Before you read
I am very familiar with the 3D platforming/collect-a-thon games and will sometimes compare the game to a very direct inspiration, but this won’t affect the score or my opinion in any way. It’s more in a way to better enforce my arguments, as well as the game’s strong- and weak points. Before I’ve started writing this review, I completed the entire game with all collectables and also did a new game+ run for the last achievement. The game has been played on Steam.
Here’s some music for you to listen to while reading! It’s a very solid soundtrack and it also makes me feel nostalgic despite having only played the game a few weeks back.
If there’s one genre I can’t get enough of that’s not Metroidvanias, JRPGs or any other genre I always say this about, it’s 3D collect-a-thon platformers. They were getting pretty niche in the past few years however, with the big man Mario basically doing most of the work and some other franchises such as Ratchet & Clank and a few other IPs filling the gaps. But of course, the lovely indie scene is here to save the day! They have always been doing a great job at filling in the gaps us fans desperately crave for. We’ll be looking at one such game today: Poi!
History and trivia
Poi was developed by an independent game studio from San Francisco, PolyKid. Poi is their first- and currently only game with no other projects in development as far as I’m aware. Before Ben Gable and Paul Ewers–the founder of PolyKid–started their own independent studio, they were employed at Zynga where they helped with titles such as Farmville and my guilty pleasure Bejeweled Blitz. Some smaller mobile games were also made, but Poi is basically their first commercial success… probably? The studio went to Kickstarter to fund their game, but were barely able to reach a fourth of their minimum goal. Fortunately, that didn’t stop the team as they’ve continued working on the game with a release on Steam Early Access in November 2015 and active development continued for almost two years after. I’m glad it paid off for them as the game has actually managed to be nominated for multiple rewards, as well as being featured on services- and events like Humble Bundle Monthly, Twitch Prime Monthly and Games Done Quick. There was even a physical edition for the Nintendo Switch with extra features such as a digital artbook and unlockable soundtrack. Since then, anything surrounding Poi and the game studio has been quiet, though I hope to hear more from them soon! I don’t have much other trivia for you today, but here’s a look at the alpha trailer!
Short and easy, but sweet
One of the most important aspects to a 3D Platformer are the actual levels themselves. It is for many people the main critique behind Yooka Laylee after all, where the stages felt too big. This is not the case with Poi, which does have very reasonably sized stages and a lot of distinct landmarks so that you’ll never get lost. In case you do get lost, there’s a handy-dandy map and even a compass that has the objectives marked on it. Aside from being easily navigatable, it was also easy to get from one point to another because of how the stages are designed. I really liked the stage design personally, which didn’t necessarily have a unique theme (there’s a fire-themed stage with a volcano for crying out loud) but were really fun to go through regardless. I’m going to make this comparison probably pretty often but the stages feel very similar to how a Super Mario 64 stage is designed, taking both the good parts… and the worst parts. I don’t really like making comparisons to other games since that means I’m unable to describe this game without looking at another, but the stages are literally set up with objectives of which you can choose one at the start to pursue. Objectives usually range from either getting collectables or doing stage-specific objectives such as getting rid of enemies occupying a tower. Complete an objective and a medal spawns just like how a star would in Mario. You can probably see where I’m going with this when I was talking about the worst parts but yes, this also means that completing one objective will boot you out of the stage again. In some cases, it is very understandable as Crystal Caverns is a progression-based stage for example. But in other stages, multiple objectives are available early on. I’m assuming this is mostly done due to how the medals actively unlock parts of the overworld, which could possibly lead to technical problems if you collect multiple at once. Let’s actually talk about the overworld now since there isn’t a whole lot to say about the stages themselves other than them being well-designed and fun to go through.
I absolutely love this overworld. I don’t even know why because it doesn’t necessarily do anything special, but I just really love it. At first it’s just your ship and a seemingly endless sky, but you’ll constantly unlock new floating ships- or isles that you can fly to by jumping off your own ship and soaring through the sky. Some of these provide you with smaller levels that have fewer collectables, while others have useful NPCs or challenges/minigames. They do still have the issue of finishing one objective and yeet, which may yet again reinforce my argument about technical issues. Sometimes I make clever statements, I know. Most of these isles are just distractions that don’t even have that much to do with platforming but eh, they were short and enjoyable. Also easy because trust me: Poi is a very easy game. The minigames are fun but you don’t need big brain, the levels themselves aren’t too difficult either and the challenges aren’t challenging. This isn’t a critique but if you’re looking for a game that challenges you, Poi isn’t that game. Buuuuut there is a New Game+ mode where you can only take one hit and the stages are mirrored which is slightly more difficult so maybe the game is for you after all? There’s also a leaderboard so yeah this is definitely the game for you.
