Blip. Blip blop. Blip blop blip.
Whether you grew up with an Atari, played it in a bar arcade, or on one of those cheap plug and play consoles, everyone knows the bat and ball, 2 player, tennis game.
It was wonderfully subverted by BIT.TRIP Beat back on the Wii, and now Atari wants a slice of the pongy action with PONG Quest.
Take Pong, wrap it up in RPG tropes, turn it into a dungeon crawler. Obviously. What could possibly go wrong?
I love me some quirky gaming so was thrilled to take on a review myself rather than giving it to one of the team.
Looking like a newgrounds game from the early days of the internet, PONG Quest opens with you as the paddle.
A plain white paddle who’s chosen by the king to undergo training and save the day. Entering each of the king’s themed zones, delving to the bottom of the dungeon, and beating the boss who seems to want to claim power for themselves. Dialogue with NPCs suggests that maybe the king isn’t quite as benevolent as he may seem, When everyone in the dungeon tells you that they’ve been thrown in there for saying the king’s clothes weren’t good, you quickly los hope of the story being developed in any meaningful way.
We’ll come back to that, first lets discuss the core mechanics.
Each dungeon has a theme from prison to forests and are made up of a grid of rooms. Explore the dungeon, find treasure, fight enemies, find the exit to the next floor. Eventually you reach the floor contain a boss – find the boss key and battle the boss to progress. It’s incredibly simple and the only real difference between each dungeon is the types of enemies you encounter.
Occasionally you’ll encounter an optional ‘puzzle’, in inverted commas because they are insultingly easy. A simon-style game sees you attempt to touch 4 panels in the correct order. Sure, easy as first when each panel lights up once, but that’ll progress right? Nope, do it once and acquire new balls and money.
Perhaps in the next dungeon there’ll be 5 panels! Or a Lights Out clone! Or rotate some mirrors to reflect the ball! Or matching pairs! It’s painfully easy, painfully dull, and the prizes not worth having.
Of course the dungeons are infested with enemies, which leads us to…
As you might expect, the core battle mechanic is games of PONG. You don’t just need to win points; instead you each have a health bar. Each time you deflect the ball, you lose 1HP. Concede a goal and lose 5HP. Get your opponent down to 1HP and they’ll become critical – slowing them right down and making it easy to finish them with one more goal.
Games are livened up by special balls, found by beating opponents and in the dungeons. These vary from taking 2HP, to being bouncier, stealing your opponent’s hat, and even healing you. As you progress you earn the ability to hold more types of ball, so flicking between types and activating them becomes the key strategy.
Unfortunately the matches are so frequent, and so easy, that the balls fail to liven things up very much. Sure, the fist time you activate a centipede ball, it feels pretty epic, but the weird choice that an opponent can only be injured once per rebound off your bat means that setting up walls, and other deflections, doesn’t really help much.
Battles are so frequent, easy, and dull that I found myself running through each room, desperately trying to find the exit without drawing aggro from the paddles that lived there. The battle theme doesn’t change, going from a delightful chiptune treat to ingrained on your very psyche before dungeon 1 is complete.
Win a battle and earn money – that can be spent on buying items to personalize your paddle and additional balls, and of course XP.
3: Level Up
Level up, earn XP, spend it to increase your maximum HP, to carry additional types of balls, or other perks including taking and dealing more/less damage.
4: Boss Battles
These are a genuine highlight – the music ratchets up, the bosses have fun abilities and large health bar… but weirdly scoring a goal past them reduces their health by 100 instead of 5, so they’re much less of a challenge than they might be.
Like much of this game, the bosses are a missed opportunity to shift the expectations of a game of Pong, and do something fun.
PONG Quest also includes local and online multiplayer ( I was unable to find an opponent) which may throw some more fun into the mix with some balls more suited to playing a real person, affecting the on screen display.
PONG Quest – Conclusion
Ultimately we’re left with a dull game that could have been something special. With a charming and witty script, some additional effects balls that make a real difference to how the game is played, it would be an utter delight instead of a slog.
Sadly this is a huge missed opportunity, coming across as something that would have been on Newgrounds instead of a delightful homage t PONG and Atari’s back catalogue.
West of Loathing showed us how a whimsical RPG could work, and there’s no shortage of roguelites on Steam and home consoles
PONG Quest runs fine, there’s some fun to be had, but you’re probably better off playing a modern Breakout clone such as Shatter for some single layer bat and ball fun, or one of many multiplayer games for some quick, 2 way, action.
A huge let down where the most fun is in dressing your paddle up. Let down by a boring core gameplay loop, insulting difficulty, and a lack of wit, humour, and charm.
Not awful, just really very dull.
Thanks to the publisher for a review code.