Franchises come and go – it’s a fact of life. Some franchises overstay their welcome, and need to take a few years out before reinvigorating themselves. Some need to make a return sooner rather than later.
And then we have the humble PONG: older than most but one that has been laying dormant for a while, waiting for the right moment to resurface with a bang. That bang comes in the form of PONG Quest, something truly left-field when thoughts must have originally turned to how to resurrect this relic of gaming. But whilst PONG Quest is a brilliant concept on paper, it gets repetitive very quickly.
PONG Quest takes the traditional and classic PONG gameplay and smashes it between an RPG sandwich. The same basic PONG gameplay remains of trying to score points against your opponents, but it has been expanded to include health bars, random encounters, side-quests, shops, dungeon crawling and all that RPG goodness.
Set on an epic quest by the King, you move around the hub world and dungeons as a completely customisable PONG paddle. You can put outfits on it – hats, backpacks, fangs, ears, glasses; basically, anything to make it unique to you. There are a stock set of options at the beginning of the game, whilst defeating enemies throughout the dungeons will unlock more options.
On your quest around the King’s castle, you must collect four orbs to unlock The Spooky Door. Orbs are tucked away in dungeons, and these dungeons are somewhat based on other classic Atari games.
Unfortunately, these ‘borrowed’ IPs are sparsely used in PONG Quest. One area is based on Centipede for example, but aside from having a natural forest look to the dungeon, that is it really. The only other throwback are the vortex levels, which are vastly underused. In the example of Centipede, you need to defeat the crawling insect PONG style. But with only one or two of these per group of dungeons, more would have been appreciated, as these are the only real examples of shaking up the gameplay.
There are a lot of different balls to unlock – 58 in total – and these all have various different abilities to defeat your opponents. In PONG Quest it isn’t simply enough to score points against your enemies, and both you and your opponents have health bars that need to be whittled down first. Every time the ball strikes a paddle, it takes a small portion of HP off; when the paddle is left with less than 5 HP you can go for the kill by knocking the ball past them. Of course, you can still do this before their health bar is critical and are rewarded with a bigger chunk of HP disappearing, but you can only ever defeat an opponent with a final goal.
There is a lot of variety in the different balls you can equip to your paddle – and although you cannot carry every single type in your inventory, you can upgrade the number of slots available. There are those that can be used to heal yourself or leech health off the enemy, and balls that can put your opponent to sleep or make them shrink down in size. There are also balls specific to some of the bosses you encounter – that are based on the same Atari IPs as the area itself – so you can summon your own centipede or build a Breakout wall in front of your paddle.
Each level of the dungeons also contains a person offering a side-quest in true RPG style. But as with the rest of the game, these quickly become repetitive as there are only four different side-quests and they repeat with each new dungeon cycle.
Away from the Quest mode, there are a few extras based around multiplayer. Local Battle mode is the same gameplay from the Quest mode – that is, including all the different ball types – for up to four players. Local Classic is PONG boiled down to the basics without powerups and team colours, just like in 1972, and Online mode features the same local multiplayer modes, but just online this time as the name suggests. We’d be cursing a PONG game if it didn’t feature any sort of multiplayer but by having both old and new versions it is a nice touch.
PONG Quest has 44 achievements in total, and there will be a fair amount of grinding necessary to unlock all of them. Different ball types are grouped up so achievements for using 100 accelerating balls, or 100 healing balls, will likely come as you progress through the campaign. Others such as 1000 battles, using 10,000 balls or unlocking all hats and outfits will take repeated playthroughs. Also, it is worth noting that currently not all achievements are tracking properly, but a patch is incoming to fix this.
Whilst PONG Quest on the Xbox One sounds like a brilliant idea on paper, fusing PONG gameplay with RPG mechanics, the shallowness of PONG itself unfortunately quickly makes this a dull grind. Had there been more variation in the levels, similar to when PONG first reinvented itself with PONG: The Next Level back on the original PlayStation, then PONG Quest would have been far more entertaining. As it is, like a bad pong it lingers around for far too long.