POPFUL MAIL / Working Designs / Sega CD
Popful Mail is a neat adventure-platformer that's surprisingly polished for something you've never heard of. The most obvious comparison is the Wonder Boy in Monster Land games, but it also reminded me of Zeliard a bit. Which is another game you've never heard of. So yeah.

Anyway. Popful Mail is actually the improbable name of our main character, a leggy and busty elf who also happens to be a pro bounty hunter. Despite the teenage boy fantasy art style for Mail, she's actually kind of an atypical female anime protag, she's amoral and greedy and gives pretty much no effs unless she's getting paid to. But it's handled in kind of a cutesy way and the overall tone of the game is silly, I mean the death screen is just a dizzy Mail giving us a panty shot.

There's a surprisingly long and well-done anime intro to start the game out, and it's also fully voice-acted, even down to in-game dialogue. And the voice acting isn't bad! The sprite and music work isn't really anything above what can be done on the Genesis, but decent enough, and the settings and backdrops are usually colorful and pleasant enough (if with some plain stretches sometimes).

If anything doesn't quite cut the mustard, it's the gameplay ... and unfortunately that's pretty much the most important part. The game was converted from a PC-98 version that was "bump combat" style ... this one at least lets you swing and throw your weapons, but only in a real limited forward attack, no overhead swings or Zelda II downward thrusts or anything fun like that. Jumping is also slidey and unweildy too, it's that style where the upward arc of the jump is OK but on the downward arc it's like lead suddenly fell into your pockets and you pitch forward in a really abrupt and imprecise way.

The boss battles are also a little obnoxious, it's basically the Mega Man X repetitive pattern recognition style with extremely little room for error. Regular enemies stun-lock when you hit them, in fact that's necessary to beat a lot of them. But bosses give 0 fucks about your strikes and just keep rolling along, between that and the slidey jumping it's often frustrating. Old-school in a not good way :(

You also can't really call the game an RPG, because there's no leveling. You only improve stats by finding/buying new weapons and armor, so basically every area has fixed caps on how much damage you can give and take, putting the entire challenge on the platforming / boss pattern exploiting aspect. I can't say the game is overly difficult as you can save at any time, but it's frequently frustrating and if a boss or particular level stretch is giving you fits, there's no grinding your way out of it. Town areas where you can heal and buy items are also few and far between.

So despite the Metroidvania-ish appearance of it, the game actually centers around short bursts of basically perfectionist action, level stretches and bosses where you have to keep your relatively fragile characters from getting hit more than a couple of times. I don't have any particular problem with this design philosophy, but pairing it with slippery jumping and NES-caliber swordplay was the big misstep. If you can deal with that, though, there's a lot to like here.
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