Pukan, Bye-Bye! is one of those games that’s better watched than it is played. If I had any abilities as a livestreamer, I’d be bringing it onto Twitch to harvest the Likes. Watching it is a riot; playing it, not so much.
The premise might be familiar to people who have played user-generated levels on games like Super Mario Maker. Each of its twenty-six levels are short, 2D platforming offerings which – on the face of it – look dirt simple. There’s a gate to reach and some platforms to get there. But nope, Pukan, Bye-Bye! is not that simple. As you jump onto a platform, it might move out of the way so that you tumble to your death. Get past that, and another block will swap out to reveal some spikes; another will be invisible; while the final block might springboard you into some other spikes on the ceiling.
Pukan, Bye-Bye! is full of lies. What you see is not what you get. It’s an obstacle course where most of the obstacles are hidden from you, and the joy comes from watching you die in a multitude of unexpected ways. We played it with our kids watching, and they were rolling in the aisles. They loved the look of pain on my face as I died. The little sociopaths.
Completing a level of Pukan, Bye-Bye!, then, becomes less about platforming skills (although some precision won’t go amiss), and more about patience and memory. Can you stomach replaying the level over and over again for some incremental progress, and can you actually remember where the hidden pitfalls were? There’s a dollop of problem-solving too, as some obstacles seem impossible-to-overcome.
There’s certainly a novel feeling to playing Pukan, Bye-Bye!. You get into a nihilistic way of thinking; you’re going to die, so what can you do but invite that death? You start exploring the level without any belief that you will survive it, hoping to learn where the traps are, then modifying your approach. There’s a reason that Pukan, Bye-Bye! has a series of achievements for total deaths: it wants to reassure you that dying is part of the process.
Where Pukan, Bye-Bye! falters is its assumption that any of this is fun. It might be a little too nihilistic for its own good. We’d regularly get a step or two further than any previous attempt, but we couldn’t whoop or celebrate because we knew we were going to die again. It’s like watching football, but every goal is ruled out by VAR. It has the effect of robbing you of any joy or achievement; the certainty of your demise means you can’t celebrate any wins.
None of this is to say that Pukan, Bye-Bye! is poorly made. Far from it. The art style isn’t going to be the subject of a coffee table art book, but it’s effective. It’s like an old Spectrum game that’s gone nuclear, giving off an irradiated glow. The levels are truly creative, with imagination reserved for the many ways of dying, but also for how you can circumnavigate them. And there’s a fun, Portal-like story running in parallel, with a mentor character who would rather be somewhere else.
I just don’t really want to play Pukan, Bye-Bye!. The thought of grappling with another level, being the fall guy for its many, many murders, doesn’t fill me with any kind of joy. I imagine this is what it’s like to be pranked on telly: the only people who are enjoying it are the prankers and the people watching at home. For me, I was the fall guy, and it felt a bit rubbish, really.
Pukan, Bye-Bye! has a very specific appeal. It’s hilarious to watch, and will no doubt be a mainstay on Twitch, as people revel in the rage-quitting and over-the-top reactions. It’s well suited to a pass-the-pad situation, too: if you can get enough people sharing the pain, then Pukan, Bye-Bye! might bring tears to people’s eyes, both in terms of pain and glee.
But play Pukan, Bye-Bye! on your own, and it loses its lustre. It’s a game that makes jokes at your expense, playing to the crowd, but only if there’s an audience to benefit. If you’re hankering for a game to do a ‘Let’s Play’ video of, then Pukan, Bye-Bye! is a surefire winner. For virtually anyone else, you’d be better off giving it a swift Bye-Bye.
You can buy Pukan, Bye-Bye! from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S