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8th August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
Scavenging an open world, Tumble Pop tasks you with controlling a small bandana-wearing bounty hunter equipped with little more than a vacuum cleaner and the skin on his back. Venues are explored for the sole purpose of eradicating all the creatures who have taken up residence there, with the kinds of enemies seen being dependent on the world you visit. Locations include a circus tent, a castle, a pirate ship, and a space base; all things you've seen before in countless other games before this one, but with much relatively little detailing to distinguish these as being all that different from one another. There you will find mice (and not the ugly kind either), snowmen with shovels, balls of fire, cavemen, aliens, and mummies. The game almost immediately seems like it were taken straight out of an early storyboard for a less fleshed-out Ghostbusters plot, while at the same time foregoing any real plot to make sense of the plainly-laid-out situation.
Getting into it, you'll often find the design to be quite consistent in how each level is set up. Often organized with a bottom-to-top positioning of small platforms to climb and jump down to, the player will use the Circle Pad or +Control Pad to move around, pressing A to jump and holding B to keep the vacuum running for the capturing of enemies. The airbag equipped to your vacuum only offers temporary storage, meaning that after a few seconds the enemy stored inside will pop out, thus resulting in a loss of a life. I mean really, how practical is that? Can you imagine cleaning your house with a device like that? I'd rather use a traditional broom and dustpan. Less hassle that way. At any rate, despite the suggestion of a very small container with which to perform your cleaning duties, there's more room inside the vacuum than you'd imagine. You can actually hold a bunch of enemies inside at once if you're fast enough, but you have to remember to release the B Button before or as the audio cues come on so they aren't let loose without your consent. Garbage (sounds cruel, but that's what they are!) fired from your vacuum will turn into stars that bounce off the sides of levels and colliding with other creatures that get in the way. The programmed trail is usually easy to predict and follow, but the firing of shots does have a tendency to appear slightly erratic at times.
One other key feature integrated into the gameplay has to do with the collecting of letters that spell out the name of the game. Collect them all and you can advance to the next stage without even having to clear every single enemy, but not before engaging in a bonus game that lasts roughly 40 seconds or so. Very simply, items will fall from the top of the screen and you just have to catch them before they disappear soon after they land on the ground. Truth be told, it's very boring, and to have to go about this multiple times throughout does wear thin after a while. How much better it would have been to have something truly special occur once all the letters have been gathered together. I can’t see all remaining enemies suddenly breaking out in song, but maybe something like a souped-up upgrade would've added something unique to the experience. As it stands, I couldn't help but see the letter collection as an underutilized element.
Aiding you in your goals are five temporary items that appear both at random and when enemies are defeated. These can be activated by first selecting them on the Pause Menu with Start, then pressing the Select button as you move back to the game space. The first one -- a set of running shoes -- is the most helpful in taking out enemies quickly as it allows your character to move at a quicker pace. If you'd prefer to take the direct approach, you can use the clock item to stop the regular three-minute time limit for a few seconds, but this does not affect the enemies in any capacity. For maximum sucking power, the POW item comes in real handy as it doubles the range of your device's reach, and last but not least, the white suit grants temporary invincibility. I did say five items, didn't I? Well, technically there are only four real power-ups; the last one is just a collectible, and not even an all-important one either. Coins collected as you go about your adventure can predictably be used in shops to purchase the very same items described above along with additional lives, but they also serve another purpose. You'll notice certain forks in the road along each world's path that have booths. After spending your cash on bullets to insert into your device, a side activity begins that has you jumping up and down platforms on one side of the level so the bullets have enough height to reach enemies strolling on the opposing side. It's all rather uneventful stuff, and after one or two tries, you won't be enticed in the slightest to return to them again, not even with the prospect of earning bonuses. It's a good thing they're optional, unlike the bonus games.
Also not optional are boss encounters, which appear not at the very end of each world's path, but somewhere along those lines. Boss fights are fairly simplistic in that what you're asked to do isn't that different from what you've done up until this point -- turning enemies into stars and firing them out of your vacuum's hose to inflict damage. Unfortunately, because you can often get away with standing in one spot and chipping away at the boss' health with little effort, there's barely any challenge to be had here. The only real bright side to the bosses is that after clearing them, you'll discover that the sets of rocks that may have blocked a path on your first stab at the world are no longer present, opening up some additional levels for you to clear if you so desire. It still doesn't change the fact that the bosses are disappointing encounters, though, and they furthermore don't do anything to influence the game for the better.
With that said, now would be the best time to bring up points pertaining to the overall design of the game. The fact is, Tumble Pop feels like an altogether half-hearted effort where what's presented comes together on a functional level but never feels all that sound, nor does it ever deviate towards a more positive direction. It's kind of just there, with few defining characteristics to really push this into the territory of being worth talking about long after you've completed it. It was with the truest of intentions that I kept looking for something else to drive me forward as I started to notice that the game wasn't producing any real impact. But it reached a point where I had to face facts and accept that it wasn't going to change for the better. The design doesn't really lend itself to positive movement either, what with the present elements being in such a flat state. You could probably already come to the conclusion that the level designs aren't varied enough, but what you couldn't guess is the organization of some of them also falter in execution. If in a stage you have only a single or two entry points for enemies to come through, then the whole level is made pointless. And sad to say, I found there were a number of levels that did just that.
Tumble Pop doesn't fare badly in its presentation. The main theme is fitting for the carefree, do-what-he-wants character that you control, while other songs function as suitable tie-ins to the themes emphasized by the worlds you visit -- a good example being the surfing tone of the levels found in the pirate ship. As for everything else relating to the game's presentation, there's a palpable quality of clumsiness to be seen. Enemies disappear, jitter, and flash constantly, letters get trapped in corners or on the inside of platforms where they cannot be reached, and the framerate inconsistently fluctuates between running at a normal pace and then dipping to a level of slowness that detracts from the experience. As much as I tried to overlook it, the charm faded away really quickly because of these issues, and that wasn't at all pleasing to observe.
It's not even the lack of depth that especially bothers me about the way this game has been designed. It's the overall ineffectiveness of how things come together -- or don't in some cases -- that leave me feeling that there truthfully isn't enough here to develop an appreciation for. I wanted Tumble Pop to be more fun than it actually was, but in reality, with the repetitive structure and the lack of progression being as disappointing as they are, there's honestly very little here worth checking out. It is for all these reasons that the game provides bupkis in the way of satisfaction, so with that I have to say wavering charm paired with lacklustre design isn't my idea of a winning combination.
15/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 5/10 - Features elements that are flat or don't serve a valuable purpose, dull bonus activities and bosses, repetitive, design isn't very sound
Presentation 5/10 - Good effort in places, clumsy execution, active technical issues from the inconsistent framerate to sprites that show little stability
Enjoyment 2/5 - Charm quickly fades away, lack of meaningful progression leads to stagnation, direction fails to produce any real impact
Extra Content 3/5 - Have the ability to open up additional levels after defeating world bosses, repetition makes it hard to continue putting time in
Equivalent to a score of 50% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System