Not everything in VR has to be first-person – that’s a phrase I wouldn’t have thought I would have ever said if you had asked me before the beginning of 2018. To me, I always thought VR would only work if you were living the virtual life of the protagonist within the game you are playing. Then 2018 happened, which is when I got to play games such as Moss, Starchild, The Lost Bear, and even Light Tracer. All of these 3rd person games just worked – yeah, I can see them working without VR, but with VR they are all enhanced and create a much broader sense of immersion. And now I got the chance to try out Pop-up Pilgrims from Dakko Dakko, a Lemmings-like game played in the 3rd person whilst you overlook 2.5d paper-craft characters – and once again, I was proven wrong. I guess the question is, does VR help or restrict this title? Unfortunately, it’s a bit of both.
**As usual – picture quality is bad as it’s from a video of footage – in-game it’s much, much sharper and clearer**
Taking the role of the ‘Cloud God’, it is your task to ensure that all of the pilgrims make it safely to the exit within each of the levels whilst avoiding obstacles and collecting various items along the way. That’s about as deep as the story gets if I’m honest. As you complete a level, you will receive a score based on how many people were saved and how many collectables you have managed to command the pilgrims to collect on their journey to the exit.
The game reminded me a lot of Lemmings in a way, in that the pilgrims are on a constant walk cycle which can’t be stopped – you can make them jump between the various depth layers and there are instances where you can make them jump backwards and proceed to walk in the opposite direction – but that’s the most control you will have over this little guys. The multiple layers are where the strategy comes in as enemies patrol the plains as well and if the pilgrims come into contact with them then it usually ends up in death. So, you must work out where you need to make them jump or progress to another layer so that they don’t accidentally become the difference between gold and silver on the completion screen!
The controls are about as simple as you can get for a VR game – you don’t control the pilgrims, as advised above, you control the Cloud God who is gracefully floating above the various 2d layers. You have a button to swap between layers and a button for jump – but the jump isn’t for you. As you look around, if you move the Cloud God into the vicinity of a pilgrim then you will see a stretched-out line – similar to the one in Angry Birds when you pull them back – if you hit the jump button (X) then the pilgrim you were locked onto will jump in the direction of the stretch mark. With this in mind, you can make them jump a little, a lot or even backwards.
Strategy and multitasking are key here as the pilgrims will literally loop over and over until they encounter an enemy or make it to the exit. You are best ensuring the little guys are doing a loop of a safe area before you look around for yourself, kind of like how you would trap the lemmings with a blocker before you throughout out a plan. What I did was then take one pilgrim on a journey as I try and figure out where to go and if it’s successfully, I would go back and get the rest.
The jump command is useful for jumping over gaps, avoiding enemies, and attacking rocks in order to get materials but it’s also used to obtain the various collectables upon each stage as they are usually higher up than walking height. This means you have to be on the lookout for those as well and ensure you don’t over-shoot any of the pilgrims as it’s very easy to cause them to jump off the edge!
There will also be times where you must mine materials (by jumping into rocks) and then take these items to statures, such as a lion one, in order to open the gateway up – it won’t always be open from the start and will more often than not require some form of puzzle-solving to get it open.
In terms of the collectables, the main collectable is a little gold octopus which appears to be in references to the developers previous game ‘The 2D Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character’. To be honest, the whole Pop-up Pilgrims game appears to be a kind of adaptation of the developers PSP title ‘Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims’ only with PSVR in mind for the visual effects.
As you make your way through over 50 levels and six worlds, things get increasingly difficult and frustrating. Numerous times I had been watching a group of pilgrims and helping them get to the end, only to hear an “oh no” in the corner of my ear – someone had managed to break from the group and go get themselves killed! It’s not the end of the world (well, it is for him, but not us) as the game does a simple bronze, silver, and gold award process upon completing a level. This means you can still progress, even with a few dead pilgrims, or you may even be able to replace the passed-away person with the bonus you get from collecting the items in each stage.
Even though some levels do get a bit frustrating, it’s all part of the charm and the design of the various stages – if there was no risk of death or sense of danger then would the game be any fun? I doubt it. The game itself shouldn’t take you too long – I’ve seen people claim to have got the platinum within 5-6 hours – but from the time I’ve spent with it so far, I’ve really enjoyed it and I can’t wait to jump back in.
Now to come onto the elephant in the room – just like with The Invisible Hours – do I think this game needs to be in VR? Technically no (Also, The Invisible Hours is removing it’s VR restriction on April 24th). Don’t get me wrong – the VR works great for what it is – from the moment you boot up the game, you are essentially sat there with the pilgrim’s world in front of you in a semi-circle around the front 180 degrees of your vision. It looks so colourful, bright, easy to make out and it feels so real (well, as real as 2d characters can get). However, seeing as you aren’t directly controlling any of the pilgrims or using a move controller to grab and drop, I can see this game working perfectly on a non-VR system with the only downside being that the controls may be a bit fiddly.
That being said, I’m not saying the game shouldn’t be VR, I’m just saying that if the developers ever need more sales then I can see this ‘possibly’ being patched to appeal to a wider audience.
One thing that kinda threw me off a little with the game was the tutorial or lack there-of. I know the controls are basic and it was clear what to do – but the hints and tips on what to do are scattered around on signposts – posts which are easily missed. For example – I played through about 7 levels using the right thumbstick to make people jump as I missed the signpost on the first island saying to press X, which, if you haven’t already played the game, is a lot easier than using the thumbstick!
Pop-up Pilgrims is a fun little puzzle game for PSVR with cute graphics and a delightful soundtrack. The controls/hints/guide could have been a bit better presented, maybe with a short tutorial video or a bit more obvious for the player. Regardless, I realised my mistake and from then on I loved playing the game. It ran perfectly, I had a great time feeling like I was a god overwatching all these silly Forest Gumps who can’t stop moving (albeit a lot slower than Forest was), and I can’t wait to see what the studio brings out next. Highly recommend this for people who like puzzles, Lemmings, and even those with younger ones who want to dabble in VR.
- Very colourful and cute art design
- Perfect for those who want to try VR but have issues with motion sickness
- The game isn't too hard so perfect for people of all ages
- Nice idea for the puzzle genre and works really well in VR
- Instructions/hints could be a bit more obvious
- Even though VR is great - I can see this working non-VR as well