Review by Cryogen Glacien

Reviewed: 04/06/04

Is He Related To Rayman?

Ahh, of the most overlooked and underappreciated SNES platformers ever. This game is the story of a strange little man with no discernible joints who fights by firing his limbs at his foes. His world is bright, colorful, and cartoonishly surreal. The challenge is off the scale, and the music is just amazing. Does any of this seem familiar to you? If you said it sounds like Rayman, well, you'd be right; the game has almost the exact same feel to it. I think they might be cousins, actually...

...except that this game was released in 1993, several years before Rayman. So maybe Plok is his uncle...? Possible family ties aside, Plok looks (and sounds!) almost like a Playstation title, and on the Super NES that's quite an accomplishment. Keep in mind this is a system with an onscreen palette of only 256 colors simultaneously, whose CPU runs at 3.58, 2.68, or 1.79 MHz (translation: low-end VGA display and about 1/10 as fast as those old computers you find breeding dust bunnies in your high school storage room...yeah, the DOS boxes with the '386DX chips in 'em). All told, Plok is an impressive feat of coding which pushed the SNES to its limits, though not in the same mold that, say, Final Fantasy 6 or Bahamut Lagoon did. Let's break it down:

Graphics: 9.5/10
Wow. Just wow. The only reason this didn't get a perfect 10 is that the world map could have used a little more detail. The levels themselves, however, are definite 10's. The colors are amazing, and the animation is the most fluid I've ever seen on the SNES, even surpassing Earthworm Jim on most counts. The levels are very bright and surreal, and the closest description I can give is that it feels like playing a cartoon. Yes, they've said that about a lot of games, but this one does it right. Where else will you find a hero who's made of schoolbus-yellow and Kool-Aid red fabric, with boomeranging detachable limbs and wearing an executioner's mask? (Why are you looking at me like that? That's what it looks like!)

Enemies are given just as many frames of animation as Plok, and in many cases are more impressively colored (the gargantuan Bobbins Brothers, for example). Nothing has been left out; even the backgrounds, static though they are, are beautifully rendered and present a colorful backdrop without infringing on the foreground. You also won't find yourself squinting at tiny, hard-to-see sprites, as even the most minor enemies and their projectiles have several frames of animation and lots of color. Oh, and wait till you get to Legacy Island...nice touch with Grandpappy Plok, there. These graphics are nearly Playstation-caliber, and they look very much like Rayman material minus most of the shininess and ''puffiness'' that seemed so prevalent in that particular game.

Sound and Music: 10/10
This is definitely the most impressive aspect of the game. The sound is absolutely amazing, almost CD-quality. The Super NES's sound core is Sony's SPC7000 chip, an 8-channel sampling synthesizer, and the things that can be done with it in the right hands are almost limitless. The samples used are very high-quality and unusual, like the fat bass and some extremely realistic-sounding guitar and harmonica samples. Also of note is what seems to be a sampled chord at about 0:40 in the Akrillic track. The soundtrack in general is upbeat, cartoonish, and very much appropriate for the game's settings. The songs are also very long; most SNES songs loop after 30-60 seconds, but some of these go on for well over 3 minutes, and all of that is unique music with several different movements. They aren't just straight notes, either; there's a lot of pitch-bending, modulation, and attack/decay variations. The soundtrack is not at all conventional and may put some people off, but almost everyone can find at least one track they like; I personally like the Akrillic and Beach themes.

As for sound effects...these could have been better, but they're not bad by any means. Plok sort of goes ''yi-eep!'' whenever he gets hit, though that's not really a fitting description of the sound; it's a bit more sharp-edged than that. Other than that, most things sound dead-on accurate: splashes sound wet, Plok makes a cute little ''boing'' when he jumps, and the sound of his limbs reattaching is a satisfying, Velcro-ish rip. This game is pure ear-candy, if you can stand the occasional yelp from your hero. If you have a computer, I would very much recommend picking up the SPC set from Zophar's Domain and an SPC player of your choice (all free, don't worry).

Gameplay: 7/10
Okay, here's where we've got some problems. First beef: this game is hard. It's not quite as bad as Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt, but it's getting there. It's not hard because of cheap hits (usually) or poor control, but the levels are very open-ended and long, and the programmers like putting deadly obstacles in your path when you least expect it, like those blasted logs. The first world, Cotton Island, is pretty much a straight hop'n'bop, but once you get past that, the game adds a lot of backtracking within individual levels and seeking out enemies to destroy.

It also adds a certain element of strategy in the form of target switches, which you hit with a limb to cause the level to reconfigure part of itself so you can move on. The catch is that the limb you use to hit it gets whisked off to a coat hanger (yes, a wire coat hanger) somewhere else in the level, and you have to get it back at some point. You can play without one (or both) arms for a while if you want, but you need at least one leg for effective locomotion; lose all your limbs and you become a hopping torso and head with no way of defending yourself except bouncing out of harm's way somewhat uncontrollably. Since your limbs are your main method of attacking, and since enemies can take a lot of abuse, you'll want to keep them securely on your person as much as possible.

