Poi is a game that always called my attention since the moment it was announced and planned for the Wii U mostly for what it was trying to do as a game. In a time where there were pretty much no 3D Platformers, Poi was one of the projects trying to fill that spot. After an unfortunate failed Kickstarter, the game has finally released on a Nintendo console, as it was originally planned.
The story and overall plot of Poi is one of the game’s weakest points. The overall story can be summarized in the following two sentences: There were once two orphan kids who wished to have an adventure. One day, they decided to go on an adventure. That’s it. That’s the whole story of Poi. The rest of the plot isn’t revealed until later in the game but it’s still nothing big or something exciting that will motivate you during your quest to collect Explorer Medallions. In fact, it’s never explained what these Medallions are besides the fact that you have to collect them to please the old man you meet at the start.
Fortunately, the most important part of the game, the gameplay controls, feel really great overall. The game lets you jump, double jump, roll, dive, and dash. You can notice that the developers put a lot of attention to make the game feel really tight and responsive. The face button controls are actually mirrored from what you would expect, with A being jump instead of B, but that’s a minor issue that you can quickly get used to. Overall though, the controls are actually so good that you can compare it to how Mario felt in Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine. It’s still on the rough side of things, closer to how controls felt on the 64 era than later on, but it’s still great overall. If you have experience with any of the other games I previously mentioned, you’ll quickly get the hang of how to control your character in Poi and to even do advanced movement tricks.
Sadly, not everything is perfect on the side of gameplay design. While controlling your character will work great through the whole platformer adventure, there are other things that will be bugging you all the way to the end. One of those is the camera, which is something really important to a 3D game, especially a platformer. You’ll quickly notice that the camera doesn’t play nice at all through the game, especially in certain areas where you’ll want to be more careful. You’ll feel like you’ll be battling against it at times. To make things worse, it’s actually hard to know were exactly you are standing on. The game doesn’t mark your position on the ground with a constant shadow below you so you’ll be frequently guessing about how to make your jumps, either to fall on top of enemies and stomp them or to simply travel to another platform. There is a shadow below you but it only appears while you are jumping high enough, but not all the time. So even after a while of playing and getting used to this, it still makes jumping to specific places harder than it should be.
Another problem in this area is that the collisions between your character and other objects seem to be a little too strict. You may find yourself missing enemies by just a small bit only to be hit right afterwards by them. You’ll also find ladders inside levels which also suffer from this same issue. In the case of the ladders, it’s sometimes hard to make your character grab to the object only because you aren’t exactly touching the inside part of it. You end up getting used to it but it makes the whole experience more bothering than what it should be.
Poi: Explorer Edition also includes motion controls and HD Rumble features that sadly aren’t that great or well implemented. The motion controls are used when using any type of first person view, such as the camera item. The first issue you’ll encounter with it is that they are using the gyroscope from the left joycon instead of the usual right one. The biggest issue, though, is that the sensibility of it is almost nothing so you’ll always find it easier to just use your right stick instead of the motion controls. As for the HD Rumble, well let’s just say the feature is not really used. The rumble of the game just feels like any other rumble without anything special. There’s no HD to it at all in the game, every vibration throughout the game feels exactly the same which is a shame.
The game is structured in a way similar to the already previously mentioned Super Mario 64. You have a lobby area where you can select which world to visit and then select through a simple menu which mission you want to clear. Sometimes you’ll actually be able to clear a different mission than the one you chose, it all depends on the structure of the level you visit. Each mission may also change the level in some slight way, usually just to make it possible for you to clear it more easily, although a lot of times you’ll find that these changes are just cosmetic like changing the time to night.
The missions vary from level to level but some of them follow a similar structure such as finding five keys, getting 100 coins, or battling a boss. The regular missions are overall entertaining but sadly start to feel more like a chore than a game after a while. This is more due to the lack of plot and simplicity of the mission designs than anything else, though. The boss battles get a bit more creative but also suffer from a few issues. For example, the first boss battle you’ll encounter is a big octopus where you need to kick bombs to it. Unfortunately, that’s where the issues start as kicking is not one of the moves you control but something that your character does automatically when touching the special object. Aiming these bombs becomes a struggle when you notice that the game is too strict with the angle in which you are touching them. This is the problem, the game doesn’t throw the bombs depending on where you are looking at. Instead, the game just throws them based on where you are touching the bomb from so you’ll sometimes find it hard to throw them to the position you really want.
There are also a few challenge levels in Poi which are fun distractions and will test your abilities to see how fast you can clear them. You can easily see the inspiration behind these levels, such as one that involves a big slide. These levels overall feel a bit refreshing after constantly playing the regular ones.
Besides collecting Medallions, you’ll also have a few sidequests that involve collecting gears or finding fossils. At the end of it, though, the objective of collecting these extra objects is the same as the goal of the main game: to exchange them for more Explorer Medallions.
Graphically, the game isn’t that impressive. It’s graphics are simple and the overall art-style feels a bit generic. Docked, the game usually runs at 60 fps with a few dropped frames when there’s too much effects or action going on. In portable mode, the game still retains the 60 fps but may suffer from frame drops more frequently. The animations aren’t anything special either with the playable characters being the ones with the most animations and non playable characters usually having only one animation besides walking. This makes the whole game feel a bit dull and without much charm.
There is a part in the game in which the developers decided to add a rain effect to the lobby area. Unfortunately, it seems that they forgot that you can enter your airship too, which ends up causing an odd graphical glitch in which you can have rain inside the ship.
On the audio side, Poi is also a bit of a disappointment. None of the music of the game feels memorable in any way. The music of each world doesn’t feel special in any way and sometimes even feels like it doesn’t even match the location you are in. Most of the tracks feel pretty much the same overall and are really forgettable. There’s only a few locations which feel like they have the right music but those places are really uncommon. To make things worse, one of the levels actually includes a music track that does not loop properly and instead just simply restarts which makes it feel really off-place, specially because there is a small moment where everything is silent.
The sound effects are decent but nothing really special either. They are enough to make the game work overall but, like the art design of the game, feel without a charm and a bit on the generic side of things.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review copy of Poi: Explorer Edition was provided by Sandbox Strategies on behalf of Alliance Digital Media for this Poi: Explorer Edition review.