Friday, December 18, 2015

Magical Pop'n (SNES Repro) Review

Received: July 2nd, 2015 / Written: December 13th-18th, 2015
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Polestar
Published by: Pack-In-Video | [|O|]
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit!  =D  So after two consecutive weeks of discussing lesser licensed video game adaptations of hit movies (for both Imagineering's SNES Home Alone and its sequel), it's time to get back to business and talk about a quality title for a change.  And it's one I'm excited to talk about!

During this Summer (for reasons that would take too long in this review to explain) I had come to the realization that the Super Famicom had a much more superior and fascinating library than the Western Super Nintendo; which don't get me wrong, does have games worth playing, but its collection pales in comparison to the Japanese counterpart.  So because of this (and because my 16-bit importing got put on hold) I decided to try something I never tried before: buying an NTSC SNES repro cart of a Super Famicom game, import without actually importing.  And while the process of converting SFC titles to SNES carts attributes to their costliness, the good news was that their prices all varied (plenty somewhat below $50).
And given that the repro cart movement inspired a vast array of SFC-to-SNES games, naturally there was a wide selection to choose from.  One of my first choices was actually Magical Pop'n, which normally costs an outrageous amount to buy in its original format (for reasons I have a feeling I know the answer to) boxed or no, but there was a copy I saw on eBay that was roughly $46!  That was quite a bargain all things considered, but sadly by the time I came back to it that cart was gone.  But I wanted to try a repro cart as soon as possible, so when I saw a repro cart of Lenar's Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof (a game I had been curious about for awhile) I went for it without hesitation.  And I'm glad I did, because that lightheartedly quirky Western equivalent to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past quickly became one of my favorites, and was a great way to start this year's Summer.  <=)
But even though I had lost the opportunity with Magical Pop'n I did not give up on wanting to purchase it, because I knew that I would have another chance.  So once in awhile I checked to see if there were any repro carts for it; sometimes yes, sometimes no.  But luckily that late June I saw a copy which had cost roughly a dollar less than the one I glanced at a month prior, which was perfect--and this time I bought my own copy for sure, which arrived in early July.  This highly sought after platformer is often clamored to be one of the best Super Famicom games ever made by the retro video game-loving masses, but does it live up to that hype?  Let us talk about my second NTSC SNES repro cart: Magical Pop'n8-)  We're in for quite a ride here.
 
In the magical realm of To'ahl magic flourished and peace had prospered for awhile, and in it lived a young hyperactive princess named... er... "Princess" who's been rendered bored not just by peace but by the lessons her wizardly grandfather is bestowing upon her.
But during one lesson that he's in the middle of teaching, Gramps is shocked when he sees the crystal ball on the table flash a bright blinding light, which gives him a bad feeling and sees it as an ill omen.  And he was right, for that night a legion of monsters and henchmen serving the Demon King have decided to attack the kingdom and wreak havoc upon the once peaceful land.  With her highness being the only one who's got the skills to take on the evil forces on the land, will she be able to save To'ahl and become a better monarch/sorceress in the process?

Up on the rooftops
Magical Pop'n is a 2D sidescrolling platformer with some rather involved gameplay, so please bear with me as I describe the controls: as To'ahl's unnamed princess Princess you can run left and right, look up above you, and duck (you can even crawl as you hold down as you go left or right); jumping is done with the B button (like any reasonable SFC/SNES game, and how high or low you jump depends on how hard you press it), sliding down thin platforms by pressing down and B, doing the slide attack by pressing the lower diagonal left and right direction and the B button simultaneously, using the sword (for attacking and deflecting purposes) with the Y button (on the ground, in midair, lunging it above you, and while you're ducking), using your sword as a pogo stick as you press down and Y at the right moment (like DuckTales and Shovel Knight), and with the A button you use any one of the six magic abilities you can choose from, which you can alternate with the left and right shoulder buttons; and finally by pressing the Select button (yyyyeah, that's obscure button placement there) on any one of the abilities you're currently using you'll be conjuring a desperation attack against your foes.

