Monday, September 20, 2010

Popful Mail

Falcom / NEC Home Electronics
Super CD-ROM / Arcade CD-ROM

Being a huge Falcom fan familiar with Popful's good reputation, I had very high expectations for the game when I purchased it years ago. It seemed reasonable to anticipate great things from a sidescrolling adventure title that has an Ys-esque feel about it and features three appealing playable characters. Unfortunately, it ended up being a major disappointment. I felt that it had humor and some nice audio working for it, but the level design just totally turned me off. It seemed like I was constantly dealing with slow-moving platforms, or waddling through empty corridors, or sliding up and down pointless poles and ladders, or partaking in whatever other dull activities the designers could think of to make the process of reaching my destination at any given instance as time consuming and annoying as possible.

Some "challenges" they came up with just seemed lame and poorly concocted, particularly a stretch where the heroine latches on to spinning gears and you have to make her let go at just the right moments, shooting her across the room in the process--hopefully on target for a platform or another gear. Adding to the sludgy misery were unskippable in-game voice-acted parts.

When I revisited the adventure a few years later with newfound patience and skill in tow, I enjoyed it a lot more. Make no mistake: those elements I listed above were all still present, and the game was still monotonous and irritating at times. But as I wasn't bumbling around hopelessly or falling repeatedly or just acting like an impatient crybaby in general, the potentially tedious stuff seemed to go by much more quickly. Even the daunting "spinning section" proved to be briefer, fairer, and more entertaining than it had seemed in my misguided memories. A little patience on my part allowed me to "see the light," which made the positives shine that much more brightly.

As I alluded to earlier, humor and audio top the list of positives. There's quite a bit of good comedy here, thanks in large part to a wacky winged fire-breather named Gaw...

...who not only provides laughs but also makes for a fun character to use, especially when the little fellow gains the ability to utilize his gaping maw as a flamethrower. And the Gaw-exclusive stages see the title's soundtrack, which gets off to a pretty good start and improves from there, achieve greatness with an incredibly catchy tune.

There are plenty of high-quality cinemas...

...and the in-game visuals will prove pleasing if you're a fan of the Falcom small-sprite style.

The designers took a neat approach with the gameplay, which feels kind of like a combination of elements from Ys and Dragon's Curse. You can have a blast messing around with the enemy troops: get them to drop their guard or launch errant attacks, or use them to reach out-of-the-way niches and platforms. And the bosses are a lot of fun to fight, even if they aren't all that tough.

Even with that hefty list of positives, I do need to reemphasize the need for patience with this game, as it has its share of parts that can feel slow and/or frustrating. Really, the amount of enjoyment you get out of it might just be determined by your frame of mind when you sit down with it. But if you think you have the required patience, and if you dig sidescrolling quest games, I say go ahead and pick it up.

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