Retro Review: Plok

Alright, so this is another filler review. To be fair, I did have a game picked out and started to cover it…but I realised very quickly that it wasn’t a game I could fairly talk about because it was an old school adventure game inspired on a book which I’d never read, a film which I’d never seen and based on a game which I’d never played. It was a game I would like to come back to in the future, but I simply wasn’t going to be able to fairly cover it because I had no idea what I could say about it and I didn’t have the time to hunt down the book or film to make it easier.

So yeah, another filler review of a game which has come out years ago was about the best option I could think of to replace it. To be fair, though, this is a downright obscure title that I’m pretty sure most won’t have even heard of and, while I haven’t actually completed the game, I saw enough to give me a decent idea of what to expect about the game, so…yeah, consider this like a PSA telling you this game exists than an actual review.

Anyway, a quick note for people who are wondering: Plok was created by the company Software Creations. They might not sound familiar to most people, but, if you’re familiar with the Angry Video Game Nerd, you might be interested to know that these are the guys who developed 1990’s Silver Surfer on NES and 1994’s Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage on Sega Genesis and Super NES. They also did ports of Bionic Commando in 1988. So yeah, quite the odd history of games, I’m sure you’d agree! Sadly, they are no longer around, having been dismantled in 2004 as part of Acclaim Entertainment’s failed attempt to avoid bankruptcy (having become part of Acclaim in 2003 under the name Acclaim Studios Manchester) and, while some of the old staff members apparently are still involved in making games, none of them seem to have gone on to create new studios since then.

Plok is one of the company’s few original IPs (as well as their first self-funded game) and came out in 1993 on the Super NES. As someone who is a HUGE fan of the Rayman franchise, this is quite an interesting game, as you can spot that the two have some similarities, despite Rayman having been released in 1995. While it is unlikely that Plok influenced development on Rayman, it cannot be denied that the two games have similarities, though Rayman has certainly aged FAR better than Plok has.

Anyway, Plok is a very difficult 2D platformer that has a protagonist who is capable of using his limbs as weapons. This is where the Rayman similarities should be obvious to most people, but there’s quite a few things which separate the two from each other. The most obvious one is the art style of the game: Plok has a very bright and colorful style which would have probably looked really impressive for 1993, but nowadays comes across as something you’d put together in art software if you weren’t great at shading and lighting effects (or in Flash). Certainly, it’s more cartoony than Rayman in terms of style, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the game looks a lot less impressive than it probably should do. It’s also hard to deny that there were better looking games around the time of Plok’s release (to give just one example, The Wizard of Oz (yes, there really was a video game made based upon The Wizard of Oz. The more you know, eh?), despite being hideously broken, actually looks better nowadays than Plok does), but it would have stood out very well at the time among a library of games.

Another difference is in the story of the games. While Rayman is more out to bring balance back by rescuing electoons and defeating Mr. Dark (and good fucking luck getting to that last part!), Plok starts out more akin to a fetch quest in that he goes to find his flag, which has been stolen from him, and things escalate from there. Not a bad story, if I’m honest, and there’s a few moments in it which got a laugh from me.

Another difference between the two is that Plok contains power ups (not permanent abilities like in Rayman). Now, this is just my personal opinion, but I think the power ups are kind of overpowered. They don’t necessarily make the levels a cakewalk if you pick them up, but they certainly are VERY good and you can get through levels very quickly with them. They don’t last long, but they certainly are powerful enough to make most levels with them noticeably easier. This is probably a good thing overall, though, as Plok is a surprisingly difficult game: while you do have a health meter, in practice, you usually can only take four hits before you lose a life and, due to how much platforming you have to do, the presence of water underneath most of that platforming (which is, luckily, not instant death, but still causes you health damage) and very limited invincibility frames, those hits can happen very quickly. You have three lives by default (you can get more by getting enough points) and you start without any continues (although you get them by beating enough levels), so there’s not a lot of room for error when you start playing the game and newcomers can expect to burn through those lives very quickly due to some nasty tricks which, if you’re not expecting them, can kill you very easily. It’s not to the extent of unfairness of, say, Battletoads, but it’s certainly less forgiving than it probably should be. It also doesn’t help that the game does not have a save feature of ANY sort, so, if you get a game over, expect to have to replay the game from the beginning (unless you’re playing on an emulator, which means you can, but, if you’re like me, you won’t use them because you want to play the game as originally intended, hair torn out be damned!).

The controls of the game are pretty simple: there’s the directional keys, there’s a jump button, there’s a button to fling your limbs and there’s a button to do a spinning jump a la Sonic the Hedgehog (although you can’t attack while doing this jump). Not a lot really to say: they feel responsive and there’s no problems with slowdown when playing the game, so there’s no real lag when using the controls. I didn’t play far enough to get some of the extra abilities mentioned in details about the game, I’ll admit, but there’s certainly nothing to fault the controls over.

The last thing I have to mention is the sound design of the game. Honestly, it’s pretty great, for the most part: while Plok’s scream when hurt is pretty irritating (although, granted, so was Rayman’s in his first game), the rest of the sound design is pretty solid and the music of the game is actually pretty good and actually stands up fairly well to that of modern games.

Ultimately, the only reason to not give Plok a shot is the difficulty of the game makes it a bit difficult to recommend to those who aren’t fans of platform games, as it’s a bit more difficult than is reasonable. However, if you’re a fan of difficult platform games and have no problems with emulators (which you’ll have to be with this game unless you are willing to splash out for your own SNES and a copy of the game, which isn’t cheap: it’s NEVER had a re-release and it’s unlikely to have one any time soon, if at all, as nobody is sure who owns the rights to the game and the game’s obscurity means that there’s no real incentive for a re-release to happen), then this is certainly worth picking up! While I haven’t actually completed the game yet at the time of writing, I certainly have enjoyed playing Plok so far and I certainly plan to keep playing it in my free time until I beat it…without using state saves, because I hate myself and have far too much free time.