In the wake of Super Mario Odyssey, it's hard to see any 3D platformer standing out. In fact, it could be argued publishing a game of that genre within three to four months of Odyssey's release is a death sentence. This is the obstacle for Poi, a 3D platformer from PolyKid that arrived on other platforms earlier in 2017 but on the Switch just before Odyssey. It's a game that's fighting to prove it belongs.
Poi is not a bad game. Its release was badly timed on the Switch to be sure, but it is still a fun, albeit short adventure. The thing to note is that Poi is a smaller game that was granted a retail release. It had a budget-friendly price, making it a more accessible option for those looking to play something on the Switch if they didn't have enough for higher-tier games.
A greater point of note with Poi is its obvious inspirations. This game is very reminiscent of Super Mario 64 and Galaxy, from the designs of levels, to the basic gameplay. Poi is clearly inspired by these Nintendo greats, and that's not a bad thing. This inspiration turns what could have been a mediocre platformer into an enjoyable experience.
The way the game handles its key items is very similar to Mario 64. You enter an available level and choose a mission to take on. Each world has around seven missions, each mission offering the reward of a medallion (essentially a power star), which you collect and later use to access further worlds, and there are four major worlds in total. Missions themselves aren’t all that special, as most of them ask you to reach a certain point in the level, requiring careful and well-timed jumps to succeed.
One level can simply have you trying to reach the highest point in a forest, another getting you to repair a windmill to reach its peak, and one level even has you scaling a lighthouse. There is at least some diversity among the predictable designs, and there is certainly fun in the basic level design. At its strongest point are platforming challenge missions. These never make you want to tear your hair out, but they do provide a nice challenge that highlights the great design of Poi.
Acquiring one of the medallions came in the form of a challenging obstacle course, with several different phases for obstacles, and some intense platforming. This moment made Poi stand out. You had flipping platforms, a narrow bridge that got smaller, fences to climb and jump between, and small pillars to jump across. Better still, it was timed so you couldn’t just go slow and carefully work your way to the finish, you had to maintain speed while also moving carefully.
There are several of these challenges, some throughout the major worlds, while others are in separate areas you have to unlock. There are several small levels focused on a single challenging idea, like falling platforms, slides, climbing, and jumping across floating or moving platforms. These challenge stages are great and add some diversity to the Super Mario 64-esque worlds, although design-wise they are mostly bland, outside of their main gimmick.
These levels are unlocked through coins. One of the things this game does right is making all the coin collecting worthwhile, something the games it was clearly inspired by rarely did. Worlds are littered with coins to collect, and upon completing a level, you can bring the coins with you to purchase key items or to access various challenge levels. Challenge levels feel earned as you reap the reward for taking the time to collect coins. Meanwhile, you can also buy items that work towards other objectives. A shovel helps you find fossils in certain spots, a compass helps you find key items in a world; every item feels earned and makes you feel like you're opening up more opportunities, especially since some items are crucial to collecting medallions.
Between missions you spend time in the hub world, which is essentially a massive sky with several places to visit, slowly unlocked over the course of play. Here you can access the special challenge levels and receive bonuses for collectibles and the aforementioned character upgrades. The hub world is simple, but it’s nice to explore and see the variety of options littered throughout, giving you access to more gameplay options. You are never enticed to explore, as there isn’t much to see, but the hub world does give some reason to the world.
Anytime you die in Poi, or fail a platforming challenge, it never feels like a case of bad design. Yes, sometimes characters won’t grab at a climbable fence, or cliff edge, but this can be relegated to positioning so failures don’t feel cheap. The game is very responsive in quickly adhering to your button presses, and gives you ample opportunity to jump as necessary.
Poi is not one of the best games available on the Switch, but it is clear the developers had a lot of love for the classic games they took inspiration from. At this angle Poi is worth the play for its short runtime. If you're done with Super Mario Odyssey and are looking for a half decent platformer, give Poi a go. It will keep your attention from start to finish, and is at least fun to play, and is a great distraction between major releases.