Bouncing is the new walking. From Dadish 3 to Joy Ball Adventure, we’ve spent a surprising amount of gaming time lolloping around the screen in big bounces, rather than taking a few steps. You heard it here first: it’s a new trend in gaming.
Go! Go! PogoGirl is the timeless tale of a young girl who wakes up to find her finest pogo stick stolen. There’s something that tickles us about a boy stealing a pogo stick, only to use it in a very slow, bouncy getaway. Pogogirl could have just run after him and caught up in no time.
We’re not downplaying the crime, but Pogogirl does then immediately get a back-up pogo stick that looks remarkably like the one stolen, and chases after him, albeit slowly. You have to wonder: is it really worth the fuss?
Because Pogoboy has scarpered through level after level of aggressive slime-ball things, four bosses, and plenty of death trap hazards that only the keenest of pogo connoisseurs could overcome. Not only that, but Pogogirl seems to be chasing him for an entire year, as the levels are grouped up, not into worlds, but seasons. The chase works through spring, summer, autumn and winter. If you were her best mate, you’d probably have a pogo-intervention and suggest she contact the police instead.
It’s not as if she hasn’t stolen stuff herself, either. Because take a fleeting glance at screenshots and it will be clear that Go! Go! PogoGirl has lifted a fair amount from Sonic the Hedgehog. Clearly, Pogogirl is less about the speed and more about the bounce, but the world, from its flowers to its ground textures and backgrounds are, at the very least, an homage to Sonic. It’s either a bit cheeky or lovingly nostalgic, depending on how you look at it.
Go! Go! PogoGirl’s levels would feel familiar to anyone who has played a 2D platformer. These are conventional to the extreme, with moving platforms cycling around rings, sorry, gems; enemies that move or fly, but rarely anything beyond that; and some slightly out of the way uber-collectibles that will unlock achievements.
But the conventional is made unconventional because you are hopping everywhere. In other games of this type, the platforming would be simplified, or built from the ground up to accommodate the bouncing. But Go! Go! PogoGirl makes the surprising and slightly ambitious choice to keep the levels from Mario, say, but give you a surplus of bouncing tools instead. These tools offer a chance of surviving in what would otherwise have been a too-challenging playbox.
Pogogirl can land and stop, charging up a jump by holding the A button. That gives you two benefits: the ability to stop mid-bounce so that patrol routes can pass you by; and supercharge a jump that lets you clear platforms in a single bound. It’s a lifesaver.
She also has a kind of spin-bounce, momentary enough that you have to time it well. This is essential, as you will undoubtedly mistime a jump. It acts not as one Get Out of Jail Free card, but two. If you look like you’re going to mistime a bottom-bounce onto an enemy then you can spin them instead, and it offers the tiniest of dinks upward, like a subtle double-jump, so you can reach a platform that you might have clipped a pogo on.
The different seasons offer some small additions to the roster. Winter lets you smash through ice blocks with a more pronounced bottom-pogo, as well as slide through smaller gaps. Summer gives you the ability to swim, tapping A frantically to get out of the way of slimeballs, while autumn has you floating on upwinds. There’s enough in the change of seasons to keep things relatively fresh.
We are on the fence about the ambitious approach to pogo gameplay. On one side of that fence, we enjoyed the amount of control that Go! Go! PogoGirl gave us in a subgenre that has always made us feel out of control. In other games, you’re at the whims of enemies and moving platforms. If you’re not at the right apex or nadir of a leap, just as they arrive, then you’re stuffed. It can feel like you are leaving it all to bouncy fate. But here, the ability to stop, charge, or double-jump means you can anticipate pretty much every situation.
On the other side of the fence, controlling a character in this way brings its own set of awkwardnesses. Instead of thinking “wow, Pogogirl really nails pogoing”, we found ourselves – on occasion – thinking “wow, Pogogirl is a stop-start platformer”. It does such a good jump of transcending bouncing games that you start comparing it to traditional platformers instead, as that is what it now feels like, and it’s here that it doesn’t fare as well.
Moving through a level in sudden stops, charging up leaps only to land and pull off another, isn’t particularly thrilling. We may have control over our leaps, but at what cost? Suddenly, Go! Go! PogoGirl is a slow, considered game, and the Sonic backgrounds only made us crave something much faster.
It’s at its worst in the bosses. At the end of each season, a large ball with a silver helmet turns up to exploit the new mechanic you have been given. Air vents encourage you to shoot up and attack a flying boss, while water requires you to bob up and bounce on a swimming boss.
But these test the bouncing mechanics to their breaking points. Bouncing over these bigger enemies becomes difficult, occasionally improbable, when you don’t have time to charge up a super-bounce because they are charging at you. Suddenly, you’re back to the traditional foibles of bouncing games: you are subject to the whims of the bounce’s trajectory. You better hope that you’re mid-bounce when a boss comes stampeding through.
Our appreciation for Go! Go! PogoGirl was appropriately up and down. On some levels, you get the sense that the developers knew the game was stop-start and built them with enough leeway to be played in a more carefree manner. Others, we felt like Sonic performing in a sack race on sports day, and we desperately wanted to drop the sack and peg it. It can’t consistently find a comfortable gear, particularly with the bosses.
In flashes Go! Go! PogoGirl feels like a classic platformer that has found a way to make constantly bouncing around a level fun. But they are just flashes, and it’s equally common for the pogoing to be slow and cumbersome.
Go! Go! PogoGirl shoots for the moon, yet doesn’t bounce quite high enough. A more consistent sequel would likely get closer.
You can buy Go! Go! PogoGirl from the Xbox Store