Review: Potata

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Review copy provided by developer

Potata is one of those indie games that comes out of nowhere, with a boatload of pretty art and a whole mess of promise. Platformers are a tough market to stand out in, and bright, colorful art and cute characters are a good way to do it if you nail the visual quality. Potata certainly manages that, from its roly-poly characters to its lush pastoral backgrounds. Playing it is a bit of a different matter, and a powerful reminder of just how indie its origins are, warts and all. Ambitious in appearance and scope, you may find the moment-to-moment gameplay lacking, but the charm here goes a long way.

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Our heroine is the petite Potata, an aspiring witch under the tutelage of her doting mother. A bit on the lazy, scatterbrained side, Potata needs help curing her fox familiar of a nasty malady that’s gripped him. Her mother gives her a list of ingredients to track down, and with that it’s off to the forest in search of the cure. There’s a whole lotta forest between her and the various leaves and fungi she needs, though, and it’s populated by all kinds of unfriendly flora and fauna. Fortunately there are plenty of gems and berries and magical bits to keep her going, and power the unusual mystical devices she finds along the way.

Before you go anywhere, you’ll start in Potata’s cozy family home, rendered in some incredibly warm and detailed artwork. This visual charm oozes from the entire game, characters and enemies and items and environments alike. It looks like what you’d imagine a licensed game based on an animated series or film would be, if those didn’t still tend towards cheap crap. That same charm doesn’t quite extend to the dialog, sadly, which is surprisingly wordy and awkwardly translated from some eastern European language. It’s still comprehensible but enough of a mess that it’ll take you right out of the game.

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Luckily there’s not a lot to read once you get out of Potata’s remarkably sprawling village. Levels in this game are straightforward platforming challenges, leaping over gaps and brambles while hoovering up blue gems that serve as currency. These can be traded for items, used to activate checkpoints, or paid for clues to the puzzles in each level. You won’t find many conventional platform puzzles in Potata, because it seems that duty has been delegated to more traditional forms. You’ll find giant stone devices in the forest that challenge you to solve blackout or tetromino arrangements before you can progress, a rather jarring way to arrest your progress. They don’t tend to be very difficult, but that only makes it harder to justify their presence.

Beyond these oddly-placed puzzles, there’s not much of note about the levels themselves. You’ll run, jump, flip switches, ride platforms, and avoid big spiky balls. If anything, the spiky balls are shockingly omnipresent, forming more barriers and obstacles than normal pacing enemies and bottomless pits. Items like keys, berries, and tools abound, and can be used from your inventory like point-and-click adventure items. It’s a neat extra layer to the gameplay, but still not much of a distraction from the very standard platforming. There’s that certain lightness and lack of impact to everything that a lot of indie games have, not any kind of dealbreaker but another flaw beneath that thick layer of charm.

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Potata is far from a bad game, and if you love the art I think that can carry you quite a ways through this one. The gameplay is unremarkable, and hampered by confusing writing at times, but there are far worse things than an unambitious platformer. You’ll get a fair bit of mileage out of this one, especially if you really scour the levels for their many secrets and side items. Really I just keep coming back to the graphics, which are some of the best I’ve seen from the very indie sides of the genre. I’d love for the gameplay to be punched up with a little more variety and heft, but that’s not where the magic of Potata lies and if you’re okay with that, it’ll be a lovely little ride.

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