Poi is about as close to Mario 64 as you’re ever going to get on Xbox One. The game initially started out on the road to Kickstarter funding, but unfortunately never reached the pre-set goals. Not keen on taking it to the chin, the developers worked hard (following delays) to ensure that Poi, saw the light of day. The game is served up as a 3D platformer, and as aforementioned, this is almost to Mario 64 what Yooka-Laylee is to Banjo-Kazooie. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this was a clone, or a cheap knock off, but the similarities in both presentation and functionality, is certainly unmistakable. With that said, is this game any good?
Let’s be brutally honest. There isn’t a franchise in existence that can dethrone Mario as the daddy of 3D platformers. Poi doesn’t come close, but that’s not to say that this game isn’t worth your time or attention, because if anything it easily deserves both, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. I want to immediately point out that this game lacks that AAA touch, and doesn’t really do much to pull the gameplay away from the 90’s, but it definitely holds its own either way.
The controls are overly familiar for anyone that’s enjoyed the previously mentioned comparison. We have long jumps, double jumps, wall jumps, backward somersaults, and so on and so forth. It’s a very comfortable game to get to grips with, and a nod to anyone that can say they gamed with the classics. Despite the fact that there’s only four worlds in the game, Poi has a great deal of content to soak up, with heaps of replay value thrown in for good measure. The developers know exactly how to utilise a small(ish) playground, and fill it with fun and interesting things to do, without drawing too much attention to the map size.
Progression in the game leans on collecting medallions, which would be representative of Stars from Mario 64. The more medallions you obtain, the more you get to unlock and explore, which can include new worlds, challenges, or mini-games. You’re able to collect a portion of medallions per-main level, however in order to do so, you’ll need to complete various tasks. These range from collecting keys, beating bosses, collecting 100 coins, and more. What I found particularly commendable was that the difficulty curve is extremely well set. A good platformer should challenge you without annoying the hell out of you, enticing you in for that proverbial “one more try” as you fail to achieve your goals. Poi manages to pull that off remarkably well, finding a smooth balance between keeping you sweet, and turning you bald.
Alongside grabbing medallions, the game offers up a nice range of activities to enjoy. You can buy a shovel which will allow you to dig up fossils, snap photographs of enemies and catalogue them, seek out golden gears to help an NPC repair their ship, hide and seek, and more. There’s no shortage of things to do, and that’s not to mention your general exploring. The locations that you’ll traverse are not surprising, not for a platformer anyway, you have a volcano, a forest, a desert, and other environments that you’ll be all too familiar with. What works extraordinarily well here is that the developers have packed each level with more than enough content, it makes a small area feel vast and inviting. This is even further built upon by your sky-ship, which acts as a hub of sorts. The more medals you earn through play, the more NPC’s there will be to interact with, giving you the ability to take on challenges, mini-games, and check your unlocks.
Poi is undoubtedly chock-full of brilliantly designed adventuring, but sadly lacks a great deal of detail in the visual department. Poi may well indeed be colourful and easy on the eyes at first glance, but it’s not long before you witness how bland the game truly looks. Don’t get me wrong, the character models are passable, however the same cannot be said about the rest of the package. Simple and bland textures, poor lighting, tacky shadows, and dull backdrops collectively show the extent of Poi’s budget. It’s a shame really, because with that extra bit of polish, this could have stood out much more than it already does. Mercifully however, the soundtrack is one that not only suits the theme of the game, but stays with you when you power down the console.
The story of Poi is quite weak, but when you take into account that platformers don’t often offer up a meaty plot, it’s something I was able to overlook. Playing as a female or male character, you stumble upon an old man explorer who is in need of help. Setting of on an adventure, you jump in head first to seek out all of his medallions, which are spread across (as alluded to already) the entirety of the game. It’s simple, and most definitely not something you will be thinking about outside of the few cutscenes. So, is there any end-game content? I’m glad you asked! Once you complete the game, you’re able to start a new game plus, which tasks you with taking the game on in mirror mode. This again speaks volumes as to how much content you’re getting in return for a generous price tag.
Poi is easily a game I would recommend to anyone that fancies a good platforming adventure. Despite the fact that the visuals look cheap and tacky, there’s a great deal of content and inviting gameplay to immerse yourselves in. The game isn’t all that challenging to begin with, but the difficulty curve soon finds a decent balance as you get further into the experience. With mini-games, challenges, new game plus, and a vast amount of objectives to work towards, you’ll find few reasons to grumble at the package as a whole. Poi hardly tries to reinvent the genre, or even add to the era of gaming that it draws inspiration from, but it is nevertheless a well rounded adventure that’s worth your time and attention.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.