Pong Quest is the latest entry in what is surely the longest running games franchise, but how does it handle the legacy?
1972. ‘My Ding-A-Ling‘ had just beaten ‘Crazy Horses‘ to the top of the UK charts, Edward Heath was our Prime Minister, and I was still 10 years away from existing. This is the time that PONG first made its appearance. A simplistic Table Tennis simulator, and one of the first video games ever made, PONG has had a massive cultural impact on the videogame world and is one that just will not die. After many variants of the original (doubles, Quadrapong etc) it just keeps popping up. Released as part of many Atari collections over the years on almost every system available, it also popped up in 3D with upgrades on the Playstation as “Pong : The Next Level” in 1999, and also had a release on Apple Devices in 2012. This brings us to 2020, and Pong is once again back. Again under the Atari Brand, Pong Quest merges the Bat and Ball gameplay, with the upgrades, special abilities, levelling up, and dungeon crawling from RPGs. Yes, it’s odd. But it strangely works rather well.
The story (yes, it has a story) sees you, a rookie paddle in the Pong world, embarking on a quest to collect the four sacred orbs and save the Kingdom. This quest is given to you by King Paddle themself. You are tasked with venturing around procedurally generated dungeons, taking on a variety of other paddles, representing your standard RPG fare, and other far more wacky characters. Slimes, haunted mirrors, mimics, clowns, baseball pitchers and more all make up the roster, and all in varying colours and styles of paddles. There are also puzzle rooms, which have a variety of simple, but often devious puzzles to solve, which involve you being rewarded with items and cash.
Cash can be spent in the various shop rooms you will also find, selling items to help you on your quest, or simply cosmetic items to ensure you save the world in style. Also, on each floor of the dungeon, will be a character with a challenge for you. These are purely optional but do expose the different ways to play. One wants you to clear all enemies, one rewards a pacifist run, finding the exit without a single battle, and the last will ask you to map out the dungeon, visiting every room… Which can be quite the task.
This brings me onto the battle system, as it were. Fights are “fought” in standard pong fare. Or so it would seem. Each character, including yourself, has a health bar. Each hit of the ball will reduce this bar by 1 (by default at least) and scoring a point reduces it by 5, until a player goes into a critical state. At this point, the opponent will move slower, and needs to be finished off by scoring a classic point, pong style. You continue to fight your way through the dungeon, beating enemies, picking up loot, and exploring through various floors, eventually finding yourself face to face with the boss of the dungeon. These fights are a lot harder, with the opponents having a lot more health than you, and often very special abilities you would not have seen yet. The bosses are always on the last floor of the dungeon
Alongside all the current RPG elements, inventory management is also a big deal in this game. There are almost 60 different balls in the game, all representing your abilities. These are activated during matches and will cause the ball to change into the selected ball the next time you hit it, with each hit using up a use of that ability. There are many variants of balls; from the Potion ball to heal yourself; expand ball which makes your paddle bigger; the wall ball, that turns the field into Breakout for your opponent; and even a Centipede ball, which recreates that arcade game. Balls are gained as rewards for beating opponents, in chests in the dungeons, and on the battle board itself, being collected on contact. However, to start — with at least — you can only hold two different balls, alongside the standard ball. This will be expanded later in the game though.
Each battle rewards you with Loot and EXP, which means you will eventually level up. Levelling up involves you being able to choose an upgrade for yourself, basic ones being More Health or expanded inventory space, but upgrades that increase your attack, or make opponents dumber also become available later on. The amount of variety in the game is quite incredible, with differing strategies opening up as you get further into the game, and more balls and upgrades opening up. You can even backtrack into previous dungeons to gather a lot of certain balls if you need to and to grind levels for more upgrades.
This game is a lot of fun, even though at its heart is just a basic pong game which you may think would get rather samey, but in my mind, just represents the grind of many traditional RPGs. But I do have a few small issues with it:
The second complaint is the music. Generally speaking, the music is well done, with fun jaunty tunes throughout, BUT, the music that plays during a battle is always the same, and gets boring very quickly, to the point that I just turned the whole music off. This is a bit of a shame in that the different enemies could have had differing tunes, or even the different dungeons could have had varied music for the battles
If you have even the smallest interest in how Pong has evolved, then Pong Quest is certainly worth checking out.