It’s easy to see how the incessant act of pogo hopping could form the basis of a video game. In fact, this is the second pogo-based platformer out this month, following on from the side-scrolling Go! Go! PogoGirl.
On the same token, it’s also easy to see how pogoing could facilitate something risqué, simply by including a ‘top heavy’ female lead. Hopping Girl certainly leans into this, being one of its main features. You’re going to be seeing a little a lot of quintessentially Japanese voyeurism here, provided in part by a collection of tight-fitting clothing to unlock.
It looks and plays like a lost Naomi-powered arcade game circa 2001; one that may have made it to Dreamcast, albeit in Japan only, if SEGA hadn’t entered the third-party developer race. It presents a bunch of bite-sized, arcade-style, stages to complete – each with target scores and a time limit. Structurally it isn’t dissimilar to Super Money Ball, another game would have likely ended up on Dreamcast had SEGA’s fortunes fared differently.
Levels stretch far into the distance, with a glistening golden goal awaiting your arrival. The path ahead is littered with directional arrow icons, power-ups, and power-downs that you’ll need to either bounce on or avoid. Arrows can propel you in four different directions, with some icons even being randomised, while power-ups make Konane bounce higher and faster. Time extensions, bonus health, and coins also feature – with health tokens being vital to seek during trickier stages.
At first glance, it could be mistaken for a puzzle game. The level design almost allows for this, following the correct path of arrows to reach the goal in record time et al. But aside from the occasional stage bearing maze-like design, it’s hard to describe it as a puzzler. Instead, it plays more like a very causal platformer. There are multiple paths and routes to take, no penalties for low scores – the next stage unlocks regardless – and the difficulty level doesn’t enter the realm of ‘challenging’ until around the halfway mark, with the majority of earlier stages being a breeze.
If a stage does prove tricky, it’s possible to buy single-use consumables. There’s a handful available, purchasable from Tobiko – a pale-skinned frog who’s apparently Konane’s sister. Huh.
It’s the lack of variety that harms the experience foremost. Each world (grass, desert, volcano, etc) includes ten stages, and it’s fair to say that only two or three of these provide something new, or can be considered a challenge. And even then, that challenge mostly comes from the addition of moving platforms, which can be tricky to navigate. I never felt pushed by the time limits, rarely hearing the warning chime. Some time extension tokens even add a generous 30 seconds to the clock.
This is very much an experience that’s at loggerheads. The vibrant and colourful visuals, along with the lax difficulty and its non-violent nature would suggest this is ideal for younger gamers, only the main incentive to keep playing is to unlock dresses and swimsuits – which can then be tried on in Kohane’s bedroom, posing her as you see fit. I’m not against games like this – I get that there’s an audience. I am, however, surprised by the 7+ age rating.
The shortcomings are a pity, as it’s nicely presented– the artwork, animated loading screens, and stylish menus all look the part. The Japanese voice actors are seemingly trapped in a permanent state of excitement too, and some of that energy is easy to pick up on. “Hop, step, jump!”
Fans of quick-burst arcade games will likely feel the most unsatisfied. It has all the trapping of an arcade game, but the core mechanics lack nuance. This isn’t the kind of experience that you become noticeably better at over time, learning new tricks and skills. Instead, it’s one where you must learn to tolerate its penchant for pesky moving platforms.
D-O’s Hopping Girl Kohane EX is out now on Switch and PS4.