Poi: Explorer Edition (Nintendo Switch) Review


In recent years, I’ve become pretty obsessed with the 3D platformer genre. There’s something I really love about running, jumping, and collecting in a three-dimensional space.

In making it my mission to play every 3D platformer on the Switch, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience the lesser-known Poi: Explorer Edition. Considering its obscurity, I can’t imagine the publisher’s decision to release the Switch version of Poi three days before Super Mario Odyssey was a very helpful one.

Regardless, I loved my time with Poi and want to share that love with you all today. Throughout this review, I hope you’ll see the game for all its worth, from the exhilarating highs to the middling lows.

Poi: Explorer Edition

Developer: PolyKid

Publisher: Alliance Digital Media

Release date: October 23, 2017

Gameplay

For all intents and purposes, Poi is a Super Mario 64/Sunshine clone, wearing its 3D-platforming and item-collecting inspiration on its sleeve. Fortunately, this indie outing is far from derivative.

Poi features a young boy and girl on a journey to uncover all the hidden secrets of the “Milky Way Globe”. You’ll need to hop through environments, talk to locals, nab collectibles, and tackle various challenges to become a “Master Explorer”. Herein lies a delightful gameplay loop.

Each level boasts its own set of five to seven missions to complete, as varied as powering a lighthouse, collecting coins or keys, playing hide-and-seek, or defeating a boss. Completing these missions rewards you with medallions, the game’s primary collectible. Feel free to compare these to stars or shines, because that’s exactly what they are.

For those of you who have played Mario 64 and/or Sunshine, some of these missions will feel somewhat familiar. Personally, as someone who’s only played some of Mario 64, most of Poi felt very unique to me. Medallion completion criteria are often very specific to the context of each level.

Poi ups the proverbial ante by filling its levels with additional secrets to gobble up and/or document: golden gears, fossils, and locations. These secrets provided me with a near-constant desire to search every inch of every environment, despite my usual disinclination toward extensive exploration.

I absolutely adored the inclusion of so many secrets beyond the core medallions. Without golden gears to collect, fossils to dig up, and locations to discover, I wouldn’t have come close to spending as much time in Poi as I did. These little bonuses go a long way in fleshing the experience.

I never felt like any medallion objectives or hidden secrets were truly insurmountable in nature (though I did have to use a walkthrough for a few bits). The difficulty curve is as reasonable as it is challenging—sure to appease casual and experienced gamers alike.

But wait—there’s more. On top of many tasks available in each full-fledged environment, you’ll also be privy to a selection of seriously fun challenge levels scattered throughout the game’s hub world (the airship). I really enjoyed the increased focus on platforming in these levels. In fact, it would be very fair to compare Poi’s challenge levels with Mario Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D.less levels.

Poi’s core gameplay is super satisfying in just about every way. From running and jumping to nabbing pickups, I was consistently engaged in the entire experience. I hardly ever wanted to put the darned game down.

Whether you like or dislike Poi’s hyper-similarity to platformers of years gone by will 100 percent depend on your tolerance of clones in general. I’m positively delighted to play more of what I love, but of course, other people place greater emphasis on originality.

Content

Poi: Explorer Edition offers a supremely spectacular heaping of content. This title is packed with a grand total of six primary levels, 10 challenge levels, 101 medallions, 50 golden gears, 32 fossils, 64 locations, seven items, and seven costumes to collect, complete, or unlock.

The primary levels and challenge levels alike all are fantastic. I can’t think of any particular level that I disliked, because they all brought something unique to the table. The levels never drug on to the point that I got sick of playing. Short and sweet is always the way to go, my friends.

As I mentioned earlier, delving into medallions, golden gears, fossils, and locations is an absolute blast. There were just enough secrets to satisfy my cravings but not enough for the game to overstay its welcome. (As much as I love good content, there’s nothing I hate more than an overly long game. I have a life, you know.) The developers struck a nice balance between quantity and quality.

The items are necessities for progression that you’ll pick up along the way. I love how all the items serve very real purposes, even if you don’t use them all the time. Items like the shovel, camera, and compass enabled me to uncover medallions and other secrets in new and exciting ways.

The costumes are the only bits that actually kinda suck, as none of the costumes are anything more than a simple palette swap. I’m certainly glad the choice to change your outfit is there—don’t get me wrong—but I feel more could have been done to spruce up the offerings.

Fortunately, the genuinely compelling content is plentiful. There are 25 achievements to unlock, rewarding you for such tasks as taking a picture of all creature or completing the “New Game +” mode. I love these achievements for how they pushed me to tackle everything little distraction the game threw at me.

Perhaps even cooler, you can also unlock the entire soundtrack and an “art book” to better immerse yourself in the game’s development. Those who read my reviews should know that I’m a sucker for extras, and POI is no slouch in that department. I eat all this stuff up, y’all.

