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PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit - WiiWare Review

Game Info
PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit

WiiWare | Nintendo | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now (North America) | 800 Nintendo Points
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21st September 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Those who absorb more than 50% of their reading material through a screen and have done so for a long time might have trouble finding reasons to engage with a piece of literature the old-fashioned way. But anyone passionate about illustration as it relates to book design will tell you there are some things that digital versions simply cannot reproduce. It's a bit nerdy, I admit, but there's something sensational about finding an exquisitely well-decorated book on a whim, and then running your fingers across the cover and its insides to mark the beginning of your relationship with it. The same is true when opening up a new board game for the first time, at least for a hobbyist like myself. It may not be a crucial part of the experience to inspect the components provided, but that's something I personally look forward to. Digital board games don't afford those same opportunities, so in order to accomplish a similar feeling of discovery, there's an impetus to focus that much more on presentation. How this comes about may be through methods more whimsical in nature, and that's precisely the sort of approach we see in PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit. Families who turn the page of this fun-filled world will be pleased with its visual and gameplay executions, and the ways in which these efforts have brought about a pretty unique experience.

    The object of the game is to make your way to the highest point on the board, using a mix of cards and coins to get ahead. The pace is pretty laid-back despite it having a competitive vibe, but interestingly enough, it's that sense of calm that can be quite deceptive when you consider the sort of tactics both you and your rivals can employ. Whether playing in a free-for-all or tag-team setting, the flow of the game is as follows: Each turn will commence with you choosing to draw a card or a coin. Thereafter, you will decide whether to use one of your cards or pass your turn. Cards come in multiple forms and can affect personal movement, the movement of other players, as well as item supply. In a way that elevates strategic and skill-based gameplay above uncontrollable circumstances, not only are you allowed to play multiple cards on one turn (done by saving the personal advancement cards for last), but coins can be used in conjunction with Move Plus and Move Minus Cards to either propel you forward or cause a setback for a fellow players. I find that card systems can generally go either way when used in place of a dice-rolling mechanic, but this does have a positive direction to it.

Continuing on that train of thought, one main draw has to do with the encouragement to be sneaky and employ underhanded tactics to get ahead. Allowing for a near-full-scale manipulation of the space and the players in it, you're given a surprising amount of freedom of control, but this need not always be to evil ends. You can also strategize and use a Move Card on a player so that they land on a space that will affect all players by way of coin or card distribution. As fun as it is to focus on the present, the highlight behind this system is what is imposed upon players later on, and the threat of what could take place in the future. Special events are triggered by a large book separate to the one the game takes place in, whereby mythological creatures and other bizarre entities make visually-arresting appearances to affect current standings. Why I'm mentioning this alongside the tactical approach is because of the added layer connected to these brief triggers.

    Keeping tabs on all the actions you perform, Pop-Up Pursuit most interestingly utilizes a justice system where players who consistently misbehave will be penalized for the trouble they've caused. It is likely for that reason that you're able to execute multiple force actions in one go, but can only help yourself in the most traditional sense as a finishing move. Ultimately, it is up to the game's discretion and determination of what is considered crossing the line versus fair play. But in events affecting all players, it is then that you witness this risk/reward system having its connective ties to the overall experience, and as a result of this, it makes sessions unpredictable even without luck having a big presence in the game's design.

    Translating the same virtuous invitation used by storybooks to plunge kids into imaginative worlds, PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit immediately carries an air of prosperity that speaks to its overarching theme and vision. This allure is supported in the population of touches, both environmental and those relating to foreground elements. Concerning how real-life pop-up books are often used to conceal elements and emit a feeling of surprise, it certainly is very appropriate the sort of treatment seen amongst the board spaces. At the start of each session, nearly all spaces are covered with stone panels that only reveal what's underneath as players cross over them. This means, then, that the player who is leading in terms of position will be at a slight disadvantage, not only because they won't know what could come about, but also because their actions will be helping everyone else out.

    On a less positive note, the game is not without pet peeves. For starters, players who don't play with a full group of human players will have the unfortunate added task of pressing A repeatedly to go through all of the steps of the CPU players. Second, aside from the special encounters mentioned earlier, the only other spaces worth noting are the balloon and gate-unlock stations, and both of these are found on the second map. The game relies more on its system and the look of the visual space to make itself heard, rather than focusing attention on the board layouts. In some ways this is a flaw because while they are decent, the designs don't speak to the same adventurous feel, due to their linearity.

What you won't find here is anything in the way of intersections with side attractions, overpasses and crossways, or even a dynamic change in pathway direction. At most, there's a secret passage tied to the gate key I made reference to just now, but that's about it. At the same time, it is to be realized that the spaces themselves are balanced in the effects they have on gameplay, so perhaps that's why they decided against going that extra mile. But then I come back to the fact that there are only two maps to choose from, and considering the game's animated nature, I feel like they didn't extend this to full completion and therefore can't help but see this as an area where the game falters.

    PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit is a game I've long admired for the way its vision contributes not only to a positive gameplay environment, but also one that players can have good amounts of control over and feel connected to. Had there been further belief in growing the concept further, this could've turned out to be a really memorable digital board gaming experience. As it stands, Pop-Up Pursuit still has merit to it thanks to the conventions of its card system and the visual organization of levels in accord with the storybook feel. While the fun may not last as long as some may hope, the game's design is commendably different from the norm, and families will love that about it.

20/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Unique with good systems put in place, achieves balance through spaces and justice system, board designs could've offered more
Presentation 8/10 - Vision has been explored very well and brings about a great atmosphere, pop-up theme coherently transitions to all areas
Enjoyment 3/5 - Strategic nature of the gameplay makes it so that there isn't always a clear winner, some minor annoyances 
Extra Content 2/5 - Offers tag-team play and profiles but still light on extended features, having only two maps to choose from is a letdown

Equivalent to a score of 67% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

PictureBook Games: Pop-Up Pursuit
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