Review: Plok (SNES)

The original Rayman

A few years before Rayman hit the scene, there was another lesser known platforming hero with floating hands and feet that he could throw at enemies. Created by John and Ste Pickford, two fairly well-known British video game designers, Plok is perhaps one of, if not the best, examples of a cult classic Super Nintendo platformer.

There's not much of a story to the game: Plok, the hero, wakes up one day to find that the flag mounted on top of his house has been stolen and taken to nearby Cotton Island. After a few simple introductory levels, Plok gets the flag back and returns home – only to find that his own island has been overrun by nasty fleas and that there's eggs everywhere. He sets out to destroy them all and eventually get rid of their queen.

The biggest gameplay quirk Plok has to offer is the ability to shoot his hands and feet at enemies. This means you've only got four attacks available at any time, because if you shoot them all too rapidly you'll be temporarily left with just a torso and a head while your body parts slowly fly back towards you. In this state, movement also becomes harder due to your obvious lack of feet, so it's sometimes best not to shoot all of your shots quickly.

In some stages in the later part of the game, you're forced to give up some body parts to open passages. Large bull's-eye targets hang around, and hitting them will result in the body part that you flung at it to reappear on a floating coat hanger elsewhere in the stage. It's usually nearby, but there are a handful of levels that make clever use of this feature by putting the hanger all the way at the other end of the stage.

A not so significant but very fun aspect of the game is the wide array of power-ups available to Plok. In almost every stage, there will be a large, yellow, moderately hard to reach gift box hidden somewhere. Touching it will give Plok one of a large variety of suits, so while you're just throwing your extremities most of the time, there might some very satisfying moments in which you get to blast your way through anything that opposes you with a rocket launcher, a flamethrower or an old-fashioned shotgun armed with buckshot, complete with a hunter's outfit.

During missions where you have to destroy fleas, the goal is just that – destroy all fleas. You will not be allowed to leave the stage and progress to the next one until you do, so you're going to have to search high and low. Luckily, in most cases, the levels are fairly linear, so you won't have to do that much exploring as almost all fleas are found on the main path.

In the last area, you're thrown another gameplay twist as every single one of its levels (Including the final boss stage) has you riding one of a number of strange vehicles, ranging from a helicopter to a unicycle, as you make your way through the very twisty and very challenging paths they have to offer.

It should be noted that getting here is quite a feat, especially for first-timers – the game can be ruthlessly hard in certain spots, and enemies can and will do a ton of damage on contact, generally killing you in three or four hits. Thankfully, killed fleas stay dead, so you don't have to worry about going through and repeating your actions all over again. If you're great at exploring, you might even locate a few bonus stages, which can warp you ahead a few levels.

Although nothing about the game seems particularly special, it all manages to work surprisingly well together. Plok has a great deal of control, being able to perform low and high jumps and crouch in addition to attacking, so while the game can be challenging at times, it rarely if ever feels cheap – if you die, it's entirely your fault. That's why clearing a level always gives you a good sense of accomplishment. There's a little under 40 stages in the game, so you've got your work cut out for you.

One of the best things Plok has to offer, though, is its great atmosphere. If the very nice-looking cartoony visuals didn't already do it for you, the game's sense of humour will – Plok will give his thoughts about the current situation while automatically moving between levels on the world map, and they're often pretty funny. There's also a segment near the beginning where Plok falls asleep and has a dream about his grandfather – naturally, you get to play as the old man, and all of his stages are presented in black and white, complete with silent movie-esque music and title cards.

The soundtrack is the cream of the crop. Composed by Tim and Geoff Follin, who are pretty much legendary for their work on certain Commodore 64 games, it's one of the absolute best on the SNES, and will leave you wondering quite often how some of these songs were even possible on the system's hardware.

Conclusion

It's disappointing that Plok didn't sell well, because it was, and still is, one of the best platformers without a well-known character out there. Even Shigeru Miyamoto supposedly loves the game. Its only real disappointing aspect is the lack of a save feature or password system, requiring you to beat it in one sitting, but thankfully it's only about two hours long at most.