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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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Nothing you do in the single-player game can prepare you for the thrill of playing pop-pop against another player, even if that player is just another computerized pop, which are the characters that players choose to become when playing a match game. In fact, I found the single player a tad boring after about 15 minutes of play. True, the focus in puzzle mode is less on speed and ruthlessness and more on style and accuracy, but there just seemed to be something missing. That something just so happens to be a little unhealthy competition, which is exactly where pop-pop begins to flex its gaming muscle. Competitive pop-pop is another game altogether and is what really makes your registration fee seem trifling.

First of all, if youíre reading this, youíre probably what we call a rookie. If this is the case, if youíve never played competitive pop-pop, then you might want to start your tour on the computerized circuit, because thatís about the only way youíre going to get enough experience to really show yourself on the net. And let me be the first to tell you that the computer plays quite well, especially on the higher difficulty levels. So youíre going to get some good training here.

The multiplayer game differs from the single player in that the goal is not to knock out a series of targets to advance to the next level, but rather to simply stay alive. Okay, technically, you win by clearing all of your bricks before the other player, but more often than not you will find yourself victorious only because your opponent couldnít break his own bricks fast enough. To this end, the competitive game usually boils down to finding ways to add bricks to his side rather than just taking them away from your own. Of course, the best way to do this is by breaking your own bricks, so each method winds up completing both tasks. Perhaps, with more practice, the focus will shift, but most players who are just starting out will find it fairly difficult to actually clear all of their bricks before the other player tanks. So, go with what works for you.

And whatís competition without a little mortal combat? Nothing, of course. Thatís why each colorful pop has its own Super Power which can be used to unleash a nasty attack on their opponent. One pop releases electromagnets which bend and warp the path of the ball, another tosses out little rubber duckies which get in the way and JUST WONíT DIE. Each attack is different and, while some seem rather simple, and some quite powerful, others are more subtle in their ingenuity and may take some practice to learn to use well. In this regard, each character takes on a unique personality, and players should waste no time trying them all before finding one they like best. But donít stay with one pop for too long. Why not? More on that later.

Of course, thereís more to life than playing alone and, where pop-pop is concerned, thereís a whole playground out there full of snotty kids with bombs, flowers, and little rubber duckies to give you a run for your money. At least, there will be when the game is released. It is, admittedly, rather difficult at the moment to find players to compete against but, neverthless, patience and perseverance prevailed.

While writing this review and needing some inspiration, I fired up the game and headed for the net-lounge, hoping to find someone, anyone, against whom I might play a quickie game. Well, since the game had not yet technically been released, there was, as you can imagine, a dearth of players on-line. The one player I did find, however, was perhaps the worst person I could have possibly chosen to play against, the one person against whom a pop-pop rookie has absolutely no chance in a hell of monkeys of beating.

Thatís right, I went tetÍ a tetÍ with Andrew Welch, El Presidente and Dictator-for-Life of Ambrosia Software, a man who has, quite literally, been playing this game for years.

I did not win.

Heck, I never even came close. Actually, though he handed me my arse on a bright green paper plate, I learned quite a lot from the brief time we matched. For starters, the individual popsí super powers are more balanced than I had first thought. Where I thought that one of the pops, Mr. Man, was far and away the most powerful, Andrew showed me that, if played correctly (and with three years practice) any pop can beat another, which he proved to me again, and again, and again, ad nauseam.


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