Several impressive titles were launched on May 12th for Nintendo's WiiWare service. You've probably heard a bit about Final Fantasy: My Life as King, or Lost Wind. However, for us co-op lovers, those games, while intriguing, lack the co-operative experience we crave. Pop was advertised as having co-op multiplayer, so I bit the bullet and popped the $7 to see just how deep the co-op was.
The game is the definition of simplicity. Using the Wii remote, you pop bubbles. That's it. Small bubbles are worth more points, but large bubbles add to the constantly dwindling timer. Missed shots take a full 3 seconds off the timer, so you have to be careful! It's old school in the sense that you are playing merely for points. However, there is a depth that frankly, I didn't expect. Popping bubbles of the same color adds to a combo chain, and there are several "power ups" that have effects such as slowing down time, and making your cursor radioactive, allowing for massive points. I played a quick game of single player, and I was able to keep the game flowing for several levels. There were a few twists, like a machine gun bonus level, but other than that, and some different colors and directions for the bubbles to flow, it seemed almost too simplistic. An achievement-like badge system adds some variety as well, though it is hardly as compelling as those of a typical Live Arcade title.
Later on, I called in my crack team of co-op partners: my sons, ages 6 and 13. We all sat down, remotes at the ready, prepared to pop like Bigfoot jumping on a roll of bubble wrap. The game began, and after about 5 seconds, it was all over. I was in shock, thinking I had picked the advanced difficulty on accident. We checked it, and tried again. This time? 10 seconds of pops before the dreaded GAME OVER screen. What was the problem?
It turns out playing co-op is a bit harder than it looks. For instance, often, two players will aim for a particular group of bubbles, and if one pulls the trigger a hair late, the bubbles are gone, it counts as a miss, and three seconds shave off the clock. Additionally, several power ups only appear in multiplayer, like a shock bubble that takes away another players ability to pop bubbles, or a lamp that turns your cursor into a flashlight while the rest of the screen goes dark. For cutthroat multiplayer, that's fine, but when you want to play for more than say a minute at a time with some friends, they are a serious hindrance. I thought to myself, was this game really advertised as co-op?
Clearly, the multiplayer can go two ways: screw over other players, or work together to maximize the shared timer. We split up the screen, and after a good hour or so of practice, we still had made it only to the second level before running out of time. I suspect part of the issue was my 6 year old's aiming skills, which must be said. However, he is probably at least as capable as the stereotypical casual Wii gamer, whose demographic Pop is clearly aiming for.
On a final try, I played alone for a few minutes, and maxed out the timer (99 seconds). Then, using the drop in/out feature, the boys joined me. Now things really started going well. With the extra padding of 90 seconds, we were able to last until the 5th level before running out of time. I am certain that with repeated playthroughs, we will go even further. Still, though I would have appreciated a full co-op mode, featuring powerups that would actually be useful, instead of a hindrance. I don't see how vs. multiplayer could be fun for anyone at all, when it's so easy to run the timer out. (Can you imagine playing this online against a 12 year old griefer? Yech!)
Overall, I was pleased with Pop. I wasn't expecting much, and the game delivered far more than I thought it would. I likely won't spend hours at a time playing Pop, but I can certainly see a few 5 or 10 minute sessions here and there. For the price, I'd say that's a decent value. For a launch title in the Wii Ware service, Pop serves its purpose well. It is a simple, casual game that is fun enough to make you go back every once in a while.