POACHER / Yahtzee Croshaw / PC
 
 
Yahtzee is best known for Zero Punctuation, of course, but he actually has a long history of amateur one-man game design that extends back a good decade before ZP ever started. Most of his work has been in adventure games, most notably the Chzo Mythos series, but in recent years he's been dabbling in new genres. Poacher is his dip into platforming -- well, I guess Art of Theft  could technically be called a platformer, but this is the first one heavily focused on actually jumping from platform to platform.

Poacher is the story of Derek, who looks like a fatter and more scruffy Andy Capp, and who is out enjoying a nice night of poaching rabbits in the English countryside when the local game warden happens upon him. Fortunately for Derek, a hole opens in the earth under the warden's feet. Feeling some responsibility for "Gamey", who he seems to have sort of a Roscoe Coltrane-Duke Boys type of relationship with, Derek plunges into the hole in rescue and winds up in a hellish subterranean world full of dark entities. Naturally, it's gonna be a real long sequence of platforming to get out.

Poacher definitely falls under the heading of Metroidvania, but the most particular and direct influence is Cave Story. Except it's far more brutal than Cave Story. While it isn't quite as bad, nor is it quite the same thing, it does also fall under the subheading of the "sadistic platformer" in the manner of I Wanna Be The Guy, Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV. Poacher's segments are a bit less demanding than these games, but it's also a considerably longer trek between save points.
 


Aside from Fiddly Platform Jumpin' (which perhaps we should have seen coming from Yahtzee's first platformer given he's often said that Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is one of his favorite games), the other component of challenge here is Awkward Angle Enemy Placement. You may remember this technique as a predominant one from the NES days, most notably used in the Castlevania games. If you're unfamiliar, the deal is that while you have a powerful weapon, the enemies are always conveniently located at/approaching from an angle that the weapon has trouble getting at, so you have to kind of wongle your way around to hit them without getting hit yourself. Only a very small handful of games have managed to do this in an artful way and make it at all enjoyable -- primarily the Castlevania series up to Rondo of Blood. Those games didn't pair this design style with long plunges either to insta-death or to having to repeat a long irritating jumpy sequence nearly as often as Poacher does, however.

You're also never quite sure where you stand with your gun in Poacher. The only visible trajectory of your shots is a set of lines that are wonky about making appearances. Sometimes three lines appear, sometimes two, sometimes one, sometimes not at all. I was an hour into the game and still unsure of the gun's actual total range, compounded greatly by the fact that the common bunny enemies (the Goombas of the game) very often don't get hit when they are directly in front of you. There's also no clear distinction between solid platforms that can and cannot be shot through, you just have to experiment and try shooting something through each one to see if it works.

I like Poacher's concept and humor, and Yahtzee did nail one aspect here that games like Sands of Time and Meat Boy didn't manage to get right -- the play control is entirely solid and when you die, it doesn't feel like it was due to slipperiness or lack of proper programming effort (aside from the gun's odd pattern of fire). Instead, it's just because the level layout is kinda bullshit and you're asked to trek far too long through segments of fiddly jumps that you end up having to repeat far too many times. It's not excruciating in exactly the same way that a VVVVVV or a Meat Boy is, but it's definitely in the same neighborhood.
 
 
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