The options menu is fairly robust, as well. Under “Audio”, you can adjust the music and sound effects volume. Under “Game”, you can toggle on or off the inverted camera, camera auto follow, and controller vibration; adjust the camera sensitivity, momentum, and display area; or choose from one of six languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Portuguese. Under “Input”, you can familiarize yourself with the controls, but you can’t change them.

As for total playtime, it took me 11 hours to reach the credits and it took my brother 9 hours. (I spent some extra time on medallions that weren’t essential to completion.) In my opinion, the 9- to 15-hour range is an extremely reasonable length for a video game. Your mileage may vary, but I think a longer experience would’ve been excessive.

Poi is the first game I’ve ever 100 percent completed—and for good reason, too. If you enjoy collectathons as much as I do, there’s no reason in the world to ignore Poi’s sheer bevy of collecting opportunities.

Controls

Controls is where some might argue Poi slips just a little. I really like how all the buttons are mapped—nothing feels wrong or uncomfortable—but movement and jumping can feel a tad slippery at times.

Poi, for all its fun and content, isn’t quite as polished as other 3D platformers on the market. Movement doesn’t respond quite as tightly as it would in something like Super Mario Odyssey or even New Super Lucky’s Tale.

That being said, I’ve got no problem with the controls myself. Yeah, the run is slippery. Sure, the jump is floaty. But I appreciate all the quirks in the system. I like, for example, how you can wall-jump a ludicrous number of times under the right conditions. I appreciate the character in the imperfections

The only major criticism I could possibly leverage at the controls is that, as I mentioned in the “Content” section, there is no way to change the default button layout. I wouldn’t personally care to do so, but I know some people are pretty serious about having controls options at their disposal.

Since I’m having trouble coming up with the perfect way to describe the controls, I think this is one of those you have to try for yourself to gauge for absolute certain how you feel.

Graphics/Presentation

Poi isn’t the most technically impressive game in the world, but it sure is a cute one. While the polygon count is clearly lacking, I have to applaud the developers for doing remarkable work with what limited resources they must’ve had.

The environments, for instance, are really spectacular. I can’t say the themes behind them are all that original—greenery and winter wonderlands in a platformer, anyone?—but I can still see the heart behind the design. Someone poured a lot of love into these worlds.

However, I should disclose that I’m a tad mixed on the art style. Most of the characters are interesting to look at, but some (mostly the creatures) can be a bit dull. This is a point you’ll have to make your judgment call on, seeing as how art is such a subjective measure.

The presentation of the narrative, as simple as that narrative may be, is also good fun. Despite the lack of voice acting, characters still take on a life of their own. As I neared the end of the game, I actually became somewhat invested in the grander plot that had developed. You may get a kick out of it, too.

The box art is the worst aspect of the presentation by far. Although the box art contains enough familiar elements to provide a comprehensive overview of the game, something about it somehow feels too drab yet too busy at the same time. I get really off-putting “North American ICO box art” vibes from POI’s cover.

I don’t want to ravage POI’s presentation too hard. Most of it, in fact, is quite good. (Let it be known that I like the menus.) Unfortunately, there are just a few niggling issues hampering the overall aesthetic.

Sound/Music

While it pains me to lay on any criticism—because Poi is otherwise such a delightful game—I genuinely can’t stand a good portion of the audio. Something about it feels sorta cheap, ya know?

For whatever reason, I could never get into Lyndon Holland’s soundtrack. It’s not some travesty of music—I promise that’s not what I mean to say—but his sweeping overtures never really gelled with me.

I will give points to “Fight!”, the boss theme, because it’s admittedly pretty dang sweet. “Victory”, the medallion collection tune, and “Fallen Hero”, the game over tune, deserve some recognition, too.

On the contrary, it’s much harder for me to praise the sound effects in any way. Some of the creature voice clips are really…not great. And my gosh, don’t even get me started on the grass crunching sound effect. I had to mute the game to avoid punishing my unwitting ears any further.

Honestly, as much as I hate writing this mean stuff, I also know that my criticisms are valid. Maybe PolyKid’s next game will sound better.

While Poi isn’t a perfect 3D platformer, I had the time of my life playing it over the past year or so. As a 3D platformer aficionado, I’m always pining for my next fix, and this particular title satiated my addiction in spades.

If I ignored every game that scored lower than a 70 percent on Metacritic, I’d miss out on a lot of my all-time favorite games—and you all would miss out on a lot of reviews. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes the underdogs deserve a chance. Poi is, without a shadow of a doubt, deserving of such a chance.

Hopefully, my review has shown you that Poi: Explorer Edition, for all its minor flaws, could just as well be worth your time as it was mine. As the old saying goes, don’t knock it until you try it.

Unless it’s Super Bikes 3 or something. I’m a real hypocrite, by the way.

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