Ponpu, an arcade title in the vein of the Bomberman series, is a wild and whimsical adventure by developer Purple Tree. While this new release doesn’t necessarily do anything new to set itself apart from other games in the genre, its unique visual flair truly defines this title.
Ponpu is a world that is equally charming and grotesque. The opening cutscene conveys this perfectly, as players are immediately greeted with a well animated cinematic that introduces you to the world of Ponpu. Players take the role as a herald of the Duck God and must save the world from imminent destruction.
The game immediately sets the tone within seconds of it beginning. You play a freshly hatched herald of your choosing, and shortly after you watch the desired bomb of your choice slither through an umbilical cord right into the stomach of the infant bird. Bulbous heads, bulging eyes, and esoteric designs make up the characters you meet throughout your journey. Each of the ducklings you can choose from have their own color scheme and design quirk, though all of them function the same. It’s more or less just a skin you can slap on whenever you like. I ended up picking the design featured on the title, as I was somehow endeared towards that singular red eye and the tongue lolling out of the Ponpu’s rounded beak.
Ponpu is a game bursting with visual style and a very clear, deliberate aesthetic. Everything in Ponpu bounces or shifts around the screen with fluidity, whether it be your chosen Ponpu, the bombs you’ll toss and eventually ricochet around the room you’re currently in, or the enemies found on every unique little planet. Even though the game is mostly limited to a handful of colors (primarily black and white to keep in line with its desired aesthetic), the game bursts with personality.
Combat is simple, but relies on quick reflexes to take advantage of the system. Players can drop bombs on the ground and wait for enemies to walk to them, or they can shoot them off to bounce around the arena by triggering their shield. The shield also allows for counters, but only when facing off against enemies that also utilize bombs.
However, unlike that eye-catching visual style Ponpu has almost nothing to offer in regards to its music. There are a handful of background tracks that are barely audible unless you turn the volume on your TV or Switch, while in handheld mode, to nearly max. In addition, entire boss fights were without music. It was strange tossing, deflecting, and dodging bombs in complete silence.
That is largely the only downfall Ponpu has, unless you’re looking for something that will last you for quite awhile. Ponpu is a relatively short game, which isn’t a bad thing within itself. Each of the six levels has a total of four stages each, with the final stage featuring a boss. While the levels do become more mechanically complex, once you understand how the game works, you can breeze through everything fairly easily.
Bosses all feature a unique gimmick, but largely rely on players bouncing bombs around the arena at rapid speed to deteriorate their health bar as quickly as possible. It’s a rinse and repeat sort of deal, but it gets the job done as the game functions best in short, quick bursts of gameplay. Other features become available through progression, like dashing, which adds to a greater sense of mobility even though Ponpu can only travel in the four cardinal directions with no space for any kind of adjacent movement.
Outside of the story mode, Ponpu features three multiplayer game modes. Multiplayer is limited to four players, with each player picking one of the four color designated Ponpu as their avatar. Players can choose to engage in a deathmatch style minigame to come out as the last duckling standing, or try another game mode where they must paint as much of the arena in their color as possible. The last game mode requires players to hoard coins, with the winner designated by who has the largest sum by the end of the match. Like the story mode, all of this is straightforward.
It should be mentioned that Ponpu entirely lacks a Settings menu. Volume cannot be adjusted manually and there is no button customization whatsoever. Thankfully, the game does feature subtitles as characters talk in fairly large dialogue boxes, which means the text is always readable and clear. Additionally, loading screens can take a few seconds on the Nintendo Switch when undocked. It isn’t anything terribly long, but it can sometimes prove irritating if you’re dying frequently in certain levels.
Overall, it is a fairly enjoyable experience and those looking for something visually unique will love what Ponpu has to offer. As a top down puzzle game, Ponpu lacks the complexity of other titles that share its genre. However, the multiplayer options for Ponpu may make up for those issues if you’re able to play with friends and family locally or through the online multiplayer feature. That being said, Ponpu is worth giving a whirl, especially if you’re looking for something short, sweet, and weird.
Ponpu is immediately available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.