Poi: Explorer Edition Review

Poi: Explorer Edition Review

This year's 3D platformers have thus far had one thing in common: they've all been significantly different from their granddaddy, Super Mario 64. But then you have Polykid's Poi, which looks directly to that game for inspiration. And I must admit, this one snuck onto Steam last winter right under my nose. So I'm glad that its Switch release, the Explorer Edition, caught my eye. There are definitely worse reasons to click on those Joy-Cons.

Poi stars two teenage-ish kids, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, whom you'll switch between at your leisure. "Leisure" is the operative word for this breezy plot, where an old adventurer recruits the kids to retrieve his lost medallions from a small assortment of surreal worlds. The stakes really couldn't be any lower, and that's okay. There's something refreshing about a game that finally admits there isn't any urgency. You float blissfully on a small airship, using a wheel-lever thing to steer towards the land you want to visit. There are only five, however, which does prove to be problematic later on.

Before you even arrive at this airship, you're tasked with collecting a sort of preliminary medallion in a miniature tutorial stage. It's here that I noticed that the core movement system is as close to perfect as I could've hoped. Your Tweedle of choice controls very tightly and responsively, and jumping feels amazing. Your ability to double-jump, wall kick, and grab ledges allows the game to put you in some very demanding situations without feeling unfair. It was a wise decision to avoid taking after the stiff Mario 64 jumping mechanics, although the levels themselves are very reminiscent of that game. Medallions, for example, are separated into missions that often involve finding three things or reaching the top of a given tower. You might have to collect 100 coins or kill a set of enemies or dig up fossils or- wait, dig up fossils?! Yes, this isn't really a carbon copy, what with its more unique elements like fossil and gear collectors that give you medallions every five or so goodies. Then you have this other airship operated by a guy whose cannon will shoot you to one-and-done platform challenges, or the old man himself, who will sell you things like a health upgrade.

So yes, Poi is definitely its own game, and a good one at that. I really enjoyed the earnest simplicity of it all, as despite all the elements I mentioned, it's still basically a collect-a-thon platformer. Remarkably, the short length of each mission also makes it well-suited for the Nintendo Switch. I do think the graphics could have done with some polishing, as while it's nice to see angular landscapes and cartoonish textures, it isn't ideal when the round medallions look more like screw nuts. Fortunately, the soundtrack is nothing short of inspiring, especially the airship theme. It truly fills you with a whimsical spirit, making the whole experience a lot harder to forget than you'd think.

As you continue, the game reveals a handful of serious flaws. Chiefly, the progression system is very harsh, demanding so many medallions for the fifth stage that you have to pick the other four dry and do about half of the side challenges. This won't take you more than seven hours, but it does get repetitive and even tedious to continually jump back into the same environment. And that final stage itself kicks off with a trial-and-error challenge that puts you in near total darkness with a flashlight that would hardly suffice in a first-person story title. Then there are the enemies, which can sometimes juggle you from completely out of sight, rapidly cutting down your health and scattering your coins. The spike pits on rooftops are particularly egregious.

Poi is best played in short bursts, which does work well for the platform in question. Play it undocked, right before bed, for the best experience. And I say that because in this context, it works very well as a fun, snappy, immersive little platformer that you can jump right into and leave minutes later. Staying with it for too long at a time will leave you starved for a change in scenery, and rather perturbed by the occasional sneak attacks. Taken altogether, though, Poi is still a good game. And hey, maybe next time the old man will lose his medallions over a wider radius.