Indie Time: Poacher

Most people know Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw for his fast-talking, foulmouthed and often hilarious Zero Punctuation video reviews of various games, but he’s also made a few games of his own. Long before starting Zero Punctuation he made several point and click adventure games with Adventure Game Studio, the most famous of which comprise the four-game John DeFoe series (aka the Chzo Mythos series), beginning with 5 Days a Stranger. He even managed to create a few platformers with Adventure Game Studio, including Trilby: The Art of Theft, a stealth platformer with a different style to Stealth Bastard that’s well worth checking out. Like the rest of his games, it’s available for free.

Lately, Yahtzee’s efforts have been focused on Zero Punctuation and writing a novel, but he did find time to make Poacher, an exploration platformer starring “unflappable Yorkshireman” Derek Badger. Indeed, Yahtzee was apparently inspired by a google image search result for “Yorkshireman” (a result I was sadly unable to reproduce, but then I am in a different country). Being a fan of exploration platformers and of Yahtzee’s earlier work, I decided to check it out.

It’s clear from the first moments that the game is a tongue-in-cheek affair, poking some fun at the Yorkshire dialect and beginning a rather absurd story about demonically possessed rabbits. Not being at all familiar with Yorkshire or its inhabitants, I likely missed a good bit of the humor, but there were still plenty of sources of amusement. As I played on, however, I found the game itself to be surprisingly substantial. The graphical style is basic but consistent, the level design often very clever, and even the story became far more involved than I would have expected. If you stick with it, you might find yourself enjoying it quite a bit.

Sticking with it can be tricky, though, because Poacher is very hard, especially in the beginning. The level design is fiendish throughout, often forcing you back through entire sections if you make a mistake, and early on you won’t have any extra health upgrades or other abilities to take an edge off the difficulty. Expect to die frequently, going back to the latest save point to try again. In v1.1, Yahtzee added an easy mode that lets you start with more health, but I was (naturally) too proud to use it, so I stuck it out through the first few areas instead. I soon discovered I was having a lot of fun; the game really gets going later on, with some very imaginative places to explore and devious puzzles to solve. True to genre classics like Super Metroid, Poacher’s world is divided into distinct areas, each with their own character and design, and the player is free to explore, with new places becoming accessible as Derek Badger finds new abilities to use. Sometimes games of this type become too linear, with a distinct sequence of upgrades necessary to proceed, but Poacher manages to stay open, allowing objectives to be tackled in any order. While upgrades will unlock new routes, these often lead to optional areas containing non-essential powerups or other secrets, and only occasionally is actual story progress blocked because you haven’t found a specific ability yet.

Speaking of secrets, there are plenty in Poacher, as is usual for such games. In a nice twist, however, the locations of all the secrets are revealed after you finish the game, making it easy to go back and find them all. Poacher also has both “good” and “bad” endings, another genre staple, but unlike many games there are plenty of hints about how to get the good ending. In fact, I never saw the bad ending because I went ahead and got the good one my first time through. There is, however, an additional secret ending to discover; assuming that I needed to grab all the secrets to get it, I went back through the game to find them all, but it turns out this isn’t how one gets the secret ending. The route to the secret ending is much smarter than that, actually, and in hindsight it should have been obvious. But unfortunately it means I will have to start the game again from scratch. I still intend to do so, but I won’t finish in time for this post, so the final secret will remain secret for now.

I was able to snag a few achievements on my second run, however, and I unlocked some special options that will make replaying less odious. Besides, it’s good fun and can go pretty quickly once you get the hang of it. If you like exploration platformers and don’t mind a stiff challenge, or if you simply feel that Yorkshiremen are sadly under-served as game protagonists, you should definitely check it out. With a price tag of nothing, there’s no reason not to give it a shot. Here’s the download link. Happy poaching!

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