Pirate Pop Plus Review

Pirate Pop Plus Review

Sometimes the only real issue I have with a game is the platform it's on. Every game has a best platform to play it on, which includes a few things in it – a best time to play it, a best way to present it, and features that would be best to have that might not be available in other places.

For example, it's impossible to know that your 3DS might be online – in fact if it wasn't for the fact that Pirate Pop Plus can only be downloaded from the eShop, it's entirely possible that a 3DS it's on might have never been hooked up to the internet before – and frankly the online infrastructure is so difficult to use compared to a phone or something that just going out to, say, a Starbucks to leech wifi is more difficult than it should be.

But a game like Pirate Pop Plus is the kind of game that needs to be online, or needs to at least USE the internet, not because of some kind of multiplayer requirement, but because what's the point of making a high score-based game without having the ability to compare it with your friends? Or at the very least, just random idiots around the world who've also played the game? It's 2016 at this point, and it's weird to imagine a game like this that doesn't have a pop-up that says "approaching X's high score!" or a high-score list that doesn't show you that your amazing-can't-lose run isn't even good enough to be in the top half worldwide.

It's the kind of thing that when games shipped before Xbox Live became common, you'd get games like Crazy Taxi and just have to post your own high scores and compete with friends locally. You got that dude to the KFC in 15 seconds, well your friend did in 12! But now, and especially since games like Geometry Wars, it's weird to imagine something that doesn't have that kind of leaderboard. Would Geometry Wars have even been the success it was if it weren't for that?

Pirate Pop Plus is a little infuriating in that regard because it is pretty fun, but the fact you're competing with set high scores instead of dynamic leaderboards really gives you less of a reason to keep returning. There's no challenge of someone kicking your butt, there's just the chance for you to go "ok I beat the number one guy that was pre-programmed in so... I dunno now?"

Which also hey, let's be real here, that's video games, you always hit that "oh what's left?" point regardless. But it speeds up its own irrelevance because of this. I'm not even sure if the Steam version does online leaderboards, but it would most certainly help!

So even if you haven't played Pang/Buster Bros/Pomping World, which are totally all real names for the same old game, you've definitely played something that has something LIKE it – even my recently reviewed 140 had a boss level that was similar. The idea is there's a ball bouncing around, you use a projectile of some sort to pop it, it splits, then splits, then the last hit makes it disappear and you get score. Hooray!

The big wrinkle that PPP (Triple P as the kids are calling it) introduces is a gravity mechanic – after a certain amount of time, the gravity will switch to another side of the screen and now you're on the wall or the ceiling.  Not the most exciting thing on its own, but the way that the gravity affects the bubbles is actually more interesting – it's entirely dynamic feeling, so if the bubble happens to shift over at a weird spot in its arc, it'll be way more bizarre and difficult to deal with. Not a simple bouncy bounce, making it a more interesting challenge to avoid.

Additionally it's got a bunch of power-ups, making it so that the lash that comes out when you shoot is permanent, or switching your speargun with a regular gun that just shoots out bullets. It helps make the game feel like it's constantly moving and changing – you're suddenly on the ceiling, but you've got a gun so as the bubbles go crazy dealing with the shift, you're having a time following it around and shooting it out of the sky like it's no problem.

It's just unable to give you much of a reason to come back. Even the unlockables from the money are mostly like different skins for everything – for the weird console that surrounds the screen (making it look like a Game and Watch? Maybe?), for the color of the screen, to even the color of the d-pad on the console thing. You can also buy new characters, who do actually behave differently, and use that as a way to challenge yourself.

It's a shallow game, though, and while it's fun to jump into now and then, it's hard to find a reason to, especially on something like the 3DS. People like to talk about how the best handheld games are the ones you can boot up real fast, play a few minutes, then end it when your bus or whatever comes. But the 3DS is different – you just close the system and it goes to sleep, so any game becomes something you can just close and return to later. Sometimes I realize that I've had, say, a Pokemon game open for weeks without saving it or shutting it off – I just don't need to anymore, so the need for something like this isn't there as much as it had been. A good example is how the Tetris series plays differently now – you once had to shut it off and lose a high score, but now you can keep your game going forever. Hooray!

Pirate Pop Plus is really just a victim of changing expectations in the market – if it had come out on the original Game Boy, say, it would be an easy rec. Fun, high score challenge, and look at how much to unlock, just incredible! But now it just feels very shallow, and the $5 asking price starts to feel weirdly steep for a game that would feel so much more at home on a phone, the last bastion for these kinds of "boot em up quick at the doctors office!" types of games. If it comes out there and has an awesome high score tracking feature or something, it's easy to recommend, but now if you just want to grab something fun and don't mind spending the $5, you could do worse.