Developed by Purple Tree Studio and published by Zordix/Green Man Gaming, Ponpu describes itself as “inspired by the classic gameplay of Bomberman”, which is sort of true if you’re playing the multiplayer modes. However, if you’re tackling lengthy story mode – and I use the word “story” loosely as you’ll only get an intro and outro cutscene – it feels closer in design to classic NES/SNES isometric action-RPGs like Zelda.
Starting with the story mode – a good place to get a grip on movement, universal abilities, and unique Ponpu bomb types – you’re tasked with stopping the evil Duck-God from resetting the universe. This involves bombing your way through six zones, each with distinctive environments, enemies, and traps, before taking out a massive boss and edging closer to battling the Duck-God itself.
For solo players, there’s a suitably lengthy and challenging Story Mode. However, the basic gameplay loop of completing several levels to unlock the boss encounter does grow stale without any tangible sense of progression.
Unlike the single-screen multiplayer modes, you’ll move from screen-to-screen, blowing up enemies and obstacles, dodging spikes, blades, and chasms, while hunting for secret collectibles that provide temporary buffs. You’ve start off with three hearts per level but can find more by destroying objects – giving you some leeway for error – while destroying enemies will require 1-3 blasts. Eventually, you’ll find a key that grants you access to a much tougher, multi-stage boss fight at the end of each world that’ll put your reflexes and pattern-recognition to the test.
Before you get to the boss of each world, you’ll typically face off against another Ponpu in a fast-paced battle that’ll force you to counter your own skillset – a skillset that is more fleshed out than the simple drop-and-run approach in the classic Bomberman games. You can kick your bombs across the floor (just watch out for the rebound); trigger a brief shield to deflect bombs past you or absorb a blow; dash to avoid spikes and chasms; and utilise specialised bombs (which vary based on your chosen Ponpu) that can be manually triggered, freeze enemies in place, or leave a poison cloud. My major gripe would be the rare misread input, which resulted in me dropping a bomb in the wrong spot and potentially getting stuck in a dead end with no way to avoid the blast.
The best part of Story Mode is the tough, multi-stage boss battles that’ll test your reflexes, while you observe attack patterns and pick the best time to strike.
Both the basic gameplay loop and world progression follow a tried-and-tested formula, but it is a formula that grows stale towards the end. There are no permanent unlocks to your health or abilities that give the impression of growing in strength over time. As such, so each new world feels like a reset, just with tougher enemies and traps. Thankfully, if you’re not enamoured with the story mode, Ponpu comes with three excellent, fast-paced multiplayer modes (local and online) that are perfect for quick bursts of entertainment.
First up is the typical free-for-all Deathmatch mode, which sees 4 players charging around a small stage trying to blast one another, with the last Ponpu standing taking the win. It can be a surprisingly tactical experience as each player always needs to consider their own positioning (until most destructible objects have been blown away), the range of their chosen specialist bomb, and the effects of their opponent’s specialist bomb. Rushing in for quick kills almost always works against you, so you’re better off engaging from a distance with bomb-kicks, ready to tap your shield in a moment’s notice to deflect an incoming bomb.
Coin Steal remains my favourite multiplayer mode thanks as there are several strategies you can use to win, from continuous aggression to last-minute manoeuvres.
Paint Battles are more chaotic 2 vs. 2 encounters, in which your goal is to coat the environment with coloured paint – not unlike Nintendo’s Splatoon games, just with ducks and bombs. The need to strategically coat sections of the stage while your partner keeps the opposing team busy encourages teamplay. Once every surface is coated in paint, the team with the greatest coverage wins.
By far my favourite mode is Coin Steal. This is another free-for-all mode, but it’s paired with a 3-minute timer. Players must bomb destructible objects to uncover coins, and then try hold onto their stash until the timer ends. Killing your opponents will force them to drop their coins and buy you a few seconds of peace while they respawn. It’s a fantastic, fast-paced mode that alternates between chaos and strategy. I’ve managed to claim several wins by maintaining an aggressive approach from the get-go, but I’ve also claimed a few by playing cautiously, then knocking out the top player and claiming their horde in the final seconds.
I loved the art style as it both looks great and provides clear feedback to the player during frenetic battles.
Regardless of which mode you play, the gameplay is backed up by distinctive hand-drawn art, quirky character designs, humorous animations, and a catchy soundtrack that all complement the action. The use of black-on-white or white-on-black environments both looks great and provides the player with plenty of visual feedback. Colour is used sparingly – except for the Paint Battle mode – and typically reserved for Ponpu eyes, explosions, and collectibles.
At an £11.99 -equivalent price point, Ponpu offers up plenty of quality content that is best consumed in short bursts. The Story Mode is a good place to get accustomed to the mechanics but loses steam after two or so hours (I wish there was just a boss-rush mode). On the other hand, the multiplayer modes remained entertaining no matter how matches I played, thanks to their short length and mix of chaotic and strategic gameplay.
Ponpu is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows.
This review is based on the PC version of the game which can be purchased here for £11.99
Enjoy the review? want to read more of our reviews? then click right here to be whisked away to the realm of our opinions.