Rediscovering: Plok

| #16bit | #rediscovering | #snes | #videogames |

Originally written in four installments, 12 years ago. Part of the Rediscovering series.

I remember Plok. When it came out, no one cared anymore. It checked every box on the ‘zzz what’ list: platform game, SNES, cute mascot of some sort (WTF is that anyway?) from a no-name developer in Europe, long a source of craptastic software despite what Amiga fans would have you believe.

So I never played it, and I don’t really remember even seeing one, which is a surprise considering I worked at and owned two game stores when 16 bit was king. But I remember seeing it in magazines, and I remember not being interested because other stuff looked more awesome. Like, all the other stuff. Years later, I seem to have gained the impression that Plok was a bit of a gem, so I’m giving it a go to see if that’s true.

Loading it up now is delightful. Right off the bat there’s a catchy soundtrack, far better and more energetic than most SNES games. And the graphics – they’re bright and colourful, not plain like Super Mario World, and not eye-searing like some candy-land kid’s game with its palette of pink, pinker and pinkfuckyoupink. It looks good, and it looks like it was done by someone who knew what they were doing. It’s happy and it’s not ashamed about it.

I like it so far. No character momentum, snappy controls, it’s silly without being stupid.

And it’s creative. B button shoots, but instead of bullets or whatever, he hurls his hands and feet. They come back like boomerangs, unless they hit something and they return immediately through some sort of colourful magic or whatever. I dunno, it’s a game, realism’s for losers. If you throw all four limbs, Plok drops to the ground and cruises along on his belly. It’s clever. It makes me smile.

Here’s the ROM if you want to try it.

The initial charm is wearing a little bit thin, especially now that I’ve completed the first island, which is basically an acclimation stage. The next stage, which appears to be the main chunk of the game based on the size of the map, involves a lot more busywork. Instead of just avoiding hazards and cheerfully stomping my way to the finish line, I’m now tasked with eradicating all the fleas (which sort of resemble frogs as much as anything) on each stage, and what was mostly linear level design has given way to the sort of large, multi-directional scrolling level that I hated in Earthworm Jim, Aladdin, Super Pitfall, Lion King and all those other similar games. I’m not here to work my way out of a fucking maze, dammit. I want a clear goal and a challenge between it and me.

Happily, if you stand still for a moment, Plok! gives you a little arrow pointing out the nearest surviving flea. So if you’re looking for the last one, you won’t have to waste too much time. You just need to work out how to get to where the arrow’s pointing.

There are some interesting mechanics involved from time to time, mostly involving the use of targets which you must throw a limb at to activate a platform or remove an obstacle. When struck, they zap your thrown limb to the nearest coat hanger, where you must go to collect it, until which time you’re down one shot and at a greater risk of bouncing along the ground instead of running.

Without legs Plok can’t jump, and it means he’ll have trouble standing on a slope. Without feet, Plok slides, and when you’re fighting one of these jumpy, multi-hit fleas, it can lead to a bit of an oops moment.

Plok! offers you a lot of life, with a health bar that can mean you’ll survive three or more hits with enemies and bullets. Each thing you strike, including falling into the ocean, removes a variable amount of health. Healthups are not common, but you’re granted 100% recuperation at the start of every level, so it’s fairly forgiving.

Which is good, ’cause the difficulty is starting to ramp up.

I’m very happy to report that there’s no significant collecting to be done. You grab things you need, but aside from seashells (100 of which give you a 1up) you don’t have to find any letters or prizes in the levels. Thank fuck for that.

Sometimes you find a treasure box that turns Plok into something else. So far I’ve been a fireman with a flamethrower, and this traditional British hunter with a scattershot blunderbuss. The boxes are rare, and the new outfits do not serve any particular purpose. They don’t give you skills you can save or re-use, time out soon after you get them, and are not required to clear any parts of the level. While creative and fun, they’re sort of pointless.

The target ate my hand.

After a few levels of almost getting slightly tedious flea-busting action, Plok returns home, hoists the flag he was searching for, and laments the missing amulet that his grandpappy never found.

And cue a dream segue into a series of black and white old-timey-film levels where Plok, now playing as the Mustachio’d GrandPappy Plok, revisits a bunch of dig sites where he thinks he’s buried the amulet.

These levels are short, none too difficult, and provide a nice break from all the crap we’ve just been through. At the end of each of these effective mini stages, old man Plok finds the dig site and pulls out things that are definitely not the amulet he was searching for, then continues to the next short stage.

And after the neat black and white levels, it’s back to flea hunting and it’s not really a lot of fun. Stage after stage of large maze-like levels with hidden platforms and pointless powerups punctuated by excruciating boss fights…

What started off sweet and unique and well crafted has turned into a seemingly endless drudgery. Despite the obvious skill that went into the game, it’s just not for me.

[ Jun 5 2024 ]

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