Zelda and Pong? What could go wrong!
Pong Quest sounds like a ridiculous idea on paper. Mixing the gameplay of the Atari classic with top-down Zelda styled dungeons seems like an absurd combination, but if Mario and Rabbids has taught us anything, it is to never judge wacky combinations until you try them. Unfortunately, Pong Quest is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had in a while and it is certainly not a step forward for the Pong franchise.
The story of Pong Quest revolves around a Pong paddle who has been recruited by the king to go gather the four orbs and put an end to the mysterious energy emanating from the castle’s Spooky Door. As such, your goal is to enter each of the castle’s four doors, traverse the dungeon, and defeat the boss to reclaim the orb. While the plot is certainly not the most impressive feature Pong Quest hosts, it would have been nice to see the story fleshed out a little more than your stereotypical RPG plot. In terms of presentation, nothing really stands out aside from some of the cleverly written dialogue in the hub. The game opts to use simple shapes and bright colors whenever possible, which is fine, but after a few minutes in a dungeon, rooms, enemies, and travelers all begin to feel copy-pasted. Likewise, the few music tracks the game includes are nice pieces, but the amount of times each are reused makes them grating. Take, for example, the enemy theme. Every time you encounter a standard enemy, you will hear the same track, and when the battles drag out, the song becomes infuriating. If there was more variety in the presentation and music as a whole, this would have certainly been less of an issue.
The gameplay of Pong Quest alternates between two main gameplay styles. The top-down dungeon crawling aspect works similarly to how the dungeons in the original Zelda works, without any of the interesting puzzles. You navigate between rooms and interact with various treasure chests, enemies, and NPCs. Occasionally, you will come across a challenge room or two, but they mostly consisted of memory matching puzzles or tilting towards a goal. The rewards from these come in the form of money and unique types of balls that can be used in the second gameplay type: the battles. The battles, at first glance, play out like a standard Pong match, with two players bouncing a ball back and forth to get the ball into the opponent’s goal. Pong Quest tries to spice the formula up by adding two primary changes that completely ruin the entire experience. The biggest issue comes in the form of the health bar. You and your opponent each have a health bar that needs to be completely depleted in order to win a battle. The issue is that you take damage every time you interact with the ball, and not just when the opponent scores a goal on you. Since you are forced to rally the ball back and forth at least once before you can get a shot, you are guaranteed to take damage during your battle. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if you could heal yourself in the overworld, like most RPGs allow you to do, but unfortunately, healing is extremely limited and delegated to the ball system, the second major issue with combat. As previously mentioned, you get special types of balls for defeating enemies and completing various challenges. These range anywhere from healing items, like potions, to spells, such as one that makes your opponent slower to react. While a neat idea in concept, these completely ruin any enjoyment you will have. The balls are one-time use items, as opposed to being power ups that last the entire fight, but you can only carry a certain number of types of balls at one time. Because your opponents always have two to three different types of orbs, each with multiple uses, that they begin the battle with, you are constantly at a disadvantage due to a lack of resources at your disposal. Although you can upgrade the number of ball types you can carry by leveling up, you go through them so quickly it barely matters. I found that the best way to play the game was to avoid all enemies and fight the boss, as everything else in the dungeon simply existed to drain your resources with minimal benefits.
Outside of the lackluster gameplay, the issues don’t end there. Each of the four worlds housing the orbs are supposedly themed after classic Atari games, but besides Breakout and Centipede, it was nearly impossible to figure out which game they were representing, which was a real shame. The main hub of the game (the castle) only serves as a level select and a character customizer, with the latter being one of the game’s focal points. The player can customize their pong paddle’s color and outfit however they’d like, as long as they collect the various clothing pieces. These can be found by defeating enemies or buying them at certain shops hidden in dungeons. There is a huge variety of customization options, but I never changed my outfit once throughout the entire game, largely due to the fact you can only change your outfit in the hub. If you could change clothes on the fly, or if the clothes acted as stat boosts, I would have been more inclined to use the feature. The other big problem with Pong Quest is its lack of content. There are only five dungeons in the game, with each being beatable in around 15-20 minutes, if you explore everything. Although level ups can upgrade your health and give you new perks, the only thing stopping you from fighting the boss is a few flights of stairs and a boss key, which means no real reason to fight enemies or do any NPC challenges. Outside of the main adventure, there is the ability to play both classic Pong and Pong with the unique ball feature locally and online. While playing locally was just as standard as you expect, unfortunately, I could not find anyone online to play with, meaning I could not get an impression of how the online functions.
Pong Quest wasn’t just a mediocre game, it was an infuriating one. Wonky enemy AI, a terrible special ball and HP system, and a lack of content made the game feel like a chore to play, as opposed to being a good time. When I wasn’t bored with the lack of substance to this game, I was aggravated by every enemy encounter and the core battle mechanics. When the best part of the game is the classic local multiplayer Pong experience from nearly 50 years ago, that should say a lot about the quality of the game. If you really want to play the original Pong on Switch, that should be the only reason you should be picking up this title.