Pole's Big Adventure Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
Big, crazy, amazing
This game has garnered some attention - partly because it's from Sega and it's an 8-bit retro platformer, but mostly because it's filled with the wacky humour the Japanese have come to be known for. Despite having a large amount of Japanese audio text, the humour is mostly in the form of visual video game gags that should be accessible regardless of your native tongue - especially if you remember playing video games of that era.
Besides being in 480p widescreen, the game has a completely faithful 8-bit presentation: launching the game throws up a screen-filling Sega logo (complete with the familiar bygone "Say-Gah" voice), pixellated text, minimal options (you can turn off BGM, sound effects, choose to have voice come out of TV speakers, Remote or switch it off) and no save games. Not only can you not save, but there's no way to quit short of killing yourself or using the Home button: it's all old-school, all the time.
After starting a new game, players will be treated to an intro reminiscent of old console-based action games with cut scenes featuring large, pixellated character images speaking via text bubbles. There are four characters: the cowboy hero, Pole; the "Poacher" (a moustachioed fellow with a cigarette and what looks like a sombrero on his back); the baddie - who appears to be a green man with a bull head wearing blue jeans; and the heroine - your lady in distress. These cutscenes will appear throughout the game after every boss fight and reveal that, rather than rescuing your lady fair, you've actually been tricked and it was only a hag or some other baddie in disguise, stringing you along until the dramatic conclusion.
Visuals in the game proper are very Super Mario-esque with static backgrounds and action scrolling from left to right and every stage ending with a Mario-esque castle (though there's not a flagpole in sight). Your opponents are people in striped shirts wearing a variety of themed animal heads that match each level setting (deer, crocodiles, walruses, etc.) whom you dispatch with a repeating rifle/shotgun. The sound effects are typical of NES games and the music is reminiscent of many classic console and arcade games (the jingle that plays when Pole dies sounds incredibly similar to the death music from Namco's Mappy).
Even folk who are rubbish at platform games won't find Pole's Big Adventure terribly difficult: there are loads of 1-UPs and power-ups to be had and the bosses aren't terribly tough. That's because the point is really to see the 100 gags littered throughout the game. You need so many lives because many of the gags concern the way your character dies (or doing things that would normally result in death in any "serious" 8-bit platformer) so there's a lot of death involved just trying to find them. There are simple visual gags like the apples you collect throughout the game being rotten or the mushroom that gives Pole a visible erection for half of a stage. Other bits include your character coming back as a stick man after getting killed or a stage that ends on the first screen; all accompanied by Pole's Japanese audio and text reaction. Many of the gags are laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy or quietly amusing nods to platforming tropes as old as the medium itself.
You'll discover after one playthrough that you can review every joke encountered through a main menu gallery option. Rather than being a collection of stills, you can review a playback of your initial triggering of the gag. Each one gets a medal rating, though it's not clear what distinguishes bronze from silver or gold. The gallery will indicate which jokes you've missed as they're all helpfully numbered and have a big "?" instead of a medal. They're listed in order, so you can view the gags around the missing ones to determine what stage they're on, but many are so random that this might not help you trigger them intentionally.
After playing through the game through initially (this should take about an hour as there's only six levels with four stages each) you can replay any level you wish to help find any jokes you missed. Completing the game the first time will also unlock a harder mode which contains the same gags, but a more challenging experience. In addition to new enemies, the bosses' patterns have changed and they're a lot tougher, presenting a genuine challenge in addition to the gags. There's a third column on the level select screen, so it's possible after beating it a second time that an even more mental difficulty level will be unlocked, but it will take many many deaths to discover if that's the case!
Pole's Big Adventure is an affectionate send-up of classic 8-bit platformers aimed squarely at people who grew up playing these games. It's a unique experience which unfortunately seems unlikely to be released outside of Japan either due to the niche appeal, heavy translation work required or the presence of 8-bit pixellated erections and spurting blood in what otherwise appears to be an all-ages title (this is one of the few CERO "B" rated WiiWare games - "12 and up"). We can only hope Sega will see fit to localise what is one of their best-selling Japanese WiiWare titles (it's stayed in the top 10 or top 20 since release nearly a year ago) so everyone else can get in on the joke.