Lemmings in Virtual Reality
I’d hate to do this but I’m starting this review off with a bit of a gripe. Somewhere along the line of the history of video games, publishers (and developers too) have decided that gamers do not need instruction booklets anymore. This needs to stop! I’m not saying that every game needs to come with a paper manual, but at least give us a link to where we can view or at least download the basic functions. Look, the medium of video games is a constantly evolving entity. Even today developers are still finding ways to make video games easier to control. But because of this, there is never a set standard. Even the most basic of functions are changing on a game by game basis. If you’re a developer, I’m begging. Wait, no. I’m pleading! Please bring back the instruction booklet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a digital download or physical paper. Just bring it back. There is a reason I’m bringing this up in this review. Bear with me.
In Pop-up Pilgrims you get to be God. But not just any God! You are a Floating Cloud God that can physically manipulate all of your followers. These followers literally look up to you, and they need your help now more than ever. You see, the evil Demon King has stolen the six sacred scrolls that protect them. To make matters worse, said Demon King’s minions have gone and broken apart the land. So now the Pilgrims’ fate is in your hands. It’s up to you to guide them through the dangerous, broken layers of land to reclaim their scrolls and defeat the Demon King once and for all.
Unfortunately, all of your followers are dumber than rocks, so you’re going to have your hands full. It’s your responsibility to make them jump over pits, avoid dangerous enemies, and collect any items that happen to be lying around. The ultimate goal is to get them from point A to point B without dying. If this premise sounds familiar to you, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re probably pretty old. The reason why I say this is because Pop-up Pilgrims is basically a multilayered 3D version of Lemmings.
I Am Your God Now
Pop-up Pilgrims’ visuals represent that of a children’s pop-up book. Just imagine opening a pop-up book that is on a table at chest level. Looking down upon it you’ll be able to take in all the little details of the multi-layered structures and environments. Since this is VR, you can freely move your head around to get a glimpse of every nook and cranny. The vibrant cherry blossom trees and lush landscapes of the Pilgrims’ land seem to be ripped from a Japanese picture book. The visuals are calming in a way, which is odd considering the amount of danger that the Pilgrims are in. But then again, the beauty of the land is what makes it worth saving.
Controlling the Pilgrims is done with the DS4 controller. The first few stages will give you hints and tips by way of tiny wooden signs that are sticking out of the ground. Since the developers wanted to totally immerse you in the game, there is no cursor located anywhere on the screen. In order to read these tips, you’ll need to position your head exactly where the camera wants you to be in order for the tip prompt to display. This is where things get clunky. Getting the prompt wasn’t as easy as it should be. Whenever I’d see a sign I would have to move my head back and forth, to and fro, in order to get the prompt to come up. I can just imagine what I looked like to my kid who was watching me play. When I finally did manage to get the tip info up I had to keep my head completely still to read it. Moving my head slightly to the left or right would cause the tip completely disappear, and then I would have to start the process all over again. This awkward design has also carried over to the pause menu. A very hard to see pink colored font will let you know what point of the menu that you’re staring at. If you wish to change your option you’ll need to slightly move your head up or down. Using the ol’ D-pad would have made navigation much easier.
Layers of Fear
Once I took some Advil to reduce my neck strain I was able to take in all of the tips. Well, I thought I found them all (more on that later). Overall, controlling your army of Pilgrims is pretty simple. At first, it’ll be your job to make sure the Pilgrims hop over gaps and avoid enemies. Later you’ll be creating jumping points to have them hop from layer to layer. Eventually, you’ll get access to archer and warrior Pilgrims who can both kill enemies and trigger hard to reach switches that change up the environment. Thankfully everything is introduced at a steady pace so controlling the Pilgrims never felt frustrating.
To prolong gameplay there is a points system to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal after each area. For perfectionists who wish to capture the gold, you’ll need to collect every golden octopus located throughout each level while making sure not to lose any Pilgrims. Once a level is complete a point totalizer will open up and award you whatever medal that you’ve earned. I felt this cheapened the experience and made the game feel like something that I should be playing on my phone. Of course, there is a way of failing the level by not earning enough points, but as long as you collect all of the golden octopi, you should move on to the next level.
For those of you who just want to get through the experience without worrying about medals, the game will allow you to carry one lonely Pilgrim throughout the majority of it. The Pilgrims carry over from level to level, so if you’re learning how to play, you may end up with only one after the first few levels. But be aware that stages will eventually require multiple Pilgrims to complete. I found this out the hard way when I got stuck midway through the second world. Considering that the game never informed me that I could purchase more Pilgrim’s, I frustratingly stared at the level for an embarrassing amount of time. I took off my headset and tried searching online for a manual, but of course, there wasn’t one. There may very well have been a tip alerting me of this, but I might not have had my head positioned exactly where it needs to be to see it.
There’s not much to talk about sound-wise. The music is there and is nice. Like the visuals, it’s also very calming. The cute Pilgrims grunt and make other funny noises as they hop from layer to layer. I would have liked to hear more music, but there are only six worlds in total, and each world has its own dedicated song. There’s also boss music and it fits in well with the rest of the themes. Obviously, the boss music is a bit more sinister than the calming music that you’ll hear on any given stage. This isn’t stuff that you’ll be humming after you’ve played the game, but it’s serviceable.
I actually enjoyed Pop-up Pilgrims, but not having a manual to explain the details really soured my overall experience. As with most games nowadays, a tutorial is needed. But viewing the tutorial should not be as difficult as it is. Moving my head around to focus on a small sign was just plain annoying. VR is a nice way to experience the pop-up visuals, but I think the gameplay is better suited for a flat screen. At least then you wouldn’t need to move your whole head around just to view the tutorial.
FINAL VERDICT: 3/5
Available on: PlayStation VR ; Publisher: Dakko Dakko Ltd. ; Developer: Dakko Dakko Ltd. ; Players: 1-2 ; Released: February 13, 2018 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Pop-up Pilgrims given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.