Developer: Ojiro Fumoto + Team Poinpy; Devolver Digital
Release Date: June 10, 2022 for Android and iOS with a Netflix subscription
Reviewed on: Android 12, running on a Google Pixel 3a
Price: Free with an active Netflix account
Netflix is slowly making good on its promise to become a bonafide gaming platform. Three years in, you might be surprised that they already have over twenty games under their banner. Their newest title, Poinpy, made a splash at this year’s Netflix Geeked Week with heavyweights like Downwell creator Ojiro Fumoto and Devolver Digital involved. A move that seems to signal that Netflix is taking aim at savvy gamers. While not much of a mobile gamer, I am a fan of efforts to curb the worst tendencies of the sector, like gacha gameplay and pay-to-win microtransactions. So, it’s nice that Netflix, like Apple Arcade, has publicly promised no ads, no extra fees, and no in-app purchases. Assuming, of course, you have a Netflix account.
Poinpy is a tight, colorful game that frustratingly demands more attention than you might be accustomed to giving a mobile title. In it, you take control of a pudgy green thing: the Poinpy of the title, I assume. It isn’t explained. The li’l guy wouldn’t be out of place in a Bubble Bobble game. Equipped with a bouncy juicing bullet, the player downswipes their screen to continually fling Poinpy upward. At the start of each round, a giant, blue dino-cat known as The Beast, chases you upward through randomly generated areas. The only way to slow him down is to collect fruits in the treetops, blend them into the kind of juice he is craving, and pour it down his maw each time you run out of swipes.
Poinpy is a masterful blend of the best tropes of mobile gaming: It’s simplistic, hand-drawn characters are adorable. It controls nicely in one hand. It has a single gameplay mechanic that it takes in fun and surprising directions. But unfortunately, Poinpy‘s quality is stymied by a steep difficulty curve and a slow upgrade path in lieu of level checkpoints.
Poinpy‘s fun visuals exist somewhere between Yoshi’s Island and classic vertical action games like Dig Dug and Ice Climbers. This game is a joy to look at, even if you struggle to get out of the first environment. Plump enemies mostly ignore you as they trot among the treetops; they’ll still get ya, though! The menacing Beast casts no more fear than a wound up kitten. And when Poinpy is defeated, the player gets one last chance to score points as an even cuter ghost. Aiding the bouncy graphics are a few background tunes composed by Callum Bowen of Pikuniku fame. Simply put, Poinpy is a polished, endearing work of art.
To play Poinpy, on the other hand, is to completely flip its cuteness on end. Much like the twee classics mentioned above, Poinpy‘s chibi nature belies its difficulty. After a few tutorial screens, The Beast will give chase, demanding a new blend of juice after each feeding. Luckily each fruit type Poinpy needs is plentiful as you climb. You start with a double jump, meaning you can downswipe and aim at fruit above you twice before having to feed The Beast. To maximize those jumps, you can also bound off of walls and enemies, or tap the screen to slam into whatever is below you. The downswipe and pull-to-aim motion is intuitive and tight. As satisfying and well executed as the granddaddy of the genre, Angry Birds. But Poinpy offers no room to breathe once you start a round. Every fling of the dino-blob is tense and needs to be done quickly.
Poinpy is essentially Angry Birds as a (semi)infinite runner. Fumoto and team have done a bang up job of realizing this blend. Each loop of flinging Poinpy, quickly checking The Beast’s craving, and then hastily mapping the best route to those fruits can be exhilarating. And the game smartly knows that if the way it plays isn’t going to change, everything around the player has to. So, new enemies, creative obstacles, and changing environments crop up at a good pace. It’s surprisingly ambitious for such a compact game. But that’s where it goes off the rails, at least for players like me who appreciate fairly casual and clear progress after each short session.
See, the last ingredient of Poinpy‘s genre smoothie is that it is also a roguelite. And that’s where it loses me. Where a classic like Angry Birds has groups of levels that end in victory screens and star ratings, Poinpy plops you back down at the bottom of the forest each time The Beast catches you. No save points. No replaying sections for top scores. Though, to be fair, a puzzle mode is unlocked fairly early. Instead, Poinpy offers you upgrades that will boost your odds of completing the game after every second or third failure. These will be things like an extra jump, limited-use special moves, and extra aiming time.
But yes, like other roguelites, Poinpy mercifully has an ending. Unfortunately, reaching that ending takes longer than most people would sit to play a mobile game. Also in its roguelite DNA is the expectation that the player treat each run as a learning experience. Which is fine as a feature of the genre, but again: mobile gaming sessions don’t foster that mindset. Where Angry Birds let’s you quickly and infinitely restart a micro level as soon as you see that your aim was off, Poinpy drops your beleaguered dino-blob back to the bottom at each retry. It’s just disheartening in spite of all that charm.
Final Score: 3.5
Poinpy is an impressive game; one of the most artistically executed mobile games I’ve played. It’s cute, compelling, and extremely creative with ingredients that have existed in the genre from the beginning. On the downside, its roguelite ambitions and scope would be better spent on platforms that aren’t for people who are sneaking in a few minutes of fun during a commute or in a waiting room. But kudos to Devolver and Netflix for fighting back against the annoying, exploitative habits of most mobile games. If you have a Netflix account, give Poinpy a fling. You have nothing to lose, but you’ll lose it over and over again.
Featured Image: Netflix Games
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