Plok!
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Software Creations
  • Publisher:
    • US Tradewest
    • JP Activision
    • UK Nintendo
  • Released:
    • US September 1993
    • JP 12/10/1993
    • UK January 1994
Score: 75%

This review was published on 08/26/2015.

Plok is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Software Creations for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was published by Tradewest in North America in September 1993, Activision in Japan on December 10, 1993, and Nintendo in Europe in January 1994. The game was designed by Ste and John Pickford, collectively known as the Pickford brothers. According to Ste Pickford, Plok initially began development as an arcade game titled Fleapit, which was being created for Rare's custom Razz hardware. Fleapit was scrapped, but the concepts and ideas for that game were eventually used to create the Plok we all know today. This ended up being the first original, self-funded game ever produced by Software Creations, though the Pickford brothers retained ownership of the character and Intellectual Property. As its title implies, Plok is both a game and the starring character's name. Plok's game is annoying and hard, but the colorful graphics and charisma make it endearing.

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On the expansive island of Akrillic, in the magical archipelago of Poly-Esta, there lived an individual by the name of Plok. He's red and wears a bright yellow shirt, because he's totally comfortable with his masculinity, and you should be, too. In fact, he's so comfortable with his masculinity that he placed flags all over the island to show everyone his complete dominance. Plok considers himself to be the supreme ruler of Akrillic island; in other words, the king. Not all of the island's denizens bow to his authority, however. Specifically, the fleas, governed by the nasty Flea Queen, strongly dislike Plok. These disgusting insects have teamed up with many of the other entities that disapprove of Plok and plot to overthrow him. The dissenting forces show their defiance by stealing Plok's favorite flag and taking it to a nearby area called Cotton Island. Now it's up to Plok to show everyone who's boss by retrieving his flag and reclaiming his authority over Akrillic. In the process, he will brutally murder many fleas. Is Plok an unsung hero or a genocidal maniac? You decide.

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Visually and sonically, Plok is terrific. The graphics for this game are absolutely out of this world, especially for 1993. They're similar in style to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, except Plok came first. The game is bursting with color, featuring a palette that does an excellent job of concealing the SNES' limitations. All the sprites are big and detailed, but the character designs are simple enough that it never looks too busy. Animations are also splendiferous, with characters and enemies bouncing around like lively beans. The way Plok's limbs rotate as he walks is a snazzy effect that doesn't make too much sense, but looks cool. Beating up enemies is incredibly satisfying, because some of them explode into neat particle effects. Naturally, the explosive deaths are nonviolent, so there's no gore or anything. The cutesy visuals could potentially scare off those that prefer gritty realism, but that's up to personal preference. As for the music, it ranges from super good to super great, consisting of some really nice guitar tunes. The boss music is particularly good. Good graphics and music don't make a game, but they do make a game better.

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Far exceeding the abilities of a measly bureaucrat, Plok is able to run and jump with relative ease. Not only that, but he has two different types of jumps; a standard short hop and a somersault that goes extra high. One jump just wasn't enough to satisfy the conceited hero. The plucky Plok is a man of many mysteries, as he's able to separate his limbs from the rest of his body. This isn't merely done to impress onlookers, however, as Plok can throw his limbs at enemies to defeat them. Thrown limbs will return to Plok as if they were boomerangs, but only four can be fired at a time. If both legs are thrown at the same time, Plok will be forced to hop around on his torso while waiting for his extremities to come back. Additionally, Plok can find and use a hornet's nest to unleash a flurry of hornets upon his enemies, because he's a sadist. When facing danger, Plok will make limbs fly, quite literally. The only issue with the controls is that it feels a tad unnecessary to have two jumps, because the somersault is mostly superior to the short jump. You can't attack during a somersault, however, so the normal jump does serve some purpose, just not much.

