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.