The US Sega CD version originally had a different name for a while actually, as it was going to be called Sister Sonic. The plan was to replace the cast with Sonic the Hedgehog characters, similar to how Super Mario Bros. 2 was a remake of Doki Doki Panic, but when news of this got out Popful fans managed to put a stop to it with a fan campaign.
This seems to be a standard issue 'band of forgotten heroes fought a great evil in ancient times and sealed it away' kind of backstory, which might have been a lot more interesting to me if I hadn't seen it in a thousand other games already (thought probably not).
Though it did make me smile when the solemn narration ended by explaining that "the black seal stands fast, protecting mankind from certain destruction at the hand of the overlord", then cut straight to the title screen above, with this ultra-happy dopey theme tune playing over it.
The game came out on five different systems by the way. It was originally made for the Japanese PC-8801 computer in 1991 (which looks pretty ass, but sounds surprisingly good... no voices though obviously), then it was ported across to the more powerful PC-9801 a year later. Then in 1994, a (full three years after the original release) it reappeared on the PC Engine CD, Super Famicom and Sega CD consoles, looking a whole lot prettier.
It took until 1995 though before the game finally got a western release (apparently only in the US and exclusively on the Sega CD), with a localisation by the infamous Working Designs, who I last caught dropping Carl Sagan and Dr Dooittle references into fantasy RPG Cadash. They were a bit weird.
Nice subtle Total Recall reference there, I'll let them have that one. Well it turns out our hero is a bounty hunter (not a postman) and her latest bounty's just given her the slip using the oldest exploding head trick in the book. Well she can get some cash by taking in the head at least.
It's funny how early Japanese computer games have such a distinctive look to them. The PC-88 (not to be confused with the IBM-PC currently dominating the world) was a home computer capable of relatively high res 640x400 graphics before the low res C64 or ZX Spectrum had even been released, because it was an important feature for the Japanese market who needed the extra detail to display intricate kanji text. It could only have 8 colours on screen at once though, so games used the extra resolution for dithering to create the impression of extra shades. The end result isn't that pleasant to look at on a sharp LCD screen, but monitors were much fuzzier back then.
|PC Engine CD|
Meanwhile, the SNES version doesn't actually have much of an intro at all. So there's not much to show there.
Those stats seem to be related to my equipment rather than any character attributes, so it doesn't seem like I can gain experience or level up by killing enemies. I can only improve myself with hard currency.
I guess I'll go look for a king or village elder to speak to then.
Oh, only the enemies get the second of invincibility by the way. They can get several hits in on me very quickly.
On the other hand, the game kinda looks like ass compared to the Sega game, due to the extreme dithering. Surprisingly good music quality though.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE SNES VERSION.
Alright, time to try the next house along then. I'll trigger this plot switch eventually, you'll see. There's only so many things I can do in a town.
Well it seems that the Sega CD version also has buildings I can enter, as I've found an elf village in the forest with a few shops in which to spend my hard won coin. Just in the nick of time it seems as well, as I've only got 12 health left. The place sells armour and a shield, but I think I'll just grab a few health items for now as really don't have much cash on me.
|PC Engine CD|
This screenshot's actually from the PC Engine CD version of the game, but it seems like a much closer port of the PC-88 original, complete with the 'run into enemies' style of gameplay.
I suppose it could be worse. She could have falling damage.
Well anyway, this is clearly a new game with the same name, so I'm going to stop talking about it and concentrate on the other versions instead.
Okay then, now I can climb all the way back up again and finally go into the door at the top.
Mad Bomber, who apparently likes hiding out in the treetops and harassing travellers just because he's a dick.
Aww look, it's actually little wizard man piloting a rusty old beady-eyed mech! He looks more scared of me than I am of him. Well I'm sorry man, but you're blocking my path so I'm going to have to cut you, but I'll try to make it quick.
Okay, so those clockwork robots and the mages gave me 10 gold each when I killed them, it costs 150 gold for a cherry, and I need 2 cherries and an orange to fill a health bar up. So I have to kill 39 enemies to afford the items to refill all my health once.
And this asshole strips it all away in seconds. Well that's my enthusiasm killed.
These spiders drop 20 gold per kill and they respawn, so I just have to walk back and forth cutting them up for a bit. I'm going to need a 500 gold suit of armour and a 400 gold shield to survive this boss, plus 500 gold worth of health items couldn't hurt. So that's just 70 spiders I need to kill then and even after that there's no guarantee I'll be skilled enough to defeat this boss. Joy.
So just out of curiosity I checked out the Japanese version of the Sega CD version as well, just to see what would happen if I tried taking on the boss with no gear, and I cut him down no problem in that as well! So either I've suddenly become way more skilled in the last few minutes, or Working Designs really ramped up the difficulty for the US release.
Anyway now I'm fighting these spring-loaded mantis creatures, which like to pop out their torso at me when I'm trying to slice them. Which is a bit awkward as my sword doesn't have much range to it, and I was kinda trying to conserve my health as it's hard to get back. If I lose too much here I'm going to need to backtrack all the way to the elf village again to buy more.
A LITTLE LATER ON LEVEL 2.
I managed to lure them into a corner one at a time and wipe them all out in the end, but it took a long long while. After every kill I had to duck down on the ladder waiting for the survivors to walk across to the right, turn around, then disappear back off screen to the left you see.
But that's it, I've reached the limits of my patience with the US Sega CD version, so I'm stopping with it here. If the localisation team wanted to add a hard mode to the game they should have put an option on the main menu like sensible people.
Oh, I should probably mention that I've learned my character's name during a conversation and she's called... Popful Mail. Seriously, that's her name.
MEANWHILE, ON THE MEGA CD.
Yeah I know I said I was giving up on the US Sega CD version, but I never said I was quitting the Japanese game. I've actually been making progress in this one without tearing any hair out. Funnily enough the game originally had English text for the HUD anyway so it just looks the same 90% of the time.
You know I honestly think I can take this guy, but it won't be easy. My armour has given me the ability to take a few hits now, but I'm still taking more damage than I can deal with.
The mech was coming my way, so I dropped down onto this ladder for a second to wait for him to turn around. He had 15 hp, I had 74, so it was basically over at this point I thought, but I was trying to play it cautiously. And then the asshole STOMPS ON THE GROUND KNOCKING ME DOWN THE LADDER TO THE PREVIOUS AREA. It's not a kill, but it does mean I'll have to do the entire fight from the start, except without any healing items left.
So that's how I lost the fight. It's not a total crisis due to the miracle of save games as I could just restart at the ladder, but it's worn me down, man. I don't have it in me to play this any further.
Popful Mail honestly seems like a fairly decent game, in all its myriad versions, but it's not really for me I think. There's actually basically three versions of it: the PC-88/98/Engine one with its 'run into enemies' combat, the Sega CD one with its zoomed in view and sword button, and the SNES game which is doing its own thing entirely. Out of the first two I think I actually enjoyed the gameplay of original version better because the combat is much faster and I could see a bit further in front of me so I didn't have to creep around everywhere, but I preferred the presentation of the Sega version due to the quality localisation work and the fantastic animation. Though if I ever see how Popful's daring adventure ends, it'll probably be through watching youtube clips.
But don't listen to me! Everyone else on the internet seems to love this game and it routinely ends up on 'Sega CD top ten best games' lists, so if you haven't tried it yet, please disregard my miserable opinions entirely. Just watch out for those difficulty spikes.
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