As I plumb the import libraries of these old consoles I am continually astounded at the sheer number of hidden gems most have never heard of. You’ll hear plenty about licensed titles such as Gundam or any number of RPGs Square Enix never localized. But it is the releases from smaller publishers that are the most interesting. Pack-in-Video is certainly not a name I associate with top tier software. So it is a bit ironic that they released one of my all-time favorite SNES games. Magical Pop’n is a phenomenal game that deserves to be in the same conversation as all of the platforming greats on the system and one you should not miss.
The best way to describe Magical Pop’n is a combination of Metroid, Mario, and Zelda. That’s a legendary mix of traits and the game manages to pull the right elements from each to create a game that still feels unique. The Princess is an extremely agile character and moves at a brisk pace. She comes equipped with a sword that can attack in nearly every direction. It even pulls a move or two from the Adventure of Link with its downward stab attack.
Like that series you’ll gain an inventory of sub-weapons and spells with most consuming stars to use. You start with a laser like projectile but in time gain bombs, fire, ice, and even a Sonic style spin attack that is used to climb walls. Aside from their normal use you can expend 10 stars at once for an enhanced version of each spell. This souped up attack trivializes most boss battles. The way the game tosses stars your way it almost seems as though it encourages it.
One last item I haven’t mentioned is the Bionic Commando styled rod that allows you to swing from special latches. The swing controls aren’t to my liking as you need to be very particular when trying to make rapid swings in succession. However aside from one area in stage four that never comes into play. This little beauty costs nothing to use and can also damage enemies. It became my go to weapon unless something else was absolutely necessary.
The Metroid connection comes in the game’s structure. Although the game is broken up into six stages with a mid and end level boss each is rather large with secrets and items to find at every juncture. Every level contains one new spell or item that is necessary to surpass blockades and to further power-up. Unlike Zelda these abilities aren’t crucial to beating that stage’s boss. There is no time limit and the maps are just large enough to provide a sense of scale but not so big that you’ll need a map to avoid getting lost.
It might sound strange but this reminds me more of a Genesis action game rather than your typical Super Nintendo title as the game just seems to move so fast. The pacing is excellent as you’ll always find crucial items at a nice clip with thorough exploration being rewarded. The great controls make switching between abilities a breeze in the middle of combat. For those that want some replay value there are usually multiple paths to the end of a given stage. It all leads to up a spectacular finish that will leave you wanting more.
At six stages Magical Pop’n is of moderate length and honestly I can’t envision it being longer. There is no password or battery backup feature because they aren’t needed. Each stage is perfectly paced with the number of upgrades you receive seeing adequate use. Anymore and I feel your inventory would seem bloated for the type of game this is. You’ll get a good few hours out of this before the credits roll. Part of what makes Magical Pop’n seem shorter than it really is would be its lacking difficulty.
To be completely honest the only real complaint I have is that Magical Pop’n is too easy. Even though you start with 3 hearts even the slightest bit of exploration will yield extra extensions up to a maximum of eight. The generic enemies pose little threat since you are overpowered from the start. Even if you are sloppy there are cakes and candy to restore health everywhere. The boss battles aren’t terribly complex with their patterns being easily decipherable in seconds. But that could be my thirty years of gaming experience at play. As much as I wish the game put up more of a fight I had so much fun that I didn’t care.
Magical Pop’n is the perfect synthesis of platforming and open exploration and one of my favorite titles for the system. It is an absolute crime that it never left Japan however aside from the intro there is no text making it as import friendly as it gets. At the cheap prices it goes for I can’t recommend it enough.