Daaah, demon rabbit!  Kill it!
The magical abilities that you use cannot be used indefinitely (so it's best to use your magic sparingly), for you need the requisite amount of star power to conjure them at your leisure (many times more for your desperation moment), and scattered throughout each stage there are stars that can be found and located; some of them appear in chests while certain stars will appear after certain enemies have been dealt with.  The beauty of your magic capabilities is that they're not just a good way of disposing of enemies without going physical with the sword, but they are also a perfect way of bypassing particular obstacles in each stage (i.e. fire melts ice, rope magic lets you swing on magical hooks) should you locate and find said magic.  =)

Explosive toss
The controls are really responsive and easy to get into, and one of the best aspects of the game is actually how vast and widely nonlinear each stage is.  =)  Magical Pop'n is not a straightforward and linear platformer, for there are moments when you occasionally have to backtrack or reenter certain rooms if there was an obstacle you previously could not clear, and sometimes two separate rooms would lead to a room that is connected (like Super Metroid).  Thorough exploration is also a necessity if you wish to find chests with vital items inside and/or the magic spell you need to clear past particular obstacles; which is great because it ends up lending this platformer plenty of atmospheric depth.  =)  I'll elaborate more on it later.

"Magicaru Bomba!"
Each of Magical Pop'n's various areas look really good, with a good sense of detail here and there in both the foreground and the background.  I like how in the introductory stage it starts out raining and thundering at night, but then after passing through solid-looking interiors of both houses and underground sewers, you're treated to an amazing parallax scrolling sequence of houses as you're on the rooftop which gives it lots of depth.  =)  The forest stage, simple though it may be from comparison, has got soothing chartreuse hues during the day sequence, and its foliage looks so pretty.  Even the wavy effects of the fire cavern and the ice palace with its calming interiors look great!

Pushing to the left
The main character you control looks and animates very smoothly, and I liked the cute anime charm about her.  Her running, jumping, attacking, ducking, crawling, sliding, pushing, and even idle animations are great to look at; but what's really great about her is the expressions when she does any of these things.  =)  Among the enemies you encounter are piranhas, blobs, eerie creatures with extendable arms, fire-breathing pyro creatures, trolls, and even a literal army of penguins (if not regular ones); some of the latter even drive tanks in the first stage.  The enemies are all well-designed and animate nicely.
On the (mid)boss side of things, they are all huge by comparison, and all have varying designs (some with a very ominous look and feel to them).  One of them is a Janus-head style boss with each of the four sides having a head, and one of them is a giant-sized anthropomorphic fruit with bug-eyes (I think), to name a couple; the rest are good too and I'll leave a surprise.  When you face the final form of the Demon King the design is grotesquely menacing (do not highlight unless you've played the game: makes me think of the designs of the late H.R. Giger), and the backdrop for when you face him is visually nifty.  =D

"Take that!"
The cutscenes in the beginning and end of the game are simple yet appealing in terms of design, and the bright colors are very well-chosen during these instances; I especially adored the markers that introduced the stage you were about to start embarking.  The simplicity of the in-game cutscenes is a rather stark difference from the very detailed cover art that was attached to the game (designed by Takami Akai)--which don't get me wrong, the latter is visually striking in its own right, but the difference between the cover and in-game design of the character Princess is keenly felt.  Bottom line is, the visual art of Magical Pop'n is really good.  =D

Embracing the sunrise in the midst of battle
The music in Magical Pop'n is really great for it not only does a fantastic job of lending the numerous areas of To'ahl their sense of atmosphere but their own sense of identity too.  =)  The music ranges from lighthearted (To'ahl Castle) to atmospheric (Mystic Forest) to intimidating (Dangerous Keep) to epic and inspiring (Cloudy Ice Palace, my favorite song in the game), and they all work perfectly well (especially the intensifying final stage theme).  Even the bouncy and upbeat title theme is pleasant to listen to, and the (mid)boss themes aren't so shabby either.  The rest of the music is great, and I like hearing the short fanfare for when you successfully cleared each stage, not to mention that the soft cue for when you find a new magic spell is very comforting to hear.  =)  Even better, the music can be listened to in the sound test (yay!).

Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Rain the icy flakes
down my enemiiiies! ♪
The sound effects are decent (the sound for Princess' sword too), but I feel it would be unwise to talk about this game without mentioning what I feel was its major selling point: the main character talks.  While nowadays voice acting is common place when it comes to video games, when it came to the Nintendo 16-bit games of the '90s  if there were to be any digitized dialogue put in it would only be used occasionally, once, or not at all; in Magical Pop'n Princess speaks frequently, which gives this game a sense of uniqueness (among the SFC/SNES library).  Princess was voiced by the late Japanese media personality and AV actress Ai Iijima, in her only contribution to video games (to the extent of my knowledge), and the multitude of lines she provided helps breathe life into this game, and personally if Princess didn't utter a single word in-game then this platformer would not have felt the same.

... Still a better platformer than anything Sonic-related in
the past decade and a half
Given the way she looks when she spinjumps
Iijima passed away in 2008 at the young age of thirty-six from pneumonia, which is sad to hear as from what I've looked up about her she seemed like a very nice person.  May the voice of the Princess rest in peace.  =(  When I say that the main character speaks throughout the game, I'm not kidding: she speaks when she attacks with her sword and when she takes damage, she says the magic spell aloud (mostly during desperation magic), she moans when she loses all her health, she cheers when she finds a vital item or a magic spell and when she defeated the end of stage boss, and even the title is spoken out loud by her ("Magicaru Pop'ūn"), and they all sound crystal clear.  =)

Now that is one big breath of fire
The six stages in Magical Pop'n are all layered in a way that certain turns you make will lead to different parts of that stage, but if it leads to a dead-end at least it's possible to backtrack; you never know if a particular door or path will lead to something good.  Occasionally you will stumble upon treasure chests, and depending on what's inside you will find a star for your star count, a heart that will augment your health capacity (health can regularly be replenished by candy and sweet food), and a life icon, but be careful because some of them might contain bombs (and when that's the case you should clear out from it within seconds).  Part of what adds to the challenge is that in this game you must find three life icons in order to gain a new life as opposed to one like in most games of the genre; and that I find quite clever.  =)

Spinning in action
Just like Princess' health is represented by hearts, the (mid)bosses' health is represented by, fittingly enough, skulls.  Polestar devised many ways of challenging you in this game; for example, on several occasions are doors that will have to be unlocked by the press of a switch, and later on in those instances you have an unspecified amount of time to reach that door and enter it before time runs out and you have to go through it again.  Once in awhile you'll have to avoid the beaming and fiery projectiles from the wall enemies, even as you must jump on (a series of) moving platforms.  Do you remember how you had to properly time your jumps on the disappearing/reappearing platforms in Mega ManMagical Pop'n has one moment like that during one stage, but don't worry, it's not as tasking here as it is in that aforementioned 8-bit platformer.

Penguins are my enemy in this game
Quite honestly as far as difficulty is concerned it's largely normal for the most part (especially when confronting enemies and bosses); what makes it worthy of challenge for me are the stages' sense of longevity.  The area layouts are complex, which gives you a solid chance at trial and error as far as navigation is concerned; the first time you play it you don't know where a path might lead you until you take it, and after the midboss fight you can only progress forward from there.  Don't worry, these stages are not as nightmarish as I make them sound, for they are fun and manageable to navigate (with plenty of challenge to boot); where it might feel overwhelming in terms of size (even after the first time) are the maze-like final two stages, especially since this platformer must be beaten in one sitting.  Spoilers: Magical Pop'n has to be beaten in one sitting; but it's not so bad since it can be beaten in roughly an hour or an hour and a half if you stick with it.  =)

