It’s high time I once again delve into the vast Super Famicom library and pick out a game to review for the masses. Magical Pop’n is the game in question today. Is it all that it’s hyped up to be?
This is the story of a young princess of 11 years old who lives in the magical country of To’ahl. She hates studying and wishes she had more time to play. One of her favorite activities is being a nuisance to her magic teacher she affectionately calls Gramps. One day while in the middle of a magic lesson, the castle is attacked by Mage Zaiasu’s forces. He seeks the treasure of Mystic Legend. It’s a magical item of great power. Pop’n stops the attack on her father, the king, but the perpetrator escapes. Pop’n goes after him and so our adventure begins.
Even though Pop’n is a little girl, she has an impressive repertoire of offensive abilities. Firstly she is a skilled swordsman. She can strike forward, above, or while crouching with the greatest of ease. And secondly she will learn spells throughout her campaign. At the outset Pop’n can use laser magic which can shoot a beam of light straight ahead. On each of the first five stages (there are six in all), she has to locate a new magical ability. Each of the spells she collects during the game are crucial to progressing onward. Each time you use magic, it’ll cost you magic points (MP) with the exception of the magic hook (more on this one later). There are even super versions of the spells she can cast by pressing the select button that require more MP than normal. Pop’n also has a sufficient jump in her skill set as well which help with platforming aspects of the game.
But to call Magical Pop’n strictly a platformer wouldn’t be accurate. If you ever played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Super Metroid, you would get an idea of how this game plays. Early on you get choices in the path you take to reach the end of the stage. Sometimes you can skip portions of a stage and still complete it. In this sense Magical Pop’n has an exploratory component to it. Not only will you want to explore every inch of a stage just for exploration’s sake, but also to collect mini busts of Pop’n. Collect three of them and get an 1-up. There are also hearts scattered throughout the game. Find those to extend your life meter by one heart ala The Legend of Zelda.
In each stage you’ll have to fight a mid-boss (sometimes more than one) and an end stage boss. By and large these bosses pose little threat with their easily identifiable patterns. The challenge comes in the stages themselves and one reoccurring segment in particular can become quite frustrating. This vexation comes in the form of the magic hook sections. There are instances where you must use the magic hook to grapple from one round hook point to another to move on. The thing is you must time it perfectly or else you won’t make it. I spent most of my time with the game on these segments trying to perfect my timing. There were moments where I thought to myself “will I ever get it right”? With enough persistence they can be overcome, but it can be a bear to get through. It’s worth mentioning I experienced some extreme slowdown in certain parts of stages 4 and 6. It made it difficult to evade enemy attacks but thankfully it’s only in a few spots.
Oh, let me tell you about stage 6. It’s one of the most bewildering and confusing stages in my video game playing history. There are some that would need a map to complete it. You don’t have to go to every room to beat the stage (thank goodness), but the layout is all over the place and the difficulty is really turned up here. It reminds me of the original NES Mega Man game in tone, music and challenge. Don’t go in thinking since this game looks cutesy that it will be a pushover. It’s not in the latter stages.
There is no battery backup or password system, but there are unlimited continues and a debug mode which offers a stage select, among other things. There’s an omake (means extra) mode where you can sample the voices and music used throughout the game. You can also toggle between stereo and mono in this mode.
What drew me to this game initially was the graphics. The sprite work is beautiful. Every character is lovingly detailed and some of the background art is stunning. I also noticed the developers added depth to Pop’n’s character design by giving her different movement frames in special situations. For example, when you’re teetering close to the edge of a platform, Pop’n will try to balance herself so she won’t fall off or when you don’t move Pop’n for awhile, she begins to look bored. I have a lovejones for cartoony graphics and Magical Pop’n has this in spades.
Likewise, the music is stupendous. Every track represented in this game is memorable and catchy. This is one of those games where I wouldn’t mind having the soundtrack on my music player. Pop’n’s presentation is enhanced with the inclusion of various voice-overs provided by the late Ai Iijima. You’ll hear battle cries whenever Pop’n swings her sword, she exclaims “not good” when you die, and various other voice work that complements the character. It definitely adds ambience to the game.
A fun but short experience in the vein of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Magical Pop’n is slightly marred by a sometimes frustrating chain swinging mechanic and slowdown in spots. But the excellent graphics, music, and overall gameplay outshine these flaws. If you’re a platformer or Metroidvania fan, you owe yourself to play this.
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