Review : PONG Quest (Switch)

A unique game that mixes dungeon crawling with classic Pong gameplay but quickly becomes dull.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/26/2020 03:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Fun expansion of Pong into a dedicated world with funny characters; gameplay is smooth and engaging; addition of power-up ball types diversifies gameplay; a lot to collect; multiplayer is fun
Poison Mushroom for...
Despite the ball modifiers, gameplay quickly becomes very routine; the dungeons are too spartan

Atari’s Pong is one of the oldest names in the business. Basically tennis, Pong traditionally sets two opponents to bouncing a ball back and forth until one player manages to get it past the other. While a technological wonder when it debuted back in 1972, in terms of gameplay Pong is a fairly simplistic affair. To bring Pong into the 21st century as a viable time sink for fans, it would require some serious retooling, and that’s exactly what Atari and developer Chequered Ink have attempted to do with PONG Quest. Part dungeon crawler, part traditional Pong experience, it’s a game that is okay in spurts but doesn’t have enough of a hook to keep players engaged for long.

Part of what Chequered Ink did a very good job of in PONG Quest is establishing a sense of whimsy from the outset. This is a goofy game that doesn’t ever take itself too seriously. The player is cast as a paddle who is sent on a quest by a king to search for mystical orbs to open a big, spooky door. As a narrative, PONG Quest doesn’t do anything special, but that’s sort of the point—the story is there purely to get the action going. It’s shallow but in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. Unfortunately, this lack of depth extends into the gameplay in a manner that really hinders player enjoyment.

What PONG Quest tries to do is merge RPG elements with the franchise’s signature tennis gameplay. Think games like Puzzle Quest, where classic RPG mechanics are joined together with match-three mechanics. In PONG Quest’s case, it’s a combination that needed more tinkering to properly come together. Dungeons are randomized and sparsely populated, both in terms of interactive NPCs and enemies, as well as items. There’s just not much to do or see in these dungeons. The puzzles are very basic, which is fine in a game that clearly isn’t trying to be the next Final Fantasy, but it’s still shy of being enough to be engaging over the long term.

When players do run into enemies, PONG Quest transitions into a match of tennis in lieu of a conventional battle system. Matches play out as one would expect (lob the ball back and forth), but there are some wrinkles thrown in to make things interesting. The player and enemy paddle each have a health bar, for instance, and as the ball slips past an opponent, or in some cases when it makes contact with an opponent paddle, damage is meted out. Once a paddle’s health hits critical, a single shot past it will result in victory.

Rounding out these battles are the special balls that can be accumulated. They’re scattered around dungeons, dropped by downed enemies, and also obtainable via treasure chests and shops. In battle, these balls can do everything from heal the player paddle to shrink enemies. It’s somewhat frustrating in the early part of the game when the player’s inventory is abysmally small, which results in countless special balls left abandoned. However, the player paddle can be leveled up in a number of ways, including expanding inventory space, so that helps. Even in the early going there’s an abundance of opportunities to level up.

While there are some interesting combinations of these balls that can be made, the larger issue is that the Pong gameplay itself isn’t elevated beyond what fans have known for over 50 years. The ball physics are smooth, paddle movement similarly so, but Chequered Ink’s decision (or directive, to be fair) to not aggressively update the gameplay for 2020 falls flat. If something along the lines of Pac-Man Championship Edition’s overhaul was implemented, where the gameplay is largely the same as fans remember but infused with energy and new goals, PONG Quest might have really soared. As it is, all of these special balls don’t do much to ratchet up the excitement because the gameplay they’re wedged into is too plodding.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean PONG Quest isn’t fun—it’s just not all that thrilling. It also rapidly becomes repetitive to get into the same quick skirmishes with enemies. All is not droll in PONG Quest, though. Multiplayer adds a lot more excitement as there’s nothing as challenging or unpredictable as facing off against real people. The game supports up to four players simultaneously, including online, so by all means fire up PONG Quest if you’re interested in some retro-themed fun with friends. There are also a bunch of ways to customize the player paddle, including different colors, hair styles, and more. That might sound crazy considering the paddle is little more than a rectangle, but it actually works very well.

Graphically, PONG Quest has trouble sticking the landing. Its cartoon-like aesthetic is mostly suited to the tone of the game, but it’s borderline underdeveloped looking in some places. With so few things to see in the dungeons, a bit more visual flair would have been welcome. Considering Pong doesn’t exactly have a longstanding visual design outside of its stark black and white playing field, it makes sense that Atari and Chequered Ink would want to experiment, but outside of the paddles having some charm, the rest of the art direction could use some rethinking.

Really, PONG Quest as a whole would probably benefit from more time in development. It comes across as incomplete on occasion, with gameplay that might be very engaging with a faster pace of movement and another gimmick or mechanic to go along with the special balls. The dungeon crawling is similarly half-baked, offering a sense of exploration not quite on par with even a game like Adventure on Atari 2600. Even with these shortcomings there’s still enough to enjoy that retro gaming fans or even longtime Atari aficionados may want to give PONG Quest a chance, but for everyone else there are more inventive games of this ilk to consider playing.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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