When developers are trying to get their feet wet entering the virtual reality (VR) sector, there is a strong temptation to stick with what works and find a way to ‘enhance’ the concept in VR. Sometimes this works, as can be seen with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR or Fallout 4 VR, sometimes the Vr addition is more an afterthought. With that in mind, it is time to examine how developer Dakko Dakko have chosen to handle its adaptation of PlayStation Vita title Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims, now converted to PlayStation VR as Pop-Up Pilgrims.
The first and most striking thing is the artwork. Gloriously stylised and brightly coloured level art fills your vision with a theme that is strongly reminiscent of Nintendo classic Yoshi’s Island, or PlayStation Portable title Loco Roco. Simultaneously, the title also shows its inspiration from traditional Chinese and Japanese artworks. Despite the bright colours and simple style, nothing clashes or overwhelms the senses and it forms a beautiful setting. That said, the character designs are very exaggerated and not overly pleasant to look at, achieving ‘cute-ish monster’ or ‘pleasantly ugly’ at best.
The music is pleasant and unobtrusive, presenting a gentle and vaguely oriental theme to proceedings to match the aesthetic of the rest of the videogame, but it isn’t something you’d want to download the soundtrack for. Sound effects are sometimes a little odd, such as the level-ending cackle of your cloud god, which comes across as more sinister than triumphant.
The controls have been kept as simple as possible. Your gaze controls where your cloud-shaped pointer goes, and a single button-press provides instructions to your Pilgrims, such as directing them to jump, or providing directional arrows in a way reminiscent of Dreamcast puzzler Chu Chu Rocket. The Pilgrims themselves will bimble forward quite happily if left to their own devices, blindly stumbling into death traps, so its usually a good idea to set them into a safe loop until you can devise a suitable strategy.
In this way, it calls to mind Lemmings, in any of its squillion iterations. The pilgrims are marginally smarter than the lemmings, in that they will pace back and forth on the platforms without marching blithely off the edge unless you tell them otherwise. Unlike Lemmings, success is not determined solely by the number of pilgrims that reach the end of the level. Instead you get a bronze, silver or gold medal determined by how many pilgrims you save and how many little gold octopus collectables you pick up during the level, a nod to previous Dakko Dakko title The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character.
As you advance through the levels, multi-tasking becomes essential, as it becomes necessary to send pilgrims off in different directions to grab collectables or items necessary to progress further, which can easily lead to hair-pulling frustration if you lose track of that one pilgrim who has wandered off to get him or herself killed. Setting up ‘safe’ loops becomes essential at this point, but this quickly becomes a rote, mechanical action that robs gameplay of much of its fun and charm.
Though there are hint scrolls scattered through the various levels, much about the basic controls are not explained, leaving the player to puzzle it own on their own, a distraction that could be done without when trying to quickly scout the level layout and devise a strategy.
Overall, Pop-Up Pilgrims is a fun little puzzle title with a gorgeous art style, but its control scheme could have used a bit more thought, and an option to re-map some of the buttons would not have gone amiss, neither would some manner of in-game manual or tutorial. Fans of Lemmings will no doubt have great fun exploring this new twist on a classic idea.