By Josh Speer / January 13th, 2017
|Developer||Hope This Works Games Inc., FK Digital|
|Release Date||September 15th, 2016|
|Platform||Nintendo 3DS, iOS, Android|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
2016 was a rough year to be a Nintendo fan. Sure, there were still great games coming out but they were few and very far between. In the interim, that led me to do some extra work and cull through all the indie 3DS and Wii U games for hidden gems. And I do mean hidden, since any game not directly published by Nintendo usually gets almost zero publicity. It can be difficult to tell the great games from the shovelware at times, but I value my spider sense when it comes to finding hidden treasures. That same instinct was blaring loudly at me when I saw the 3DS game Polara.
Released digitally in 2016 on the 3DS, Polara looked to me like the love child of Ikaruga and Bit.Trip.Runner. The plot revolves around a new defensive infrastructure being put into place by a shady totalitarian government. You play as Lara, the person who tests the system using her fancy suit on behalf of that same government. As you progress, the story unfolds gradually in the form of comic panel cutscenes, which are actually pretty cool despite being a bit contrived. Luckily, while the plot isn’t the best, the game shines in the actual gameplay.
In order to test the defensive system, Lara’s suit is able to switch between blue and red polarities. This allows her to evade danger, since threats of the same color don’t touch her. This is a beautifully simple premise with expert execution, as the only things you can do are jump and change color (using the shoulder or face buttons). Lara will constantly be running forward at the same gait, and your job is to use her fancy suit and your quick reflexes to get her safely to the end of each level. It starts out pretty simply, just changing color to avoid things, but as the game progresses the difficulty gradually spikes, while introducing new twists like gravity switching based on your color.
Beyond just getting through the levels themselves, there are also some very challenging boss fights thrown into the mix. I admit I didn’t anticipate these, and I really enjoyed all of them. They smartly made each composed of multiple sections, and between them you automatically save your progress (these save points are also strewn about in the regular levels). Considering one hit will instantly kill Lara, that’s a very welcome design choice. Of the 50 or so levels, there were about 4-5 boss fights, and each of them was distinct and challenging. They did a very good job of keeping me on my toes in between the standard levels.
As if that weren’t enough, there is also a ton of replay value in Polara. Each time you beat a level, you unlock the letters POLARA and a special item. By playing through that level again, you can obtain those letters and that item. By doing so, you will gradually unlock additional gameplay modes, such as Gravity Wane, where you have to constantly shift your color and corresponding gravity to collect coins. It’s a lot of fun, and considering there are 5 other extra modes, there’s a surprising amount of bang for your buck.
Much as I enjoyed the game, there are a couple areas that weren’t as satisfactory. Firstly, though I don’t mind the graphics, the backgrounds were very flat and emotionless. While they change it every few levels, none of them really amazed, and some even fell into the trap of distracting me from what I was doing. The music is a bit more varied, as some levels have great tunes, and others almost put me to sleep. The biggest issue I found was when the game would occasionally hiccup and slow down while I was playing, usually when a lot of stuff was happening at once. This didn’t happen all the time, or even very often, but it did happen enough to make it problematic. Considering your reflexes are all that keep you alive in a game like Polara, it’s a cardinal sin to have anything impact those reflexes.
That said, I really enjoyed my time with Polara. I was even shocked to learn it had originally released on iOS and Android a few years back as a mobile game with touch controls. Luckily, it seems very well suited to the 3DS family, and I hope to see more great games from Hope This Works Games Inc and Circle Entertainment in the near future. Polara isn’t perfect, but I got 5 hours of fun out of it, and that’s not including all the time I’ll be spending collecting letters and going for a Flawless score on every stage. I highly recommend Polara for any 3DS fan looking for a fun action game. You’ll more than get your money’s worth.
Review Copy Purchased by Author
3DSCircle EntertainmentFK DigitalHope This Works Games IncPolara