Rumour has it when Microsoft showed Rare’s Kameo: Elements of Power to the gaming press, ahead of the Xbox 360’s launch, they were asked to go easy on the ‘f word’. It was believed the very notion of playing as a fairy would be a huge turn-off for most gamers, being the total opposite of your typical muscular action hero.
Times have changed, of course, but we dare say some stigma remains. If you’re baulking while reading these very words, knowing that only fairy present in Potata is the antagonist may help change your persuasion.
The stuck-up so-and-so tasks our red-haired heroine with finding the lost petals from the titular fairy flower. Potata herself is a pint-sized troublemaker with a penchant for pie, armed with just a wooden sword to defeat the spirits lurking within the forest surrounding her cosy homestead.
This is quite the departure from Sometimes You’s usual platformers. The indie publisher tends to release short-lived pixel art affairs. This is much more contemporary, boasting a quest system – with both an inventory and a quest log – an adaptable difficulty level, and a central hub which expands throughout the adventure, adding new areas as Potata sets about repairing the elevator system.
It’s heavily puzzle orientated too, with two reoccurring examples using riffs on the classics Lights Out and Tetris. These become tougher and more elaborate over time, to the point where the last Tetris-style puzzle – involving perfectly filling a shaped block with a dozen tetrominoes – took us almost thirty minutes to solve.
A good example of Potata’s contemporary nature is that it’s possible to use in-game currency to purchase puzzle hints, ensuring no gamer is left behind. Some levels also feature optional paths that dole out rewards to those brave enough to take riskier routes, while to see the true ending a handful of optional challenges must be beaten. These short checkpoint-less stages unlock around halfway through, with just one being mandatory to progress.
The presence of a quest log helps keep the story flowing, but even so, there were a few times when we had to talk to most of the hub world villagers to figure out where to go next. Adding to the to-do list, Potata’s pet fox is sick and needs the right ingredients to craft a cure. This is the quest that kicks the adventure off, taking Potata to the darkest parts of the forest.
For a game featuring cutesy characters and finely drawn whimsical backdrops, Potata is deceptive as can be. Combat takes a backseat during platforming, putting the focus on precision jumping. Rows of platforms that vanish the moment they’re stepped on are a common occurrence, requiring perfect timing to navigate. The trickier sections are punctuated with puzzles that provide a welcome breather, and leaps of faith are few thanks to handy signposts – an indication of thorough playtesting.
Adding to the overall challenge, Potata can only withstand three hits initially, while some environmental hazards – spiky thorns, usually – can kill in one hit. Ingeniously, save points require currency to re-use – the first save is “free” but if you want to return and save again, you’re made to consume valuable gems. This adds a welcome risk/reward system. The odds are never that high, thankfully, being just a minute or two of busywork.
Despite a slight overuse of moving platforms, the level layouts are well-designed, scrolling both horizontally and vertically. The stages are remarkably different from one another too, each standing out – the swamp throws a rowing boat in the mix, while an underground maze introduces crushers and other booby traps.
In addition to a few panic-inducing chase sequences, most stages end with a boss battle, the first of which simply involves avoiding waves of projectiles. Once Potata gets her wooden sword the following battles are more combat orientated, usually taking a few attempts to beat as you observe and learn enemy attack patterns.
While the backdrops certainly look the part there are some signs Potata was created on a small budget, including asset recycling and a few reused ideas. The music also plays on short loops, although to be fair, it’s too tranquil to be annoying. Within these constraints and budget limitations, the developers have still managed to create a compelling and heartfelt adventure, lasting a good 6-7 hours and with a tough-but-fair difficulty level. You may even find yourself saying the ‘f word’ a couple of times. No, not fairy – the other ‘f word’.