You can have the best level design out there but without good controls and a nice camera, your game will just be a golden ugly monkey. Poi has nothing to worry about though; it controls very smoothly. I’m making that cheap comparison to Super Mario 64 again, but the main character has the triple jump so they’re kinda asking for it. Think of the main characters just as a smoother 64 Mario because of the advanced technology. Their wall jumps are simpler which is partially thanks to them being able to double jump in the air, even after a wall jump. It’s true that they have a triple jump, but I never needed it since the aerial double jump was always more than enough and if it wasn’t, I could use a wall and double jump from there. The camera has never once been a problem to me, and was easy to control too. Yup, there is little to complain about the controls here; they’re spot-on. Well… except for combat maybe. I don’t necessarily hate the combat as it’s just your usual ”jump on head, victory” playstyle, but some enemies really don’t want you to do that. The mole that surfaces when he’s under you always damages me, even when I’m in the air. The bosses were also very weak because for two of them, you had to kick something towards them, but aiming and kicking something just sucks. I had slightly more fun with the other bosses, but only because they had a different playstyle. Power-ups or a weapon would have honestly been beneficial, as the characters can do nothing else but jumping. There is a shop where you can purchase items for the characters to use such as a camera, but all of them are just situational and have no further benefit other than getting medals. Which brings me to…
Do you want a medal?
I’m really nailing the segues today huh? So I could actually end the review already and give it a score since this small ”rant” is mostly personal. Heck, I’m going to complain about something that almost all 3D Platformers before this have done as well. I just noticed it more here than in other games, so I felt the need to point it out. So as I’ve described before, the medals are this game’s equivalence to a main collectable. While not told to you directly, they essentially function as unlocking new parts of the overworld. This is done up till you have 60 medals where it stops, as that is the requirement for gaining access to the final part of the game. This means that the 40 medals you get after the 60 are basically useless and only potentially unlock something at the very end. But that’s not necessarily my biggest issue. There are a lot of different objectives to take part in such as the before-mentioned challenges and minigames, but also a good amount of different collectables. The stages aren’t only filled with medals, but also fossils and later on golden gears and outfits. The problem with the latter two however, is that they become available after a specific medal threshold. This means that you have to revisit stages eventually that you might have already finished 100% before you’ve reached that threshold. But yet again that’s not really the problem. It is encouraged to find every fossil, collect every gear and visit every location in a stage, but all you get in the end is just… more medals. Every single thing you do in the game–however different they may be–leads to medals. Sit on the toilet, pet a dog, get arrested for not paying your taxes; you’ll get a medal. I’m kind of disappointed that everything leads to a medal, which after 60 is only beneficial for the true reward at the end. There’s not an archeologist outfit or something to get after finding all fossils, or a hidden secret level after collecting all gears. This is just a nitpick and most likely won’t influence your opinion on the game, but I would have been more encouraged to collect everything if I was rewarded more often.
Poi was a pleasant experience for me. I highly enjoyed exploring everything the overworld- and stages themselves had to offer, and the good variety in objectives to execute kept me coming back for more. This is further complimented by overall good level design with a good size, and how very smoothly the main character controls aside from weaker combat and boss battles. The inspiration of older 3D collect-a-thon platformers is clear which is definitely not unwanted, but it also keeps some of the bad design choices from that era; Being booted out of a level after collecting the main collectable, and also collectables having no purpose after a specific threshold other than unlocking the final reward. The latter wasn’t too much of an issue for me as I am a completionist and highly enjoyed doing everything the game had to offer, but the game itself didn’t do a lot to encourage me. If you’re looking for a collect-a-thon that makes you feel nostalgic for the past without minding the lower difficulty, then Poi is definitely a game I recommend!
I really enjoyed Poi if you couldn’t tell. It was just a really solid 3D Platformer that made me feel all like a kid again. I genuinly want to see a sequel to this game, but I’m also afraid of this being a one-trick pony. It has not reached the success many other Indie games have, and only has a cult following really. I have no idea how the Nintendo Switch version sold however, but I hope I’ve managed to convince someone reading this to check out the game! As for next review… that might take some time, so I’m having at least one different article in the meantime! Look forward to that~
Games to play if you like Poi
- Super Mario 64 – Of course I have to mention Super Mario 64 if I’ve been referring to it the entire review. There’s little to say here as well; everyone knows the fame Super Mario 64 holds, and for the right reasons.
- Yooka-Laylee – I know opinions on this game are mixed but eh, I really enjoyed Yooka-Laylee personally and I definitely recommend it. It’s one of the other indie games that tried to imitate the retro days of 3D platformers and while it wasn’t exactly what the fans hoped for, it’s a nice game overall.
- A Hat in Time – The more successful indie 3D platformer, A Hat in Time has taken the platformer world by storm and gathered a very loving fanbase. Suffice to say, this is a must-play!
Question of the Review
What is your favourite hub-world/overworld in a video game? When it comes to hub-world, I mean the small world where you can walk around that lets you select levels to go to.