Also available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, OSX, and Linux
A few days ago, I found myself completely unsure what to play. I knew I wanted to play something on Steam - I don't give my PC enough love these days - so I turned to my friends on Racketboy to make a suggestion. Our ever reliable Englishman, Graham, had heard about a 3D platformer that had been ported to Switch called Poi and had been contemplating buying it. When he saw that the game was in my Steam library, he thought it was a perfect opportunity to tell me to play through it and give him a review of it. Well, Graham, here you go!
Poi is an absolutely charming game that will pull you in with its colorful visuals and nostalgic gameplay from the very first level. You can play as either a boy or a girl and switch freely between the two although I played the whole game as the girl (look at those adorable red twin buns; how can you NOT play as her the whole time?). In terms of the structure of the game, it's quite reminiscent of Super Mario 64. You have six "world" you can visit each with roughly seven different "explorer medallions" to collect (think stars from SM64). There are also collectables like gears and fossils to find in each of the worlds, and finding these also nets you explorer medallions as rewards. You have options tasks to complete - things like "Walk X number of steps," "Jump X number of times," "Defeat X number of enemies," etc. - and completing those ALSO gets you explorer medallions. Along the way, you'll have the option of spending coins you collect during your adventure to unlock challenge levels. Completing these earns you - you guessed it - an explorer medallion for each level you complete. As is the case with Super Mario 64, you have to have a certain number of explorer medallions to beat the game, but that only requires roughly half of the medallions in the game.
The story is actually kind of sad. You and your sibling are out adventuring when you meet this elderly "Master Explorer." He tells you that he's searching for his lost explorer medallions. He had long been an explorer with his wife, but during their journeys, they were caught in a terrible storm, and he was knocked out. When he came to after the storm had passed, both his wife and his explorer medallions were gone. As the last mementos he has of his late wife, he enlists your help in recovering his explorer medallions as he's grown too old to explore and adventure like he used to. That provides the narrative backdrop of the game - help a sweet old man while going on an epic adventure.
While this is a 3D platformer, the visuals aren't going to blow you away. It looks nice, don't get me wrong, and I meant it earlier when I said that the visuals were colorful and charming. It's just that the textures and models aren't as detailed as some folks might expect or desire. The whole game, for the most part, has a very soft look, and that works for it. It looks like an indie game, and it feels like the developers know that's what it is. They don't try to make it look AAA, and more importantly in my opinion, they don't to make it a modern day Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64. It has a lot in common with those two in terms of design, and it's clear that the stylistic pedigree is there, but it doesn't try to match those games in terms of scale and depth. Poi feels like a tribute to the great 64-bit platformers rather than an imitation, and in that, it succeeds beautifully.
I'm notoriously bad for not noticing soundtracks the way that I should and wish I would, but I definitely noticed Poi's soundtrack, and I'd be remiss not to mention it. The sound design is one area in which I do think that Poi is every bit on the level of the 64-bit platformers that so clearly inspired it. I have a nostalgic soft spot for Super Mario 64's soundtrack, but if I'm being perfectly honest and as objective as one can be with art, Poi's is probably better. To a certain extent, that's to be expected as we've had more than 20 years to improve audio technology in games, but there are a couple of tracks - the theme from Cozy Canyon in particular comes to mind - that really impressed me. When I first started playing through Cozy Canyon, I had to put the controller down for a minute or two and just listen. The music in this game is really something, and that world in particular shows that there was some serious passion and talent behind this game's production.
Poi came as a total surprise to me. I'm normally pretty cynical about indie games; I know that most of them are fine games, but so many of them are dime-a-dozen quality that I never really get excited for them or expect a whole lot going in. Poi absolutely proved to be the exception to that. The visuals aren't exactly stunning but they're charming and well done, but anything the graphics may have lacked in "wow" effect, the music definitely makes up for. The fact that game is so readily available - Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch - means that gamers have access to Poi no matter their platform of choice, and I definitely recommend this one for fans of 3D platformers.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.