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Popslinger Review

Beat-em-ups are fun, rhythm games are fun; put them together and you get Popslinger. Unfortunately, there is not always net positive when combining two enjoyable flavors together. This is not exactly a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup; and is closer to something like bologna banana sandwich, with flies on the side.

Hyperbole aside, Popslinger did have a creative concept behind its miscalculation. The problem was in its execution and insufferable and poorly explained premise. Between the aim for 90s nostalgia and magical girl tropes; there was a possibility for an irreverent action game.

Combining brawling with shooting and an emphasis on combos; the recipe for addicting action was there. How did it all go wrong? Find out by reading our Popslinger review!

Popslinger
Developer: Funky Can Creative
Publisher: Funky Can Creative
Platforms: Nintendo Switch 
Release Date: January 26, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $14.99 USD

Popslinger begins very suddenly and without explanation. Ria is friends with a holographic curmudgeon named Gin. They are a classic odd couple where Ria (the player character) is the spunky and energetic one and Gin is the more cold and brooding sarcastic jerk.

The relationship between these characters are not explained and the game abruptly begins with them in the middle of a conversation. The rules of the world and what is going on is never shown or explained either- just really inane quirky banter that reads like something out of a web comic.

The setting really needed some exposition to establish the stakes. The heroes claim to be like “magical girls”, but Ria’s role as a Popslinger is depicted more like a dirty job; like she’s a garbage man. Her role is to exterminate waves of sludge aliens and the once defenders of earth who are now possessed.

Popslinger‘s gameplay is very simple but can be very challenging. Ria can fire her popgun, move around and has a dodge that leaves her far too exposed. Dodging does have the appropriate i-frames, but due to the long cool down, it becomes more of a liability than anything.

Ria is better off weaving between enemy bullets than using her dodge since dodging will end up getting her hit anyway. This is made worse by the POV being way too close in some sequences where threats fire shots off-screen and the scrunched view does not allow enough reaction time.

The funny part is that Popslinger does have a solution and does have parts where the POV is zoomed far back to give players a wide view of the arena. Getting hit or hitting the incorrect color enemy is a critical blow against the player and their rating.

The key to success in Popslinger is maintaining a combo and killing colored sludge in a sequence. Four in a row of the same color without getting hit earns Ria a killstreak bonus so she can perform a special ability. Achieving this is more complex than it seems because enemies can easily swarm Ria and bullets can cover the arena.

It doesn’t help that Gin’s killstreak abilities that help Ria don’t always work as intended. She can become a turret which often ends up hitting nothing or becoming a second gun which is useless when Ria earns other weapons later on.

Popslinger‘s playability feels rough. There is no sensitivity when controlling Ria; she goes from zero to sixty with nothing in between. Hit boxes are also very vague and often indeterminable when bullets start flying.

The core concept of Popslinger could have made for a satisfying arcade style action game. The controls and polish are just nowhere near they ought to be and this same can be said for the visuals.

Popslinger goes for something that is going for 90s era nostalgia, but it looks nothing like the 90s. Cartoons of this era look nothing like the very Scott Pilgrim-esque 2010’s style that the artists used for this game.

The art and characters are drawn very flatly and amateurish. Outlines are very plain and lack variance. Poses also are stiff and lack expression. The most creative aspect of the art is the charming use of markers for coloring which adds some much needed style to the visuals.

At best, Popslinger can look like a very impressive Newgrounds flash game. Impressively, the animators took the effort to animate the character’s mouths during the unfunny and overly long cutscenes. The writers thought their material was hilarious because these scenes go on for a while.

The only thing harder than fighting the urge to skip all cutscenes is fighting bosses. It isn’t bad enough that bosses have unreasonably high amounts of HP; losing to them means having to replay the entire level again. No checkpoint before the battle- every stage has to be done in one go.

This becomes extra annoying because stages are not really that challenging- only bosses put up a real fight. They spawn more enemies mid battle and their purpose is not just to hurt Ria, but also be fodder for her to build up that killstreak ability.

The absolute biggest crime Popslinger commits is that the final stage is only accessible if the player earns above C rank on all prior levels. The requirements for this are very demanding and to have the audacity to expect players to master the game is admirable. The problem is Popslinger is not good enough that players will want to get higher scores.

During the Popslinger review process, it was increasingly difficult to get invested in anything it had to offer. It does have some really difficult boss battles, but having to replay the entire stage to refight them is a vulgar disrespect of the player’s time. Anyone who does enjoy Popslinger will despise this loathsome design choice.

Fighting waves of boogers could have been fun if the mechanics were refined. The ugly and garish visuals with unappealing characters also might have been tolerable if the gameplay loop wasn’t so repetitive. With some rebalancing and checkpoints before bosses, Popslinger could have been a decent guilty pleasure.

Popslinger was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Funky Can Creative. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Popslinger is now available for Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 4

The Good

  • Voice acting is decent
  • The cutscenes are skippable
  • Stable action and core concept is novel
  • Easy to pick up, very challenging to master

The Bad

  • Amateurish art that does not accurately represent magical girl anime or the 90s
  • Outrageous difficulty spikes and overly long boss battles
  • Gated final level
  • Unfunny cutscenes that bore and unlikeable characters
  • Rules of the setting are not explained

About

A youth destined for damnation.