PLOK! (henceforth referred to simply as Plok) is the epitome of the early-mid ’90s. Developed by Software Creations (John and Ste Pickford designed the concept), Plok was a colorful mascot platformer that followed the “attitude” set forth by the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog. Back in 1993, side scrolling platformers starring a mascot with ‘tude was all the rage, and the Pickford brothers were not about to be left out in the cold. The 16-bit age brought with it hopes of new IPs that would flourish and launch brand new tentpole franchises that would satiate both gamers and those who made them. Plok was another in a long line of such. Did it manage to rise above the muck? For the most part, yes. But sadly, despite its good press and mechanics, Plok never quite caught on. Such is the life and fate of video games, eh?
25 YEARS AGO…
Like so many SNES games that eluded me back in the ’90s, Plok was one of those games I saw sitting pretty on the shelf every Saturday while out renting games with my old man. As readers of Memories of Renting may recall, my older brother made all the executive decisions when it came to renting. And sadly, Plok was never high on his want list. So it became one of countless SNES games I always wanted to play back in the day but never did.
I would always grab the box off the shelf, admire the front cover and then flip it over to the back. It was full of attitude and bright yellow text — exactly the sort of stuff that would attract any 10 year old boy.
One of the greatest things about gaming back in the ’90s was picking up the latest gaming magazine and reading it front to back. Some of those old previews and reviews are burned into my soul. Plok had great press and it looked so good on paper.
Of course, part of the appeal was the weird name and design. PLOK was just too fun to say as a 10 year old kid. Magazines took advantage of this “pun” and found clever ways to incorporate it. It was cheesy but that only added to the quirky charm of the character and game.
Gaming ads were also part of the fun of anticipating a brand new title back in 1993. While this particular ad wasn’t memorable or special, the comic strips were!
There was just something so damn cool about the Plok ads that still resonate with me 25 years later. Yes, that lovable strange little critter turned 25 earlier this month! In a day and age where so many of our 16-bit favorites are celebrating 25 year anniversaries, it’s sad that this one flew under the radar. Though, I suppose that’s only fitting.
THE STORY GOES…
WHAT THE PLOK!?
Rayman, originally released in September of 1995 (2 years after Plok), is another character that fires his fist. But Rayman has gone on to enjoy a rather notable franchise with his latest hit being the critically acclaimed Rayman Legends. Oh what could have been. Plok Legends, perhaps? Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Sorry, Plok! [Take your unwanted sympathy and go PLOK yourself -Plok]
Plok can even turn himself into a buzzsaw or collect presents to reveal a mystery power suit! It’s slightly reminiscent of Magical Quest: Starring Mickey Mouse, but the big difference is the power suits in Plok are temporary.
I wish you could switch back and forth but reducing their usage time does make it feel a thousand times more powerful and precious when you do get one.
GOOD OLD DAYS…
PLOK THIS AND PLOK THAT!
There’s a hint of Tequila Song mixed in with a harmonica here that makes the opening title screen a very cool and memorable one.
Leaving his homeland of Akrillic, Plok hops on a raft to make the sojourn to Cotton Island. Maybe whoever took his flag took it there. Only one way to find out!
Picturesque and made entirely of soft fabrics, Cotton Island is famous throughout Poly-Esta for its gorgeous sunsets. Plok has some cool moves. For example, holding down while on a slope allows him to slide. Fire his limbs to take care of the pesky Shprouts.
Beware of wild rolling logs! They come at you fast and furious. His regular jump barely clears the hurdle.
Somersault to safety. It allows you to catch way more air. On the downside, you can’t attack in this state but it’s great for leaping over enemies and obstacles. Each stage ends with a flagpole. OK, so much for talking trash about Super Mario Odyssey copying Plok…
Recurring gag in the form of anything but his flag being raised! It’s good for a grin. Plok is filled with bits of humor.
Touching that icon turns our little hero into an indestructible spinning ball of steel, whizzing across the islands of Poly-Esta at breakneck speeds for a few short seconds. Anything caught in his path is turned into Shish Kebab.
Occasionally, you’ll see presents laying around. These bad boys turn our hero into a really bad boy.
Hiding in little nooks and crannies can be a lifesaver. Just make sure you don’t press down here or else Plok will slide off! Although there’s no way to preview what lies ahead by scrolling the screen up or down, the collectible shells indicate where you can safely jump and land. Brilliant.
Speaking of brilliant, Plok utilizes an energy bar system. Magic fruit can be found throughout the game and recovers four health bars. However, if you strike them once or twice, they grow bigger and refill your health even more. Just make sure you don’t get too greedy or else they will pop, leaving you with nothing! I love it when a game puts a slight twist on something otherwise so routine and basic.
Speaking of slight twist, this… er, OK this is pretty standard stuff. Still, I always love seeing arrows composed of collectible items pointing in the direction one should go. And hey, instead of blocks they used a rope… yeah… that’s all I got.
Colorful and zany, Plok is like a Saturday morning cartoon (or an acid trip) come to life. Watch out for Rockyfella who disguises itself as a landmark but quickly pops out of the ground with vitriol.
Formerly failed acrobats, Milton and Marshall Bobbins now roam the islands of Poly-Esta as thugs for hire. The Bobbins Brothers are rumored to be working under the Flea Queen. Some people say there used to be a third brother, Irving, who left the act many years ago due to “creative differences.”
