Format: Android, iOS (reviewed)
Released: November 02, 2016
It’s fitting that a 90s fad would find itself turned into a cynical, mobile free-to-play game. The 80s and 90s were full of miniature collectibles, often randomly sorted into packages with contents unknown to the customer.
It’s relatively common today – Magic the Gathering cards and “blind box” toys still proudly wave the flag – but the era that brought us Pokemon cards, Mini Boglins, and the Trash Bag Bunch is ripe for the picking, full of licenses that sit idle and ready for some two-bit game company to pick them up.
Enter Super Slam, a free-to-play game selling itself with the hashtag #PogsAreBack.
Let me tell you, immediately, that Pogs are not back, not if this sad little effort is anything to go by.
Super Slam: POGS Battle mixes the “free-to-wait” elements seen in such games as Dungeon Keeper Mobile with a collection conceit in which the purchase of premium currency is encouraged.
All the humdrum elements of a typical freemium game are in place – arbitrary wait times between gameplay that can be sped up by paying money or watching ads, a freely distributed in-game currency and a more important premium currency, minimal interactivity, and an obligatory disrespect for the source material.
Not that a mass-produced 90s craze merits that much respect, but y’know. A modicum of it would be nice.
To Super Slam‘s credit, this is not the worst free-to-wait game I’ve ever seen. The “solo” gameplay can be fairly regularly accessed, while one-on-one battles against online players are always available. This is nowhere near as atrocious as Final Fantasy: All the Bravest or the aforementioned DK Mobile, but it’s still just another unremarkable app out for a quick buck.
Gameplay, as one might expect, revolves around the originally intended use for Pogs – a use that never really translated well among the kids I knew as we found collecting them far more important than using them for any sort of game.
Pogs are stacked up on top of each other and a heavy “Slammer” is used to bash the stack. Any Pogs flipped over in the process become the property of the player who hit them. You use your finger to swipe said slammer into the stack, and let the game’s idea of physics do the rest.
It’s so obvious, one wonders why nobody jumped on this sooner.
In battle mode, two online players put a selection of their own randomized Pogs into the pile and play for keeps, taking turns to try and flip more than the other and win whatever they grab.
In Solo mode, a stack of pre-owned Pogs is built, and flipping them earns coins (the bullshit currency) which can be saved up to buy regular Pog packs. 250 coins also lets you randomly reshuffle your lineup of battle mode Pogs – it’s the only way to avoid losing your rare Pogs if they’re selected for a fight, because you never get to choose which ones are on the line.
The physics in this game are complete and utter bullshit, and gameplay overall is terribly implemented. Even though you can tap the Slammer to change its position and angle, there is only the illusion of tactical gameplay or optimal trajectories. There’s no good way to hit a stack of Pogs since you’re relying on pure chance.
I’ve seen unremarkable slams turn over the entire stack in one turn. I’ve seen slams impressive enough to warrant dramatic bullet-time turn up nothing. The Pogs themselves adhere to no known physical laws, but one thing becomes apparent immediately – battles are not tense, nor do they ever come down to the wire – they’re always won in a single turn.
That turn may come immediately or it could take several frustrating turns with each player sending Pogs scattering yet flipping nothing. It comes, however, always.
Someone will make the one slam that turns over more than half the pile and win the match. Oh, and the game doesn’t end when there’s a clear winner, it ends when every Pog is flipped. This can mean that even if one player’s lost in the first go, they’ll be forced to take turns trying, annoyingly, to flip a single Pog left on the ground.
The more Pogs in the stack, the better the chance of winning, so whoever gets selected to take the first turn automatically has the best shot of victory. It’s not guaranteed, because of again this game is pure chance, but it’s way more likely and reinforces the fact that luck is key in all things.
It’s certainly not fun whether you win or you lose. There’s no satisfaction in “beating” somebody because the game arbitrarily let some pretend cardboard discs turn in your favor. It’s certainly not enjoyable to lose and be stuck fighting over the handful of discs left, humiliatingly fighting over table scraps.
Solo mode gives you a limited number of slams that replenish in ten minute intervals. The idea is simply to flip Pogs and earn coins, with a bonus of 15 coins awarded every time you clear an entire stack. Theoretically you do this forever, getting the option to watch ads or pay money in exchange for extra slams.
While both modes could be effective timewasters and fun distractions, the fact slams are only ever wildly successful or frustratingly disappointing sucks all the interest out of it. Solo mode seems deliberately designed to drain your Slam counter too, with stacks almost always whittling themselves down to one or two Pogs that just don’t want to flip.
I’ve been able to waste at least 15 slams trying to flip a single Pog before, and that’s just not a good way to spend time.
The Pogs themselves cost 500 coins for a single regular pack, which can take quite a while to grind. Premium packs start at 9 “coupons” for a single one. In-game challenges can occasionally dish out coupons, and you get a single coupon per day for the first stack of Pogs cleared in solo mode, but the idea is of course to buy them.
Microtransactions begin at $2.99 for 10 coupons – enough to buy one pack of five Pogs – and end at $29.99 for 160. Coins and extra slams are also traded for real money too, if you really like this game.
You shouldn’t like this game.
One of the most appealing things about the original Pogs were their designs – these were essentially thick round trading cards that kids liked for their pictures of skulls and bodacious 90s colors. Super Slam is not endorsed by the World Pog Federation, the only authority I respect when it comes to Pogs, and its self-designed Pogs are atrocious.
First of all, they all share the same humdrum art style despite there being a large selection of themed sets. The desperately “wacky” designs are simplistic and fail to capture the 90s aesthetic they’re desperately attempting to ape. As a result, there’s no real joy to collecting them.
The rare “shiny” ones are barely distinguishable from the commons, and with several sets being based around such fun themes as bipolar disorder and overfed pets, the “edginess” of their artistic style is more than a little grasping.
Super Slam disappoints on a technical level as well. When played away from a wi-fi connection, it becomes supremely laggy and makes battles even more of a repetitive slog. Leaving the game even for a moment causes it to lose its online connection and reload, often taking the opportunity to reset the solo stack completely and undo one’s work.
Outside of the Pogs themselves, the overall aesthetic is tacky and sterile. The backdrop is a shittily drawn skate park, a shitty beat plays incessantly throughout, and a supremely shit voice over repeats phrases like “rad” and “crazy” when you flip Pogs, just to remind you how cool Super Slam cloyingly wishes it was.
A shoddy product all the way through, Super Slam is a sneering grab for ad revenue and microtransactions that weakly trades on nostalgia and brings nothing else to the table. Unappealing on its own and doubly distasteful to anybody who actually knows what Pogs are, it’s safe to say this is not the big Pog comeback it pretends to be.
I’d rather play with fucking Tazos, for God’s sake, and a diehard Pog expert like me should not be saying that.