In the 1970s, Atari’s Pong captivated novice players around the world with its ability to translate the sport of table tennis into two electronic palettes on one screen. Pong Quest is evolving the formula, offering a procedurally generated dungeon robot where all enemy encounters are Pong matches with power-ups. While this breathes new life into the well-worn title and proves that Pong is still fun almost five decades later, the changes aren’t enough to justify more than a short stroll through the past.
Strange events are brewing in a kingdom populated by sensitive Pong paddles, and the king requests your help to venture into dungeons, retrieve magic orbs and open the last area; it’s a story that is as unimportant and slim as you would expect from a lightweight RPG built around Pong. Once you enter each themed dungeon, you have four random floors to go through, defeating NPC paddles in Modernized Pong on your way to a tough boss battle.
Despite a multitude of twists and turns in the formula, the enemy encounters are essentially simple Pong matches: two paddles line up on opposite sides and make a ball bounce back and forth. This basic formula hammers the timeless nature of Pong; I felt a hint of excitement every time I entered a match and the high energy combat music soared.
While the basic Pong rallying action is always fun, the thrill of Pong Quest battles comes from the unique live bullets you can use. Some special bullets offer exciting effects to attack and defend against; I love the one that bends suddenly towards one of the walls and another that adds oil slicks increasing the speed on the playing field for a few laps. However, some are too overpowered and take pleasure away, with the fireball as the most flagrant offender. If you hit it, it quickly eats away at your health, which means it’s much better to just let that shot pass in front of you, which goes against the purpose of Pong. Other bullets offer difficult-to-defend scenarios, but with a few acting as winning weapons, you’d better fill your inventory with them rather than experimenting with the more unique ones.
Efficiency is the key to fighting Pong Quest. Instead of winning by simply scoring more goals than your opponent, you must survive them and reduce their HP to zero. Unfortunately, your health does not recover until you reach the next floor, which means that things can get disastrous if you have more than a few prolonged meetings. If you miss a hit without HP, you are started from the dungeon and must start the ground again. Fortunately, one of the most abundant bonuses you can find is the Potion Ball, which replenishes your HP every time you use it. However, when there are so many interesting abilities to experiment with, it’s annoying having to constantly occupy one of my limited inventory slots with boring but essential potion balls.
Each battle gives you experience, which eventually elevates you. Each time you reach a new level, you can choose from one of the three benefits presented. These range from added HP and inventory slots to various markers on maps and additional damage to opponents. While this has always seemed to be the least attractive option, I have taken a hard look at the additional HP option to increase my survivability in dungeons and reduce my dependence on potion balls.
In addition to battles, you can earn additional items by completing optional objectives. At the beginning of each floor, an NPC will ask you to go further by eliminating all enemies, fighting zero enemies or visiting each room on the floor before leaving. A carnival barker also allows you to complete mini-games based on puzzles like setting up surfaces to ricochet in a goal, match cards or even explore a dark room to find light switches before the time expiration. Unfortunately, none of these are particularly rewarding or fun, often granting you special balls for which you probably don’t have room. However, the challenges of the black hole – where you bet some of your inventory for bigger returns on mini-games based on Pong, like eliminating an approaching centipede or collecting every piece on the screen – are exciting and the exact type of twist to the Pong I formula was looking for.
If you prefer to give up exploring the dungeon and simply play Pong, you can participate in local and online multiplayer matches. I like the ability to remove all power ups and visual flair for playing Classic Pong, but I wish there were more advanced options for the basic multiplayer; it would be great to change the rules or create my own stable of special balls for the players.
I enjoyed my time with Pong Quest, but with unbalanced abilities, generic dungeon explorations and repetitive battles, the experience struggled to hold my attention. Pong Quest offers a fun and unique interpretation of the well-known classic, but the novelty wears out even before the end of the brief campaign.