Tougher than a $2 steak (shout out to Good Old JR Jim Ross), the Bobbins Bros (now there’s a real tag team wrestling name) are brutal. Usually platformers ease you in with an easy first boss fight. Not so here. Good luck!
Surprise, surprise. Plok’s flag is nowhere to be found on Cotton Island so he heads back home to Akrillic. Here a quirky new gimmick presents itself. Hit targets with your limbs. After doing so, your limb gets attached to a hanger nearby. Retrieve it if you can before moving on because you’re going to need all the limbs you can get. This gimmick, as you can imagine, sets up some interesting scenarios where you have to use your brain as much as your brawn.
Another new gimmick comes in the form of fleas. Each level now has a set number of fleas you must kill before you can exit the stage. Some fleas are out hopping about, but most are in eggs that will soon hatch. Be sure to dispatch of them quick! You can also collect hornets which can attack and kill enemies, but they’re pretty dumb. Still, just another wrinkle to Plok!
Although Plok looks like a “kiddy game,” do not be fooled. It is one HARD son of a bitch. It’s a shame there’s no password system, because this is a prime example of a game sorely in need of one.
Whatever you do, be sure to hang on to all your limbs. Your health is based on an energy bar, not how many limbs you have… BUT the more limbs you leave behind the harder it will be to defend yourself and ultimately survive.
ADE DUE DAMBALLA
Scratching your head wondering what’s going on? That’s typical after the first 10 minutes with this game and constantly dying. Plok is no walk in the park. To make life easier, there’s a Child’s Play option that reduces the speed and health of enemies. You won’t get to play some of the harder levels on this mode though, but at least you’ll get to see most levels you otherwise might not on Normal.
Normal mode doesn’t allow you to destroy logs and other rolling obstacles. Your limbs will sail through them harmlessly and hopelessly. Child’s Play, however, does allow you to clear the path for an easier adventure.
WHAT’S THE PASSWORD? … AH SHIT
Unfortunately, there’s no password system in Plok. But maybe there’s some sort of level select cheat? Nope, sorry. There is, however, a cheat that will take you to the 6th stage. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing. Jump in the water on the first stage and then hit the magic fruit three times.
Boarding his helicopter, it’s a race to the finish. Spiky obstacles block the path but it’s easy enough. Still, what a shame to have so many levels and no password system in place.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Plok was well received by the critics of the time. EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8 and 7. Super Play rated it 90%. Super Play was notorious for being harsh with their review scores, particularly on “me too” platformers. The fact that they doled out a massive 90% to Plok speaks volumes.
Plok is also generally beloved within retro gaming circles. Fans have been clamoring for a sequel for decades. But so far, no más. Still, with the Nintendo Switch and so many old IPs coming back to life over the past couple years, never say never. Hey, one can dream!
The fall of 1993 was a fun time to be a 10 year old kid. Both 16-bit systems were going strong and you had platformers and fighting games coming out left and right. As a fan of both genres, this pleased me to no end and made scouring the glossy pages of EGM and GameFan a monthly religion. I’ll never forget all the colorful previews of Plok and seeing the box at my local rental stores. Those giant orange yellow letters P-L-O-K always seemed to call out to me… but alas… my older brother called the shots 25 years ago and it was never meant to be. Years and years later, I assembled a massive SNES collection and began playing through them one at a time. For some reason, although Plok was always near the top of my to-play list, I always had the urge to play something else. Whether it was B.O.B. or Harley’s Humongous Adventure, Plok sat there patiently waiting. Once again, its big bold letters called out to me. I could always see it in the corner of my eye… and in the case of the picture above, literally. Finally, it was earlier this month that it hit me. Plok turned 25 PLOKKIN’ years old. It shot right up to the top of my queue. After finally playing it at long last, I can honestly say it turned out to be almost exactly as I imagined it being a quarter of a century ago…
Plok incorporates a lot of quirky little gimmicks. From donning power suits inspired from famous movies to manning vehicles of mass destruction, there’s always something zany to do. Small wrinkles are peppered in throughout the game to keep it feeling fresh. Whether you’re increasing the power of a health refill before consuming it, launching hornets at enemies, turning into an indestructible spinning ball of steel or collecting your various limbs off a hanger, Plok never has a dull moment. And whatever you do, avoid going torso only at any point. Poor Plok will bounce helplessly about if you lose all his limbs and he’s stripped down to the nitty-gritty. It may be comical at first to see the Plokster bouncing around only on his torso until you realize it’s a golden ticket to an early grave.
The graphics are amazing. It’s colorful and full of vibrant life. The music was handled by the legendary Tim Follin, so you know that’s on point, too. The only real complaint I have is the lack of a password system and how the game can be insanely difficult. The control is responsive for the most part, but it does seem to suffer slightly from the occasional pixel perfect jump. There are some frustrating leaps of faith too that don’t always have collectible shells to show you the way. It’s still a very good platformer, but it’s not quite in that upper echelon.
The list of 16-bit mascot platformers that challenged Mario for the crown but failed to live up to expectations is long and well detailed over the past 25 years. Bubsy is the poster child for that but there were many others. Plok managed to do what only a select handful could. Not only did it rise above the ranks of mediocrity but it’s a legitimately good game. It’s no Super Mario World but hey, what really is? Happy 25th anniversary, Plok, and here’s wishful thinking for a long overdue sequel.