There was a time when a games like Poöf Vs The Cursed Kitty were found exclusively on Flash sites buried amongst mounds of awful stick-figure games and knock-off platformers. The best of these games made the transition to paid gaming apps thanks to the rise of mobile gaming. Their recipe for success? Quick, addictive, and easy to pick up experiences with near negligible price tags. This allowed indie developers to start creating more fully fleshed out games, while still remaining on the small scale. Sadly, Poöf is the last hurrah for Ardeko Studio who closed their doors earlier this year, but luckily, managed to find a publisher in Neko Entertainment to release the game. The result feels a bit rushed and needs a bit more tweaking to what is otherwise a fun, quick-fire game.
You play as a treasure hunting dog named Poöf (woof, poo, you get the idea) who is gifted a magical kitty who lays golden eggs by an evil wizard, only to find out the kitty is cursed. This then traps Poöf in a never ending loop until he can locate the Holy Growl to break the curse. While story isn’t essential to the enjoyment of a game like this, it would have been nice to have something to break up the action or insert more humour into the experience.
As enemies spawn from various areas around the arena, Poöf has to defend the cursed kitty hanging above a well before they reach it by either jumping on them, using the various random items you unlock, or slowing them with your golden poo. Occasionally the kitty will lay a golden egg which you can use to wipe every enemy in the room for momentary reprieve. As you’re essentially stuck in one room, progression is measured by tokens earned from completing three challenges. The tokens are spent on new items, upgrades, and eventually to unlock new sections of the room. Gameplay is frantic, and you’re left coming up with strategies on the fly as you prioritise turret and poo placement, and risk leaving the kitty undefended to scrounge for more items.
Making big scores requires building up the combo meter by chaining head bounces and other death-dealing methods, meanwhile collecting gems to take advantage of the combo multiplier. It adds an extra layer of strategy as you steer Poöf through the air between kills to defend the kitty. After Poöf’s inevitable demise, your actions are tallied up to unlock more backgrounds, skins, and music to break up the monotony of the fixed level design. There’s also a time slowing mechanic to help you out of tight spots, and time can be accelerated for more points.
While Poöf VS The Cursed Kitty looks a lot like an iOS game with its simple cartoony art style and 2D platforming, it’s clearly geared towards the hardcore Super Meat Boy crowd. Gameplay is one part active tower defence, similar to Orcs Must Die, and appears to have strong ties to the original Mario Bros. There is essentially only one level that slowly expands as you progress through the missions. You will get sick of the starting level, believe me. The colours are bright and eye catching, and the overall cutesy character design works well with the game’s tone. The weapon effects like the flaming knives or blizzard attack look cool (pardon the pun), but there are frustrating moments when the screen freezes for effect when the knives kill an enemy causing you to lose momentum.
Interestingly, the soundtrack has an upbeat arcade feel to it that’s full of synths and guitars, and not a single chiptune in sight. Admittedly, the soundtrack isn’t huge, but as the action builds, it fades into the background of squashing monsters, which helps it from becoming stale. Audio cues from enemies help you work out what’s happening off screen (damn those bomb laying chickens) and if the kitty’s in danger, and Arkedo took the high-but-not-that-high-road by not overdoing the sound of Poöf’s golden poops.
Whilst the core concept is solid, Poöf can be frustrating as hell. The controls are just not tight enough for a game which can kill you so easily. Your primary attack is to simply jump on enemies’ heads, but the hit-box for their heads is small while the hit-box to damage you is enormous. Enemies spawn behind the scenery before you get to see them, and small enemies get hidden behind the clutter which can easily end your round. The platforms feel slightly too high and you’ll find yourself developing strategies to get around the failings of the controls. Given Poöf’s unforgiving nature, having tighter controls would have made this a far more enjoyable experience.
At the time of reviewing, the steam version of the game had a significant issue that required turning off auto-updating in order for it load correctly. Additionally, there is no options menu in the game, which is very unusual for a PC title. The blend of hardcore arcade action and quick-burst gameplay had the potential to establish itself as a hit, but ultimately falls short of this goal due to one too many rough edges. The cartoonish art style and arcade inspired tunes (which could have been pulled straight out of Double Dragon) match the light-hearted tone, and the way Poöf always seems to be charging headlong into danger is quite endearing. Gripes aside, it’s a difficult game to put down, and is cheap enough to justify the purchase. The steadily rising challenge and drip feed of new gameplay elements will keep you hooked, just as long as you don’t rage quit out of frustration.