Poof is an action platformer with a dash of tower defense. Poof is also the name of a dog who has accepted into his care a kitten that lays golden eggs. Unfortunately the kitten also attracts monsters, a threat to both. The subtitle is ″vs The Cursed Kitty″, but while Poof has three hitpoints (at first), the Kitty has only one and if the Kitty goes, so does Poof. To defend the Kitty Poof can hop or roll on to enemies himself, or employ the use of fire knives, bombs, electricity, blizzards, and more. Many of these tasks are performed by towers which can be placed on designated tiles, and are used to watch your back while you explore for items, many of which you will consume to excrete as golden poo.
You read that correctly, Poof can opt to literally consume a power-up and excrete it as golden poo which will slow down most enemies so they can be more easily dispatched, or to keep them in the range of a tower longer. Inversely, the Kitty’s golden eggs are dropped in regular intervals, and simply touching them will destroy every enemy on the level, acting as a reset button. Through all of this, you will be completing challenges. When you have completed three, you are given a token which you can spend immediately if you don’t mind a reset on your current level. Completing challenges which earn tokens to access the next set of challenges is the rhythm of the game, a rhythm that involves a lot of dying and trying again. Tokens unlock health bonuses, attacks, towers, and new areas, all of which become the fodder for new challenges that help feed your leaderboard score.
I don’t want to suggest that the game is strictly the meta level as it has a lot of moment to moment personality. The art style is fantastic, detailed enough to convey attitudes but without causing any visual noise. The game doesn’t take itself seriously despite the punishing stakes, as every life is progress on your score which unlocks random backgrounds, songs, and costumes for both Poof and the Kitty. This keeps the environmental mood varied, though without seeming random, and gels very well with the silly comic book art style.
That silly comic book look makes it great to jump and bounce around, to watch enemies poof under Poof’s weight leaving only a collection of jewels and gems. Hopping from enemy to enemy as your combo meter climbs is satisfying and can result in an almost zen-like calm – until a dog eats your poop and the other monsters resume their normal pace. As surreal as that sounds, it quickly becomes normal, and those dogs become a chief concern because you want the monsters to cluster and poop is the best way of managing your strategy. Many attacks including your jumps can hurt multiple enemies at once, so any managed congregation is very useful.
They pile up quickly and yet distinctly, with nods to pop culture and games. Knights aren’t merely knights, but Castle Crashers. Blobs closely resemble Gish. Angry yellow birds deposit explosive eggs, and little blue birds tweet across the level. Every enemy moves a little bit differently in speed, style, how they handle dropping down, and if they have any attacks other than touch. Of course, for all this variation you still want them piling up, simply for the satisfaction of watching a single fire knife pass through the lot, spilling gems everywhere.
The fire knife is a thing of beauty against a well populated row, complete with a satisfying screen shake for each and every impact. I loved it. My wife however hated it, stating that she felt ill if the monitor was within her view when it happened. In seeking to turn it off, I realized just how bare bones the games options are. There aren’t any. At all. No toggle for visual effects, no resolution changing, no playing in a windowed mode or rebinding keys. Not even a music or volume slider. Poof is strictly as it is and nothing more. It goes further than that though. Every time I launched Poof, it had to perform the first time setup. It installed XNA 4.0 and sought UAC permission twice. On each exit I had a French language keyboard layout toggle on my taskbar. In the game itself, there are a number of irritating bugs as well which can quickly frustrate. For a second or two, Poof himself will not be fully responsive. You can move left and right but nothing more.
This usually happens after landing a jump, or using a power-up while moving, and doesn’t last long, but it can be critical. On a single occasion, it locked me on a platform until I had consumed a Heart item, at which point I could then jump, poop, and move beyond the platform. Frozen enemies which you can simply touch to kill are rendered above non-frozen enemies, so in the very moment the game is encouraging you to sprint into a group, you will run smack into another enemy. Often if you bounce off of an enemy while near a ceiling, Poof will get partially lodged in the ceiling and slide around in it until you pop out of one of the sides. During these times, you can’t damage any of the enemies right below you.
These circumstances are fairly common, as the game encourages staying on the move, and focusing on choke points. This is because Poof has only one level. Yes it expands, but just three times. Two new columns on the left and right, one new row up top. You will be playing in virtually the same space for the entire game, and after about a dozen tokens, it stops meaningfully changing. The expanded areas contribute little to the layout, as they are essentially dead ends, so your starting moves and strategies remain nearly identical for the entire game.
Yes the items do increase in power (fire knives shooting off in both directions are great for clearing a row) but you have the same concerns regarding the same drop offs at spawn areas. Even the challenges result in similar concerns, as many of them are in the vein of ″Kill X Y times″, ″Kill monsters with Y X times″, or ″Use X number of Y items″. Thrilling stuff, but all of these events rely on the requisite elements spawning. There is no guarantee that a sufficient number will spawn. Several times I stayed alive for quite a while, waiting for the last few of an item or enemy to arrive in the game world. At this point, bugs aside, no matter how much you may have been enjoying it, the game turns into a grind.
The grind ultimately resides in the fact that there is only one level. Arkedo squeezes a lot of gameplay out of this single layout, something I must commend, but you are always descending to rescue the Kitty. You never climb to it, or move lengthwise any notable amount. All item gathering is moving up and out, all urgent activity is down and in. The problem here comes in the fact that Poof is a game of jumping on monsters, and when you land on them you bounce. This bounce can become quite the obstacle when trying to descend. If there were other levels, this behavior would be less of a nuisance. As it stands (or falls), the gameplay always trends toward this scenario. A similar experience plays out on the top row, as the gaps are over common monster congregation points.
If they accumulate in this region, you need to smash down through them but in trying to do so, you will bounce off of each one until they die. This bounce pushes you back up over the lip of the row, and the timing of it corresponds with the spawn speed of waves. This is great for climbing the combo counter, but your worst enemy when something has slipped past your towers and threatens Kitty. An additional level or two would have not only provided variety, but prevented the doldrums of gameplay that shift the focus to these occasions. These annoyances pile up when you are playing the same level ad infinitum.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Poof is a fairly tight action platformer with a limited tower defense aspect. The humor and style are nice, but the progression system and lack of level layouts are a constricting combination. The gameplay bugs and design choices coalesce with these decisions to make more for frustration and tedium than they do for challenge. At $6.99 Poof is cheap, but considering the presence of only one level and the complete absence of any options menu, I would recommend only checking it out on sale.