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There are special costumes hidden inside presents that will grant Plok special abilities when worn. It's similar in concept to the power-ups in Mario games, but not quite the same, because they are far fewer and only last a limited time. One dresses Plok as a hunter with a shotgun, allowing him to blow his opposition to smithereens. Then there's the boxing costume, which lets him throw unlimited fists without having to recharge. There's even a costume that gives Plok a flamethrower! If that's not awesome, then I don't know what is. A nice touch is how each costume has its own unique theme song. Another unrelated power-up transforms Plok into a buzzsaw that obliterates anything in its path, acting like the invincibility stars from Mario, only more deadly. There are also a couple of power-ups that don't alter Plok's appearance, like a gem that gives him a protective barrier. In addition to the power-ups being enjoyable to use, it's fun to see Plok dress up as various things whenever a present is obtained. You need to be present to receive a present.

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Initially, your objective will be to reach the flag at the end of the stage, not unlike the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. These first few stages are relatively simple and consist of avoiding obstacles and pummeling enemies on your way to the finish. They're surprisingly difficult, but rather short. However, a plot twist occurs after the first world that changes your goal to killing fleas. It's at this point where the stages stop being linear, as you need to search the environment to locate all the hidden fleas. There's a bar at the bottom that tells you how many fleas you have left to kill in the area, plus a flashing arrow occasionally appears to point you in the direction of the nearest flea. Even with all these tools at your disposal, finding fleas is still a colossal pain in the neck. Locating them all can sometimes take forever, making many of the stages overstay their welcome. Further compounding the issue is that you still need to reach the end of the stage after exterminating all the pests. It's too bad the majority of the game is like this, because the straightforward stages at the beginning are way more fun. On the bright side, some stages make finding fleas super easy, but that's not normally the case.

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Stages in Plok contain many slopes and are fairly complex, though their complexity never reaches the point of absurdity. A persistent gimmick Plok will encounter throughout his journey is the target. Hitting targets will reveal platforms and the like, but doing so will place Plok's limbs on a nearby hanger for later retrieval. The hangers are sometimes far away from the targets, requiring Plok to suffer through sections of a stage with missing limbs. Targets can be irritating, but they're often used in clever puzzles that add depth to some stages. Also, there's a neat part of the game that has you take control of Plok's grandfather in the past, where the graphics adopt a style akin to old black and white films. What's more, the stages during this segment don't task you with searching for fleas, instead reverting back to linear action. This interactive flashback acts as a much needed intermission from the main game. The last couple of stages in the game also forego the flea finding in favor of driving vehicles, such as trucks, motorcycles, helicopters, and even tanks. Most of the vehicles are armed with weapons, like missiles and laser guns. Some of the vehicle sections are stupidly hard, but they add variety and are entertaining. All in all, Plok's stages are solidly designed, although they have a tendency to repeat themselves.

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The bosses in this game are a weird bunch. The first boss battle is against two large toad-like creatures with gigantic lips that spit out teeth at you. This is pretty creative boss design, but also pretty strange. On top of being unusual, this fight is insanely hard, especially for the first boss battle in the game. For one, it's two against one, and that's a little unfair. What's worse is that you have to do this fight again later in the game, except it's even harder, because instead of just two of them, you fight a whopping three! Most people aren't likely to get past the first boss, let alone the much tougher version. The actual fight itself isn't bad, but it's kind of lazy that they essentially make you fight the same boss twice. All of the other bosses are original, though. For example, the third boss battle has you fighting a bunch of floating blowfish-like enemies, and you hit a target while they're near a spike trap to pop them. With the exception of the odd difficulty spikes and the reuse of the first boss, Plok does a good job with its boss battles.

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Plok is decent, but suffers from a serious flea problem. The visuals are awesomely done, the soundtrack is fantastic, and the controls are tight, but the annoying flea fetch quest drags it all down a notch or two. Even though most of the stages are well designed, having to go on a scavenger hunt for fleas gets old real quick. The game's difficulty is also not balanced well, with the first few bosses being way harder than most of the rest. Still, if you're able to tolerate the flea hunting and the sky high challenge level, then the game isn't half bad. Plok is flawed, but still mostly good.

Word Count: 1,699

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