Because you can never have too many Mario 64 sequels.
Throughout history there are games that nailed pretty much everything but the release date. Deciding to launch your game just days before something as highly anticipated as Super Mario Odyssey, is akin to hiding your game in remote locations around the world and then hoping someone not only finds it, but decides to buy it. The release date of Poi makes it a hard sell, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Now as we step out of the haze of Super Mario Odyssey perhaps we can find a place for Poi.
Poi centers around two siblings who set off from home to become explorers. Early in their journey they meet an older man who has retired from exploring after all of his explorer medallions (the shiney, prime collectable of this particular adventure) were lost in a violent storm. Being the brave explorer that you are you join the old man aboard his airship and set off to re-collect his medallions from across a variety of worlds.
You’ll quickly recognize that this is an explorative 3D platformer heavily inspired by both Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. When I say heavily inspired I mean the developers pretty much seem to have set out to make more Mario 64. Remember that Bully in Lethal Lava Land? He’s here. How about the bouncy ropes from the first level of Mario Sunshine? Yeah they’re here too. If you jump three times while moving forward each jump gets successively higher. Flick the control stick in the opposite direction of your moment and jump to do a backflip. Don’t forget to collect one hundred coins in each level for an extra medallion! It’s not subtle about its influences which in most cases would bug me, but Poi executes on those classic Mario mechanics so well that I found myself having too much fun to be too put off by it. At least for a while.
When you first get started you’ll find yourself on your airship with a single island looming in the distance. This is the first world. As you collect more medallions you’ll be able to open new worlds, but that isn’t the only way Poi offers progression. Breaking up the medallion grind between each new world are floating islands and airships that sport other smaller worlds and side objectives. These pop up incredibly frequently in the sky around you in the hub world. Some of them will offer you special challenge stages, similar to the challenge stages in Mario Sunshine. Others feature characters who will reward you for gathering certain collectable’s in each stage. Meeting these characters also serves as a great motivation to revisit previously cleared areas to look for their items. Still, others offer entirely new mini worlds complete with baby penguins to collect. Like I said, not subtle.
World design, on the whole, is quite good. Each of the main worlds features a unique aesthetic that will put you in mind of GameCube era platformers. A soft depth of field effect pulls objects close to the camera out of focus and a lovely water shader will put you even more in mind of Mario Sunshine. The soundtrack stands out as a highlight of the game. It carries with it a wonderful adventurous feeling, and I never got tired of hopping between floating islands while listening to the majestic tunes.
All that is great, and the game is honestly very fun, but there is a problem. Poi tries very hard to emulate early 3D Mario games, and it does a fantastic job. Unfortunately it rarely rises above that. Most of the challenges, enemies, and boss fights, have direct parallels in one 3D Mario game or another. Outside of some unique takes on progression you’ll rarely find anything that feels entirely new in Poi. When all's said and done Poi is a very well executed clone. It is fun and charming, but feels like something I’ve played before.