By Philip Orona
“Run and Gun” has long been a staple in the world of video game genres. Contra, Ikari Warriors, Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes have peppered our brains with fond memories of wasting hours on end blowing away aliens, monsters and enemy soldiers. That genre has also given birth to not so straight line games like Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Smash TV. Popslinger, by Funky Can Creative, is very much in the later group of “Run and Gun” with a more animated twist and some groove added on top. It is easy to dismiss Popslinger on initial play as one-note but as you press on, you will find more melody on offer, but is it enough?
Popslinger’s opening doesnt give you much to work with in terms of story (it is explained a little more as you play) but the press start screen sets the tone with it’s funky 90’s deep house music and “Cartoon Network” art style. Starting up, your character Ria is awakened by a translucent purple haired being named Gin (Jinn?) after an injury in an incident that was caused by a cross-dimensional invasion. This being offers you the power to help push back the invasion and accompanies you throughout the journey. The scenario is almost like Shin Megami Tensei in nature (or Persona if you feel like the Purple lounge reminds you of the Velvet room) but that’s where the similarities stop.
The art style is very reminiscent of Steven Universe and so is the voice acting which isn’t a bad thing. It’s an almost American-Anime style that has also been used in manga like Ninja Highschool or Scott Pilgrim vs the World and works in this presentation with lots of purple and pink hues dominating the color palette. The stage map has an interesting VHS tape effect happening at the bottom of the screen as well. Younger players would probably think that something is wrong with their Switch but for those raised in the 80’s, it’s a sight we know all too well. It is a curious but stylistic design choice that gives this game its personality.
The game play is shooting through mini stages that have you taking on little colored blob creatures. Pop four of the same color in a row and a new facet of the background music is added. This scheme becomes part of your overall stage score as you progress the music meter that is in the form of a cassette tape, more on the music later. As you pop monsters, you can summon your interdimensional friend for assistance. She can act as a turret, follow you around and mimic your movies or shield you. I find the turret to be almost useless unless you are stuck in an area that contains a wave of monsters. The double is only okay during stage play but works best battling a boss. Take enough hits and it will deplete your life meter and its game over but you can continue easily in the same area you died in. The controls are simple enough with 2 shoot buttons, a summon Gin button and a dodge. The dodge simply moves you around a little quicker but you can still be hit by things. The stages vary in background design but there isn’t much to interact with other than the monsters. Once you beat a stage, you can choose to do it again to get a better score or move on to the next area.
The largest emphasis in this game seems to be the music and it really is a highlight. The music is very much down tempo deep house (a personal favorite genre of mine) and it plays throughout. As stated before, defeating sets of monsters rewards you with small pieces of the song playing in the background (like hi-hats, guitar strums or snares). This begins to flesh out the overall background music which adds a fun layer to popping baddies. If you take a hit though, or pop a different color monster out of succession, your funk progression meter starts anew which adds some difficulty and consideration of who to shoot when. The scoring system is a bit brutal however, especially when different colored monsters start weaving in between each other and your projectile misses its target and hits the wrong colored baddie which ruins your stage score. This becomes an issue near the end when you need to have a B rank or higher on all of the stages to unlock the final area. Which is especially frustrating given the next bit.
The game starts off slowly with waves of samey type enemies that does get a little boring. While they do get bigger later on, It’s not a good start when the initial stages feel like a slog. The boss fights are the only thing that mixes things up in terms of battle and the first area doesn’t have one. So, the main portion of the game, the side scrolling shoot’em up, is just okay. The art style may be subjective to taste but the music is what really props up the game. The controls could use some work and the hit boxes need to be fixed, I feel like I took a lot of hits that I shouldn’t have and there were times where I could almost stand on an enemy turret and not take damage. Also the bosses are almost unreasonably difficult and there is no way to turn this down. While the first boss was not too difficult, there were times when she would teleport right into you, making you take unavoidable damage. The second boss likes to shoot from off screen and then pops the spawning baddies before you can, keeping you from powering up.
Popslinger has the bones of a good stylistic shooter with an awesome soundtrack but it falls a little flat in its execution of overall game play which is where this game needs to succeed. While the rest is nice, what good is it if you are not motivated enough to play through to experience it? Between the slog of enemies and inconsistent hit boxes it feels like a chore to play at times. If difficulty could be adjusted, add more enemy types, power ups, fix collisions and maybe add co-op, this would be a much more solid entry. If I wanted to be brutally smoked by boss fights while eyeballing the visuals with an enjoyable soundtrack, I already have a game for that, Cup Head.
Things I like:
Good art style
Things I would improve:
The overall game play