Friday, 1 February 2013

Hebereke no Popoon

So how do you follow up an interesting, if badly timed non-linear platformer? By creating a falling block puzzle game of course! That's sensible!

Yes it's the return of the world's favourite intoxicated penguin; Hebereke no Popoon, a 1995 puzzle game released for the Super Famicom in Japan. It's a rare case of the arcade version being the lesser choice - treasure this moment, it doesn't happen often.

Hebereke was popular amongst Sunsoft developers in 1995. Ours not to reason why, but the obsession led to Hebereke no Popoon, a mix between the phenominal Puyo Puyo and not-so-phenominal Columns. Create lines of three or more matching coloured blobs, clear part of your playfield and help take down an opponent, live your life by gravity-induced combos - you know the drill, and if you don't, you really should.

Although Popoon has little to do with the original Hebereke this series spawned from, it tries to keep a connection by offering four slightly different characters, each of which respond differently to good play. Also similarly to the original, coming along for the ride are some decent tunes and graphics, and although the non-localised forms of Hebereke and friends results in an excess of high-pitched screaming, for the most part it remains a pleasant game.

But there is, of course, a good reason why nobody remembers this one. The abundance of garbage blocks and limited means of removing them (they're colour coded here) makes strategising your play far more challenging than it needs to be in Hebereke no Popoon. Much of the success can be attributed to sheer luck, as plans tend to be hampered within two or three turns if your rival has more than one brain cell. In a sense, Hebereke no Popoon is less about fighting as it is about cleaning up - you're not to concentrate on bruising the other side with your superior maths skills, but instead make sure you won't be backed into a corner with no possibility of escape.

Or at least, that's what I took away from the experience. The language barrier means I've yet to figure out how to adjust the computer's skill in versus mode, so the only way for me to increase the challenge was to play with handicaps, creating a faster pace of play and more garbage to deal with upon startup. No doubt there are several important options buried within the illegible kanjii, but be they hidden or nonexistent, it's a clear trait of bad game design if I can't find them in a simple game made for kids.

Puyo Puyo's success and well-designed play led to a plethora of tournaments staged throughout Japan, some of which likely still exist today. Hebereke no Popoon can't keep pace - the characters are unbalanced, the strategy is non-existent and compared to something like Puyo Puyo Tsuu, the gameplay options are far more limited. Controls also become unresponsive after the game hits a certain speed (particularly if there's a sizable amount of activity on-screen), which although isn't an issue attributed solely to Popoon, hampers its longevity and annoys people like me.

So although this isn't the worst falling-block puzzle game known to man, there's little reason to dig out a copy. Were it localised, it might be a different story, but for now this is one solely for the history books.


  1. I actually have this game on the SNES (yes, it did get a European release) and while I wouldn't say it beats Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, I thought it was a good game.

    1. That's really odd - I don't usually make silly mistakes like that, but you're right, there is a PAL version. I guess the ROM isn't as widely circulated... or I didn't do adequate research. Probably the latter.

      Still, the localisation efforts were minimal so no huge loss.

  2. Pretty fun to crush your mates under rubbish blocks using the stupidly powerful special moves. The single-player mode is boring without those gimmicks though and it teases you with characters you can't play as.