Review – Ponpu

Sometimes I play a game and I wonder if its developers were in the right physical and mental condition while coming up with its concept. A perfect example of what I’m talking about is this latest indie game released for the Switch, Purple Tree and Zordix’s Ponpu. A game I am pretty sure that was created with the help of maybe a few recreational elements, because I would have never been able to come up with this damn thing with a right mindset.

But you know what? I’m actually glad they went totally bonkers in its development. This is some bonkers game that you can’t help but want to look at, even if it’s far from perfect.

Ponpu

You can clearly see they hired Aaron Sorkin for this game’s script.

Ponpu revolves around a group of nightmare-inducing deformed ducks travelling out through the galaxy in order to stop the almighty Duck God from going full Thanos and destroying the universe just so he can reset it as he wishes. You will venture through a wide variety of brown and white-colored levels, collecting keys, and eventually killing a boss at the end of each world. Pretty run of the mill stuff, with just an extra amount of drawings and animations that I bet were once part of someone’s sleep paralysis trauma. It’s fun and all, but it doesn’t exactly work as it should.

The thing is, Ponpu is heavily based on Bomberman. Its controls are pretty much the same as Bomberman; you move in only four directions and you attack by placing bombs. Just like the mighty bomber’s kick upgrade, you also have the ability to push a bomb towards an enemy if you time it perfectly. And it doesn’t exactly work.

Ponpu

I’m not gonna lie. He looks kinda adorable.

The reason is simple: Bomberman‘s gameplay works best in tight, corridor-like arenas full of obstacles that make it easy for you to understand where you are and where you can go. It doesn’t leave a lot of space for you or your enemies to run away from a well-placed bomb. Ponpu, on the other hand, features wide and open levels, reminiscent of the adventure-heavy Bomberman 64 games. There are less enemies onscreen, but they have a lot more room to evade your attacks. To make matters worse, if you push a bomb in any direction, and it hits a wall, it ricochets back towards you, most certainly taking a chunk of your health along the way.

Still, there are things that I like about Ponpu‘s overall gameplay loop. The game isn’t as fast-paced as its ludicrous presentation might suggest, but it emphasises exploration. Levels are full of secret rooms and hidden passages, often filled with some extra goodies like an additional heart container. It’s a bit more laidback than Bomberman, resulting in a game that might be inspired by it, but plays completely differently. Then there are the boss fights, which revert back to Bomberman‘s absurdity. They were few and far between, but I loved them.

This is how I usually look like after a bad night’s sleep.

Besides the weird yet not exactly adrenaline-pumping single player campaign, Ponpu features an assortment of multiplayer modes. These range from your typical Bomberman-esque deathmatch to a Splatoon-inspired mode where you need to cover the arena with your own goop oozed whenever you push an egg towards any direction. They are fun, sure, but Ponpu doesn’t exactly manage to exude that sensation of mischief and fun that Bomberman does so effortlessly. Even the latest Bomberman game, Super Bomberman R, which is in a much better state nowadays than how it was back when it launched in 2017, feels more like a wacky party game than Ponpu does.

The best thing about this game is not its gameplay, but its ultra bizarre presentation. If you like cartoonish absurdity, just like what you would see in Ren & Stimpy back in the 90’s, then this is the game for you. It’s really weird, it’s oddly animated, but it manages to captivate your eyes like very few titles out there. Its soundtrack is not as odd as the visuals, but the tunes included in here are actually very catchy. They might be played in the background as an additional texture, but they’re really well-composed and they stuck in my head way after I stopped playing the game.

Such a charming birdie.

Ponpu doesn’t always deliver in its gameplay department and it’s far from being the spiritual successor to Bomberman we actually aren’t in a desperate need of right now, but it’s still quite fun. What really makes the game stand out is its bizarre presentation, visuals and surprisingly catchy soundtrack. If you’re looking for something similar to Bomberman, and can put up with a bit of jank, then Ponpu is a game worth checking out. Also recommended if you’re into weird animations and imagery.

 

Graphics: 8.5

Ponpu features a really wacky, often hilarious, sometimes disturbing art style. It’s incredibly well-animated, but the monotone color palette makes the game feel way too repetitive after a while.

Gameplay: 6.5

The Bomberman grid-like movement is constantly at odds with the game’s level design. That kind of control scheme wasn’t meant for more open levels. The secret paths and overall emphasis on exploration were a nice change of pace, however.

Sound: 8.0

There are brief but decent instances of voice acting, and the overall soundtrack is actually very good.

Fun Factor: 6.5

Ponpu features an amazing presentation and some interesting new ideas on the tried and true Bomberman formula, but it suffers from an uninteresting single player mode, long loading times, confusing gameplay, and the very occasional glitch.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Ponpu is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Ponpu was provided by the publisher.