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Archives  Features  The Slacker’s Guide to Shareware - Part 4  

The Slacker’s Guide to Shareware - Part 4
July 25, 2002 | Chris Barylick

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A long time ago, the Slacker’s old mentor told the Slacker the tale of Woz and his inventions. Minus the mountain top, traditional banzai tree and ancient weaponry on hand, the scene could have come out of any classic kung-fu movie, the tale of an esteemed elder being passed down to a new protégé as shinobu flutes provided the background music. Simply put, Steve Wozniak created the first version of Brickout, sealing yet another place in history along with Apple’s original technical designs and the world has been playing catch-up with this game ever since.

Perhaps the gaming industry finally has caught up with Brickout, or at the very least added enough cool layers to make the core game that much better. Pop-Pop by Ambrosia software needs no introduction, as the game has been introduced and promoted with all the tender subtlety of the method acting routine that had Harvey Keitel fired from the set of “Eyes Wide Shut”.

Even so, it must be said that the game is beyond good, as addictive as anything the Slacker has ever seen fit to add to his Dock and as curiously fun as when his first girlfriend kindly offered to remove various bits of underwear.

Andrew Campbell has taken the basic precepts of the classic Brickout and turned it into a genuinely competitive endeavor with an art style that preempts almost everything that’s come before it. As expected, players must clear the board of bricks, Pop-Pop borrowing the descending brick idea from Space Invaders to make a good thing even better. Factor in LAN and Internet-based competitive play and things become even more interesting.

Pop-Pop isn’t about clearing a board or solving a puzzle as it is about fair play and competition, players choosing from a variety of colorful characters, each with their own unique look and special attack that can be used against an opponent. Play style is more about strategy and angles than the sheer luck factor that was the central point of the original Breakout. Players can charge their paddles to allow for the ball to pass through multiple bricks on the next shot, use a magnet to attract the ball back through the paddle (an extremely useful feature when the ball is caught bouncing between the top layers of bricks) and use their characters’ special attacks, which range from motion-distorting sparks to rubber ducks that act as obstacles to bombs to bouquets of flowers which obscure an opponent’s view.

While a player can simply opt for puzzle mode and clear the board in a routine fashion, it’s competition that makes life worthwhile. Players can fight against the computer on several difficulty levels, sniff out additional Pop-Poppers on a LAN or head online to find dozens of other players joining games in progress or setting up their own games as servers. Chat makes the game even better, as players can share wisdom, strategy and criticism both before and after the game, which seems to be finding its own community given the number of enthused players the Slacker discovered who seemed to genuinely enjoy the game even to the point of vowing to register their copies.

There are times when a game goes so far out of its way to be good in one respect or another that it deserves special attention. Pop-Pop is no exception, its art style having exceeded anything the Slacker would have expected from a shareware game and purring all friendly-like in his general direction. The combination of what seems to be an anime and cel-shading style works perfectly, especially with the background layer that makes the player’s cursor look as if it’s being smoothly dragged through a layer of water, a ripple effect trailing behind it. The style applies perfectly to the seven main characters, which seem larger than life before, during and after the game to the point where they’ll inevitably become geeky generational icons.

Pop-Pop can be had for a $25 fee, a price the Slacker would be more than willing to pay for the Daikatana of Mac shareware games that actually met all of the expectations attached to it. Flexible to the point of brilliance, players can sit down for a few minutes or several hours with Pop-Pop, something that makes it as casual or as intricate as the player wants it to be. Even if the game had shipped years ago as it was meant to, the Slacker couldn’t be happier to have it on his G4 and iBook.

Pop-Pop is Carbon-native and can be run of both Mac OS 9 and X. While Ambrosia software stands as the big guys with actual muscle in the Mac shareware arena and probably doesn’t need the help as much as an indy developer looking to make the rent, they’ve released a terrific game. For this reason and the fact that Andrew Campbell receives a hefty chunk of your registration fee for what amounts to nothing less than truly fine work, you should send Andrew Welch’s crew the $25, thus enabling him to buy even more gym equipment with which to train on as a means of crushing the Slacker’s skull in a more efficient manner.


Archives  Features  The Slacker’s Guide to Shareware - Part 4