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Uo Poko
  opened by paleface at 03:40:18 05/09/06  
  paleface [sys=PCB; cat=Puzzle; loc=JPN]
Once upon a time, arcade shooting game developer Cave made a nutty little action puzzle game called "Uo Poko," featuring an aquatic cat who pulls and releases a lever to spring marbles into a rising vat type of thing. If he can get three or more marbles of a single color together, they'll disappear; if he fires a marble without making a threesome, the vat rises; when a marble gets crushed against the top of the vat, the game is over, and the cat drowns.
Whee! As you may have figured out already, at first glance the game is quite similar to a bajillion other block-dropping Japanese puzzle games. The shiny marbles look very similar to the puzzle balls in Puzzle Bobble (see entry 1046), and the match-making idea is from PB and many, many other similar games.
The lever thing, though, is somewhat novel. The only control in the game is pulling down on the joystick to compress the spring, and releasing the joystick to release the spring, launching the loaded marble. The marble shoots up from the left side of the vat, and arcs over the top, then falls straight down; a full-compression shot will get the marble to the right side of the vat, a medium-compression shot puts it in the middle of the vat, and a mere twitch of the spring drops the marble on the left side of the vat, and so forth.
Ah, but physics complicate matters! Marbles being round, if you have a little hilly stack of marbles, and you drop a marble on the side of the stack, the dropped marble will skip down the side of the stack, and come to rest at the bottom. And then there are special blocks, like cubic glass blocks that you have to hit directly to break, and hexagons that don't break at all.
Breaking blocks can be important, because when you match marbles, they don't just disappear; they vanish, replaced by air bubbles. If the bubbles aren't completely covered over by blocks or marbles, they'll bubble up and escape, and the marble pile will collapse, giving you more room to work with at the top of the vat, and possibly leading to more matches as the marbles settle against each other. Yes, chains! Yay! But if there's no escape route for the bubbles, they'll stay there until you free them by breaking or matching other blocks/marbles.
You beat a stage by clearing all the marbles off. Most of your score will come from time bonus for finishing a stage under the time limit, so fling those marbles as quick and accurate as possible to maximize your score. Sometimes you kind of get screwed a bit, because you may clear all the marbles of one color, only to find that the marble in your launcher is that color, too; so you have no choice but to fire it up, and hope to match two more against it fast; and all the while your time bonus is draining away. Noo!
Anyway, the game is cute, and surprisingly fun. It's very fun to watch others play, too, because you can always critique their shot, and watch in suspense to see what combos and things they can pull off. In the first few stages you get a guide-line to show where your marble is going to drop based on the spring's current compression, but once into the meat of the game, the guide is gone, and you just have to get good at timing the compression to shoot marbles to exactly the spot where you want them. Very simple, but it'll keep you coming back for more. It's true that you can get pretty close to maxing out your score on the lower levels with just a little practice, but I suppose there's always another second you could squeeze out, and then there are some very tricky stages, like one fairly early on where the only thing you can do at the beginning is to drop a marble precisely on two blocks in the middle, releasing a ton of air, collapsing the screen of marbles, and resulting in a level-clearing combo and huge bonus score. Woo!
I hear Cave made a later version of Uo Poko, themed after their vertical shooter, Mushihimesama (see entry 851).

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