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Publisher: Ambrosia Software    Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 350 MHz    RAM: 20 MB

July 16, 2002 | Richard Porcher

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Some ideas never seem to die out, and the basic parentage of Pong is one of those. There’s just something about whacking a ball around the screen, smashing and grabbing everything in sight, that makes the brain light up with glee. Anyone who touched a joystick at any time during the eighties should remember at least one of those classic, quarter-munching hits like Breakout or Arkanoid. They were all arcade and home-box staples of electronic entertainment. I can even remember playing Arkanoid on a Mac SE in the nearby University computer lab when I was 12. That is, until I was summarily banned from said lab. But that’s another story altogether.

This is a story about a game, and that game is Pop-Pop.

Pop-pop is the latest offering from Ambrosia Software, already famous for classic mac games like Maelstrom, Barrack, and Escape Velocity. Pop-pop pays tribute to Ambrosia's roots of reconceiving classic arcade games, combining elements of various Pong-based games with themes and ideas from more competitive, comat-style games. The official by-line from Ambrosia calls pop-pop "a wild fusion of Arkanoid and Street Fighter." Not far from the truth, really.

But how can you possibly make a decent game by combining ideas from these two, completely different genres? Well, let's look into that.

Pop-pop has two basic modes of play: puzzle mode, which consists of bouncing the ball around, trying to knock out targets in order to advance to the next level, and versus mode, which pits the player against an opponent, controlled either by the computer or by a real, live human. Human players can be found using either the game’s built in tracker, or via Game Ranger, which is fully supported by pop-pop.

Puzzle mode, which isn’t really all that “puzzling,” technically speaking (though I guess you have to call it something) is challenging enough. The idea behind the game is virtually identical to Arkanoid: you hit the ball with the paddle and attempt to break a series of bricks which stand between you and victory. What pop-pop adds to that is a number of targets that have to be cleared to finish each level.

To make things more interesting, some bricks will leave behind floating power-ups, which will grant you some useful, but temprary, powers. To make things even more interesting, some bricks drop power-DOWNS, which do all kinds of nasty things when grabbed. But here’s the rub- the power-downs always seem to float into the exact place where your paddle needs to be, so it becomes a game of duck, dodge, and smash as you try to keep the ball flying while grabbing the goodies and avoiding the baddies at the same time.

On top of all of that, you face the constant threat of being crushed by the bricks which slowly advance towards the “line of destiny.” If just one brick crosses that line, you lose. And every time you miss the ball, the bricks take one step closer to smashing your face. Nice touch.

Not to worry, though. You have two special powers that can be invoked at any time, provided you have the energy, which you earn every time you successfully hit the ball into the air. First, you can use your energy to “charge” your paddle, up to five levels of charge. When the ball is hit with a charged paddle, it will break one extra brick for each level of charge. A very useful manuever for clearing a lot of bricks in a hurry.

Second, you can magnetize your paddle. When magnetized, the ball will instantly begin to drift towards the paddle, and will eventually stick to it. This is useful for many reasons. If you are about to miss the ball, you can bring it back from the brink with the magnet. If your line of destiny is being threated by a rogue brick, pull the ball to the paddle and target that brick immediately. Use of the magnet does not come without cost, though. While in use, your score will be drained VERY quickly, so use it sparingly.

Finally, another strategy which I have been practicing involves using the magnet as a guide to quickly nudge the ball in mid-flight towards specific targets. This curve-ball maneuver, if executed properly, can spell the difference between victory and death, especially in...


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