Nearing the tale's end
It's too bad Magical Pop'n remained Japan-exclusive (officially speaking), but I do understand the reason for it: while it is possible to translate what little of the story dialogue there was during the beginning and ending, the voice would've remained the same regardless.  Voice acting doesn't come cheap, you know, as it is a very costly process, and I can't imagine the pint-sized heroine speaking in a language that is not Japanese.  That is one of the many reasons I consider Polestar's platformer to be very fun until the very end, as well as for the versatile control scheme, complex area layouts, and likable boatloads of anime charm.  Also, thank you, Polestar, for not adding a score on the HUD (who says all platformers need them?)!  =D

What a beautiful statue
Magical Pop'n is a very enjoyable and highly endearing platformer through and through, from the likably outgoing character Princess to its well-made structure to its varying ways of challenging you to the very fun lighthearted nature.  When I received the game this July I was excited, and because I was so invested in it and because I was willing to persevere I wound up beating it in less than twenty-four hours (give or take a few breaks from it when I didn't succeed).  Gamers all over often regard it as one of the best Nintendo 16-bit games ever made, namely Top 10 material, but is it really?  I don't know, Magical Pop'n is a very great game, there's no doubt about that, but as much as I like the game I don't think it's quite that high in terms of quality (for me it ranks more in my Top 30 than anything else); but then, in the long run it might depend on your personal taste and preference.  =)

Swinging on by
Do I recommend this game?  Absodamnlutely!  If you want to play a platformer with complex area layouts and a grand sense of fun and challenge then Magical Pop'n delivers in those regards.  True, it must be beaten in one sitting, but the ending will be very rewarding should you bypass all the obstacles and challenges thrown in your way.  With the original Super Famicart, from what I looked up, you'd be lucky if you stumbled across a copy that cost way less than $100; with the repro cart edition that has popped up in years past, that is now possible, and if you can afford it then I say go for it!  =)  I guarantee you'll have a very great time with it!

My Personal Score: 8.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Did I get any more repro carts after Magical Pop'n?  Yes, I have; the next one I got months later was Human Entertainment's The Firemen (my third repro cart); now does that game live up to the hype?  Stay tuned for my thoughts on it sometime in 2016.  I'm sorry to say that you might be disappointed as to what I have to say about that one.  =(
 
P.S. 2 Huh, all these years I've been pronouncing Konami's vertical scrolling cute'em on the Super Famicom wrong: it's not Pop'n TwinBee ("Pop'in TwinBee") it's Pop'n TwinBee ("Pop'ūn TwinBee").  And people say video games don't teach you anything.  XD
 
HAPPY 20th ANNIVESARY, Magical Pop'n!  ^(^o^)^
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I don't know about you, but this snowman doesn't look like one who wants to wish you a happy birthday.  Which reminds me, I should probably watch Rankin/Bass' Frosty the Snowman again which is... okay, I guess?  There's also Frosty's Winter Wonderland which is... ummm?  =/  Or how about Frosty Returns which itself is...... ummm?  =/  I haven't seen his crossover features with Rudolph, I wonder how they are like?
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Thank you for reading my review, my kind readers, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a very Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!  =D

4 comments:

  1. I always love your reviews~ this is a really fun game with some easy to overlook flaws. Such a charming little game~

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    1. Thank you so much, your feedback just made my day~ ^-^

      And yes, Magical Pop'n is very fun and charming, I concur wholeheartedly

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  2. I hope your new year celebrations went well! I am looking forward to more post in the future! Quick question though... where do you get most of your import games? I have a mighty need for more import PSone games among other consoles... but eBay usually doesn't give me good results or reasonable prices!

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    1. They did, and I hope yours did too, thanks! =)

      The site I turn to when it comes to most of my retro purchases (not just imports) is eBay, and personally it's the only online retailer I go to, really (I'm not sure how other online retailers are). I'm sorry if I wasn't much help. =(

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