One thing that makes this game really frustrating is the amount of damage enemies can do to you. Don't be fooled by that nice long lifebar Plok has; most things can zap a good 25% of your energy just by touching you, and Plok has almost zero invincibility time between hits. Add the fact that bosses like to double-team (and triple-team, and more), and that several hits take only one unit off their equally long lifebars, and that they stay invincible for several seconds after being damaged, and you have some of the most frustrating boss fights in history. Other than that, the only other glaring flaw is that the levels are so open-ended that you can get lost very easily. Thankfully, there's no timer, and if you're hunting for fleas an arrow will point you toward the nearest one if you stay still long enough (you're on your own for the level flagpole though).

With all this difficulty, the game is at least nice enough to provide you with plenty of chances to get extra lives and continues. Scattered throughout each level are huge amounts of seashells, and as you collect these a small meter shaped like Plok's head fills up. When it is full, you get an extra life. You also get a continue every 4 levels, as well as when you find 4 tokens to spell out ''PLOK'' (you get one per completed level, and you can find some in stages occasionally). There are also a few power-ups, like health-restoring fruit, the mighty buzzsaw (touch it and you'll turn into a saw blade for a few seconds), and several rather violent (for Plok, anyway) weapons of mass carnage. A flamethrower and a wide-angle shotgun, complete with Elmer Fudd hat, are among the least powerful of these. They don't last too long, but they're very strong and generally have better range than your limbs.

Overall, if you have a lot of patience and experience with platformers, it shouldn't be too horrible for you. The look of the game is such that it seems appropriate for a third-grader, but the difficulty says 13 and up. Unfortunately, there's no save-game or password feature, so if you get a game over, you have to start all the way from Cotton Freaking Island. This does a lot to knock down the replay value, of which there wasn't much to begin with.

Play Control: 9/10
No real complaints here. Plok handles like a dream, responding immediately to your button presses but never overcompensating. He can stop on a dime unless he's missing his legs, in which case you can just wait for them to come back if you've thrown them (or make it a point to visit Mr. Hanger more often between switch-hitting...).

The commands for Plok are pretty simple, too: Y fires limbs, up to 4 at a time. B does a jump, during which he can still fire and retrieve his appendages. A does a spinning jump, which gets him much more air time and altitude but stops him from attacking. X lets him fire his helpers (you'll see something buzzing around his head if you have them). They'll go after fleas and help you get rid of them. And the R and L buttons will let you charge yourself up once you get a certain item...

As a rule of thumb, use the A-button (spin-jump) unless you're absolutely sure your normal jump will suffice. You can move Plok around in mid-air during either one, but the spin jump keeps you airborne much longer and launches you much higher than the regular one. Also, the actual solid surfaces of platforms may not be what looks like the top of them; the macaroni-looking foliage, for example, is solid at about the middle of any given clump, not the top edge. It may look like you'll fall through, but you won't. You can jump up through most floors of this type, though getting down is a different matter.

The only thing that stops this from being a perfect 10 is that it can be hard to attack effectively at times, both with your limbs and with certain power-up items. Plok's boomeranging extremities have only so much range, and while they can still cause damage on their return flight, they're a little hard to get the hang of.

Story: 6/10
Well, what can I say here? It's a platformer, and a cartoonish one at that; it shouldn't need much story. Plok is on a mission to recover his stolen flag on Cotton Island. He makes his way through a bunch of fakes, and eventually discovers the real one, which he takes back home...only to discover that fleas have taken over his hometown and the surrounding area. Being a natural type-A personality (look at those limbs flail when he finds a fake flag!) and a bug hater to boot, he decides to rid the land of the outsized fleas by any means necessary. So it is that a simple quest for a flag turns into an extermination job of monolithic proportions. I'm sure there's something symbolic about all this somewhere...either that, or someone on the storyboarding crew gets his inspiration in questionably-legal herbal form.

Replay Value: 6/10
Honestly, there's not much point in replaying this once you've beaten it. It's a supremely well-crafted game, and that alone is reason enough to play it more than once, but there's nothing really new to find in a second playthrough. The lack of password or save features knocked this score down from a 7 to a 6; really, unless you have a solid 4 or 5 hours and a lot of experience, you're not going to beat this game. Save states couldn't hurt either.

Overall: 8/10
All things considered, Plok is one of the diamonds in the rough of the SNES era. It's vanishingly rare these days, and most likely you will be playing it in ROM form unless you have a Gamestop nearby and a lot of luck. Save states will make the game somewhat easier than playing on a console, but it will still be quite a trip. Even if you don't get very far, though, the game will dazzle you with some of the best graphics and music ever to grace the SNES. The game is well worth playing and is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of recent releases. Sometimes, you just want to play a cheerful, surreal, insanely hard 2D platformer instead of blowing three other players' heads off with an uzi in some polygonal dungeon on your computer at 2 AM.

Buy, Rent, or Avoid
Depends. I'd say buy if you find it, but due to the low replay value you may find it collecting dust after a while. I doubt any place has it for rental, but if there is one, definitely give it a try.

Rating: 8

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