If you're like me and grew up in America in the '90s you probably remember the general gaming atmosphere at the time. If it wasn't loud, violent, and EXTREME it had a hard time gaining a foothold with its target demographic: young to teenage boys. To the pre- or mid-pubescent male manliness and extremity weren't just the ideal, they were the standard. To that audience, the least appealing digital avatar would be something sickeningly cutesy - something like, say, a little girl with magical powers.
But that was then and this is now. Now the Japanese culture splash of the mid '90s has settled, seeped, and comingled into our own and the target demographic for game makers has shot up a decade. Now we love Japan, we love little girls being adorable, and we love little Japanese girls being adorable... well, some of us more than others, but still Magical Pop'n - a solid Super Famicom Metroidvaina-lite platformer - has failed to make an appearance outside of Japan. This is where the Internet comes in, and after years of seeing the title repeated on SNES recommendation lists I decided it was finally time to get my hands on it (completely legally, of course).
Now here I am, one month and a handful of play sessions later, with a new game to count among my favorite 16-bit titles. I'm hesitant to heap too much praise on it for the sheer matter of its decided lack of difficulty, but if games like DuckTales earlier this year or Actraiser the year prior have helped me really internalize anything it's that a game doesn't need to be difficult to be enjoyable. It sounds simplistic and obvious, but after chasing digital glory and greater challenges for their own sake for so long the notion that the value of a title is directly proportional to the amount it makes me want to bash my head against a wall is a hard one to shake.
Speaking of DuckTales, Magical Pop'n actually had much more in common with the 8-bit waterfowl greed simulator than I expected going in, from main points like similar amounts of nonlinear stage exploration, one-sitting length once you adapt, and item hunting, right down to the ability to pogo with your main weapon (although in the case of Pop'n you can only bounce once, and without the sweet sound effect at that). If there were a Scrooge McDuck School for Adventurers, Princess would've graduated with honors.
Yeah, the main character's name is Princess. Is she actually a princess? It's hard to tell with the dozen-or-so title cards worth of exposition, but that's largely beside the point.
What the little spellslinger has over Scrooge, though, is (DUH) the ability to use magic. You start with a basic projectile spell and pick up more as you go - one per each of the game's six levels discounting the last - that unlock additional areas for you in standard Metroidvania fashion. Magic uses stars, though, so if you favor shooting over slashing in combat you'll need to keep killing everything in sight to maintain your store of them. That said, it's really not terribly difficult to get through the great majority of enemies and to your destination with just your sword (spells also all have super versions that cost extra stars, but I could count the number of times I used them on one hand), though even as soon as the first level a tandem of the two is occasionally required to exploit enemies' movement and attack patterns. For a game generally as simple as it is, the odd enemy requires a decent amount of coordination and pattern recognition to pass.
The first two thirds of Magical Pop'n were more a study in finding the permanent health bonuses and getting out in the most efficient manner possible than any serious challenge, but the latter third started getting creative enough that answers to room-wide puzzles weren't always obvious and a few continues were needed. Unfortunately boss complexity worked on a bell curve, so after some universal upward motion in the middle of the trip any difficulty came less from the big guy waiting for me at the end of the stage and more from the stage itself. It was only due to my own laziness/preoccupation that there was ever any question I'd get this one done on time, though meteorological circumstances are much more to blame for the delay in composing and publishing my account of it. Once again, all three of you, your patience is appreciated. One more title to strike from the list. Onward!
CHALLENGE: cleared (without actually utilizing super spells for anything, if that matters?)