The Cloud God keeps watch over the land, but when a mysterious demon king steals the God’s magic scrolls and sends his minions to break up the land – a group of pilgrims must set out to restore the world.
Pop-Up Pilgrims has a papercraft quality to the 2D graphics, it’s beautifully coloured and incredibly stylish, it just screams Nintendo. Each level, which curves around your fixed viewpoint, is split into several planes, some of which overlap and give each level a nice depth in VR – at times you will need to move around to look behind objects and find hidden collectibles or jumps.
You take control of the Cloud God, hovering over the land, able to instruct a pilgrim to jump and change the direction of their path or to leap over an obstacle or gap – later, other abilities are also introduced. These powers must be collected and only last for a short period of time, but add additional mechanics to the navigational puzzles.
To move the Cloud God around you simply look left and right, flicking the LS to navigate through the planes. The nearest pilgrim to your cloud pointer is automatically selected but for finer control you can also use the RS to select a pilgrim and perform more precise jumps by finely adjusting the angle and length of the jump.
It’s wonderfully intuitive and while a bit tricky to begin with – locking on to a pilgrim, setting your gaze to make them jump far enough before locking on to the next one – I grasped the mechanic quickly. By the end of the first level I only had one pilgrim death on my conscious – I jumped them over a gap then accidentally directed them to jump again, landing them back in the gap they just cleared.
Master these two methods of jumping and combine them to make navigating the levels really simple – just remember which style of control you are using – a pilgrim selected with the RS will jump as soon as you release the direction, accidental pilgrim deaths will certainly ensue. The pilgrims will also jump between planes via arrow trees or by cloud commands – an ability that consumes devotion hearts.
Devotion hearts are collected by destroying piles of rubble or by depositing a demon orb into a guardian statue – by doing the latter you can fully fill your devotion heart gauge so deciding whether you collect hearts from rubble or deposit an orb comes into play as a puzzle, although it’s not nearly enough to make it an interesting and challenging mechanic. Demon orbs, while not always in play, must be collected and deposited before the exit is revealed, adding an additional objective to the gameplay.
There are also numerous enemies to contend with, most of whom can be easily destroyed by jumping on them, only a few enemies can cause your pilgrims to die instantly, mostly they are just a nuisance, causing a pilgrim to jump off the land if you mistimed a jump.
Pop-Up Pilgrims is very much like Lemmings, albeit with fewer commands. You must guide as many pilgrims as possible to safety. En route you can also collect gold octopuses. The total number of octopuses and the total rescued pilgrims determines whether you are awarded a bronze, silver or gold medal.
Something that wasn’t explained to me was that the number of pilgrims you finish a level with determines the number of pilgrims you start the next with – losing pilgrims will affect future medals and this has a knock on affect across worlds. Thankfully, halfway through each world there is an opportunity to add to your pilgrims by collecting coins and depositing them into a chest. These coins have the added bonus of rewarding you with devotion hearts. While the pilgrim number can hit double figures, only eight may exit the level.
There are six worlds to tackle, each with a prologue and boss battle. While never too complicated, the battles offer a charming respite from the main gameplay. Each boss does have a puzzle element, but each one usually came down to picking your moment before hitting him or her repeatedly.
With its cute graphics and bouncy but charmingly monotonous tune, Pop-Up Pilgrims entertains but never hits the highs of being too challenging. Sure there are a few tricky jumps, demanding that you use both jump mechanics while placing your pilgrim directly in danger in order to collect an orb (or golden octopus) before jumping them out again, but it never becomes so troublesome that you need to walk away for a break.
Despite its ease I thoroughly enjoyed Pop-UP Pilgrims. It’s a welcome distraction from the standard fare of VR games on the PlayStation store and certainly a title I will keep chipping away at until I have collected all the gold octopuses and saved every pilgrim, unfortunately it will then reside on my hard drive in the hope that the developers add more levels or modes – the introduction of a time trial would certainly heighten the intensity of the levels.