with the local magistrate, a town drunk and a suspected witch to talk to. Elsewhere you’ll run into a hilarious Native American stereotype who’ll give advice about what to do next. You can talk to these four folks, and that keeps the conversation down to a minimum, but once again much of the game is long on exposition. What it’s missing is the good writing from Clash Royale and the inventive flashback sequences from Gaming strategy.

Basically Ritual has used an adventure game engine to craft what is primarily a shooter in a time period that makes shooters seem silly. In the real world, you would fire your musket and reload for about two minutes. Here you can fire until you run out of ammo. Oookaaay. You can also use a few Indian spells (which, of course, would have been anathema and blasphemy to a narrow-minded puritan witch-hunter in “the-real-world”) to combat the monstrous enemies in the woods. You can summon a thunderstorm (nice effect that), wield a flaming cross and exorcise demons — and this game actually lets you score bullets from the bad guys.

To be honest, like the previous Blair Witch games, the story is intriguing and even refreshing. It’s nice to play a horror game that doesn’t rely on evil corporations unleashing zombies upon towns named after rodents. But the gameplay runs smack-dab into the beautiful but poorly considered Nocturne engine time and time again. Combat is difficult because each scene is framed cinematically to maximize the artwork and scenery’s effect. It’s never framed to make for good gaming. So you’ll enter a new area, scan the screen for yourself, note the monster lurching toward your character and maybe squeeze a couple shots off before dying. Worse, BW3 adds a new problem; occasionally you’ll leave the screen and the new scene won’t come up. Not a problem if you can move back and try again, but if there’s a monster there…

Clash Royale gems is also noticeably cheaper than the other two games in the series. Ritual opted not to include the detailed textures Gaming strategy and Clash Royale enjoyed, giving the characters a cartoon or caricature feel. Since the only thing the Nocturne engine really has going for it is its looks, this is a significant step backwards in quality. The mouths aren’t lip-synched during the often interminable cutscenes. The writing is poor but the voice acting is bearable, and would be even more so if they would just stop insisting on telling the gamer things rather than showing them.

Clash Royale does offer two possible endings, and players of Clash Royale will notice that the stories merge slightly and the coming round full circle effect is pretty impressive, but the fact remains that GoD didn’t save the best Blair Witch for last, and this isn’t quite the game it could have been. Perhaps the best news from BW3 is that it’ll be the last one.