Publisher(s) – Activision, Tradewest & Nintendo
Designer(s) – Ste & John Pickford, Lyndon Brooks & John Buckley
Producer(s) – John & Ste Pickford
Reborn out of an abandoned arcade game entitled Fleapit, Plok was a traditional 2D platformer typical of the type of game that Nintendo would most frequently publish at the time. It’s a pretty enjoyable game, and wonderfully weird in conceptual design, as many of Nintendo’s own efforts were. Interestingly, Mario and Donkey Kong’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto expressed a strong interested in working on the game himself, but in the end, Nintendo simply chose to publish the game in Europe. Designer Ste Pickford suspected the reason behind Nintendo’s ultimate reluctance was that they thought the game was too similar to the upcoming Yoshi’s Island for Nintendo to want to work on both. Although I think Nintendo unanimously made the right choice, that’s not to discredit Plok. For me, it still stands out as one of the better 2D side scrollers on the Super Nintendo.
As colourful and outlandish as most other efforts from Nintendo at the time, Plok features a fair bit of visual diversity in its level design, as well as some particularly strange enemies, such as walking vegetables and disembodied heads disguised as road signs. Even the main character himself is extremely strange in design, being a red creature in a yellow t-shirt capable of firing his own limbs at enemies to fight. Although at first glance the game may seem pretty weak from a conceptual standpoint, I think players do have to wonder what was going through the developer’s heads whilst making this game.
For a game that was quite archetypical for the mid-nineties, it’s surprising to discover just how much variety there is gameplay. Aside from simply having to get from point A to point B in lieu of the genre’s tradition, there are also bonus sequences which require players to race through courses on various different vehicles; most likely a reason why Nintendo may have felt it to be too similar to Yoshi’s Island. There’s also a small element of Donkey Kong Country, whereby the player can collect the four letters from Plok’s name to receive extra lives, and even a reference to Metroid in the way Plok jumps.
As 2D side scrollers were the set standard at the time, the developers could have had even greater problems than they ended up doing on a commercial level with this game if the control scheme hadn’t been handled correctly. Fortunately, however, there are no issues with the controls, and it plays out just as well as any other game in the genre, with no unnecessary complications.
Plok can take just under 2 hours to complete, which was about the average lifespan of a video game at the time. It actually surprised me somewhat that this game lasted as short a time as did, since the similarities between it and Yoshi’s Island in terms of variety in gameplay are very noticeable, and Yoshi’s Island could be made to last about an hour longer than that; even longer if the player would try to complete the game to 100%.
The story simply follows the main character Plok, whom after having one of his many flags stolen, sets out to retrieve it. Only after doing so, arrives back home to find that he had been distracted merely for somebody else to steal the rest of his flags, and s Plok resolves to find them all again. Most games of that era, and the era before, were relatively light on story, and this is no exception. However, the developers did change things up as the game progressed, and there are a few interesting references. For example, one of the dud flags discovered at the end of one level is in the form of a pair of red dungarees; an obvious reference to Super Mario Bros.
Taking into account both it’s gameplay variety and conceptual design, Plok stands out about as much as any other game of it’s kind could have done at the time, which wasn’t an easy thing to do, so at least some credit is owed to it’s developers for that. It would have taken some serious talent to make a game in the genre stand out as much as possible, and this title certainly does that.
Overall, Plok is a pretty fun side scroller, and it comes recommended from me. It isn’t one of the greatest games of all time, but it’s certainly one of the most standout games of its respective era; it’s just a shame that Shigeru Miyamoto ultimately decided against dedicating first-hand effort into it. We can only speculate how much better a game it would have turned out to be.