Title: Pong Quest
Developer: Chequered Ink Ltd.
Publisher: Atari Inc
Genre: Arcade, Adventure, RPG, Dungeon Crawler
Platform: PC / Steam
Audience: PEGI 3
Release Date: 14/05/2020
Price: £11.39 / Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Please note, this review primarily covers the Steam release, however, a Switch port-report can be found at the end of the article. Given the versions are identical in content, the bulk of the PC review applies to both versions.
Time for an adventure. But first, step into my time machine and join me for a round of Pong.
The release of Atari’s ’70s classic was one of those transformative moments you read about. A pioneering video game, renowned for effectively making gaming commercially viable. While the journey to the current day has taken us through generations of rapid technological advances, the raw gameplay of certain classics, while perhaps not having the same longevity as they once did, hold up perfectly well, even now. Pong is one such classic.
Now, there have been more Pong variants then I care to even attempt to recall, however for 2020, developer Chequered Inc. decided it was time to try a spin on dungeon crawler RPG-lite format, where every battle is a game of Pong. And, for the most part, it works.
Give it a Whiff
Pong Quest puts you in the shoes of a Pong Paddle, a freshly appointed knight of sorts with a simple quest to restore a series of doors to working condition to unlock the mysterious Spooky Door. The child-like simplicity of the narrative is by design, with lines delivered in a quirky way, fitting of a talking ping-pong paddle. Everything is written with levity, which, while occasionally charming, mostly comes across listlessly, prompting frequent mash-the-buttons-skip-the-text moments.
Spanning five territories, the adventure combines an early Zelda-dungeon look and feel (though far less sophisticated) with a battle system that throws you straight into a game of one-on-one Pong.
Serves you Right
The crux of the battling gameplay is indeed classic Pong. A crude simulation of table tennis where you move your paddle vertically to knock a ball to the other side of the screen, scoring a point when the ball hits your opponent’s side. In this version though, players have access to a host of power-ups ranging from subtle to game-changing, all used to reduce your opponent’s HP before dealing the decisive blow.
Through your quest, these power-ups can be collected and stored, with experience-based level upgrades occasionally offering the chance to hold more at a given time. Managing your stock and choosing your tactics by switching balls mid-battle can provide an additional strategic layer but whatever your approach, Pong Quest wants to be whacky and throws in countless new mechanics at a blistering pace, making the best way to play clear: throw it all out there.
There are defensive options like the ability to summon a barrier or a full-on Breakout-style wall of blocks to offensive-type powers such as the Bullet Ball which, no matter the incoming trajectory, will fire the ball directly horizontally. There are even RPG-based balls like the potion ball, which allows you to heal HP or balls that can poison your opponent.
With so much variety, the combat not only gradually increases in difficulty as you get your head around new paradigms, but the sheer lunacy and extent of some of the power-ups can turn the action laughably manic. Combining the use of powers such as the caterpillar ball and mushroom ball fills the screen with an overwhelming number of hazards for the ball to bounce off. It is at this level of density that Pong Quest is at its peak.
Each enemy paddle has a visual personality and a personal power-up preference that is generally thematically consistent with their appearance. None more so than the epic bosses. Bosses carry the expected oversized HP bar.
Once the bosses HP count flatlines, their stamina follows suit and paddle movement slows to crawl (a trait shared by normal enemies, too), giving you a practically open goal to finish the job. The best part is getting your hands on the meaty rewards; super-charged power-ups that do nothing but cause chaos.
Defeated foes and treasure cheats also provide items of clothing opening up more customisation options that one might envision looking at a line of pixels. Indeed, playing Pong paddle dress-up is more fun than it sounds, offering endless comical combinations; a welcoming option that younger gamers will undoubtedly enjoy (my daughter can attest to this).
The friendly set of music tracks, though little more than mildly catchy background music, are enough to accommodate play in short bursts without becoming irritating and capture the tonal intention, something further accentuated by the bold and blocky art style. Pong Quest’s contained the most straightforward of low pixel count 2D art with a bright, primary colour-driven look that doesn’t aim to impress, instead casually fitting a low budget family-friendly theme.
Up the Creek
With the noted strong combination of features wrapping up this set, you’d be forgiven for thinking this will be an easy win. Unfortunately, there’s not enough clout in the backhand to keep this rally going.
Those two halves of the game’s title are evenly matched for content, but Pong Quest hits the net and drops points where its actual adventuring elements are concerned. Put simply: dungeons are sorely lacking in terms of design and interactivity. Rooms come in a small number of set layouts, generally being rectangular in shape and containing little more than collectable power-up stocks, chests (containing power-ups), enemy paddles and a per-level key to unlock the corresponding boss door.
In practice, players are faced with a tedious stream of empty environments which need to be traversed to unlock new power-ups, costume items and those glorious boss fights. This is like getting to play a round with the world champion while at the height of your game before being slapped in the face and handed a twig instead of a bat.
No Paddle can Serve Two Masters
As a means of having a quick go at an alternative Pong game, Pong Quest shines. Furthermore, it’s certainly a game that will likely appeal to a younger audience, especially with the generous drops of customisation items.
If you’re looking for a dungeon-crawler, don’t bother. If you fancy an enjoyable game of Pong with extra topspin, look no further. With multiplayer options thrown in for good measure, Pong Quest works great when scratching an arcade classic-sized itch, just know the Quest part may enflame it.
Switch Version Port Report
This is a tricky one. When a PC equivalent can run on a toaster then it’s difficult to see how, unless there’s an issue with the engine or source code that causes an inherent problem, something like Pong Quest really isn’t going to stretch the most meagre of hardware.
From my playthroughs I have found nothing different of note. Aside from basic graphical settings on the PC version which are expectedly absent from the Switch version there really is nothing to differentiate the two. Content is the same, performance holds steady at 60hz and graphical fidelity loses nothing in the drop to handheld 720p. There’s really not much to lose.
The choice then is a simple matter of what’s more convenient if you own multiple platforms. In my mind, unless you specifically want to play online with PC-owning friends, the Switch option is a no-brainer.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Pong QUest from the Nintendo eShop using the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/PONG-Quest-1775139.html and from Steam using the button below.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.