I type this review with fingers that have been put through the ringer by Potata: Fairy Flower. An adventure 2D platformer that’s cute on the outside but vicious on the inside, Potata is a game made by people who obviously love Metroidvania’s and Super Meat Boy in equal measure.
A heads up – Potata: Fairy Flower has a lot of spiders in it. I mean, A LOT, a lot. They’re not very realistic but I know that matters to some of you. You’ve been warned.
In Potata: Fairy Flower you play as a red-headed, headstrong and mischievous Witch called Potata (or Potatay to her friends) who lives in a village in the middle of a forest. When her Fox companion gets ill, Potata turns to her mother, a rotund lady with a penchant for cooking, for assistance. Her advice? Potata will need to obtain some petals from a flower found in the forest to heal her Foxy pal. So, off she goes looking for the flower. When she eventually finds it however, she manages to enrage a Fairy and the petals get scattered. Unbeknown to Potata, she’s managed to set off a chain of events will eventually lead to some potentially world ending consequences.
Until about 5 hours in (around half way through the game) the plot to Potata: Fairy Flower didn’t make much logical sense. It felt more like bouncing from one immaterial fetch quest to another. In one section of the game, after you’ve unlocked a new section of your village, you come across a new puzzle. After you’ve attempted to solve the puzzle though, you notice there’s a missing piece. A new quest is added to your log to go and speak to a character. Off you toddle. Upon speaking to him, he confesses that he might have dropped the puzzle piece in a swamp so he directs you to someone else who can help. After more needless travel, you arrive only for this new character to ask you to retrieve a piece of apple pie from your mother before they’ll help you. After even more needless travel to your mother and back again, you can finally get on with the game. There’s a few sequences that are like this in Potata: Fairy Flower – bouncing you from conversation to conversation for no real reason other than to extend the game time – that give the game a really odd pacing.
For a 2D platformer, Potata: Fairy Flower is incredibly wordy too, especially towards the beginning. Conversations between characters or scrolls which can be found in the game world unroll in large blocks of text at the bottom of the screen and this is where most of the story is told. There’s a hand full of cut scenes which punctuate the start and end but no vocals during any of the play time. Much of the text is superfluous too, adding little to the character or world building while making it more difficult to pick out the important bits of information you need to move forward. This isn’t helped by some ropey English localisation either. It’s obvious that English isn’t the first language for developers Potata Company as there’s typo’s, sentences that make little sense and missing punctuation – like someone ran the game through Google Translate rather than being translated by a native English speaker. This isn’t game breaking and you can always get the gist of what’s being said but it’s still a tad frustrating.
Thankfully, a lot of what’s between the conversations is of a much higher standard.
Let’s start with the visuals. With an almost hand drawn, painterly feel to it akin to those in the later Rayman games, the locations that Potata explores are vibrant and detailed. Each area of the game has its own colour palette that give each zone its own feel to it. Deep forest clad in greens and browns make way for more curious locations with orange, pink and autumnal trappings. At its visual worst, Potata: Fairy Flower is pleasing on the eye. At its best, it’s gorgeous.
One colour that isn’t rolled into the backgrounds or platforms often is red. That’s because – as is so often the case – red things in this game will kill or injure you. From vines that line the bottom of the screen or bulbous spikey plants, all of which will instantly kill you, this game uses the universal colour for danger very well in its design.
That’s something that’s apparent in quite a number of sections in Potata – the developers know how to make a tense platforming game. All of the typical platforming tropes are here – moving platforms, static platforms that can only be climbed in a certain order as they’re spaced just right, platforms that fall after you’ve landed on them, platforms which open and close on a loop, blocks to push which will allow you to get to a higher spot, instadeath pits to leap over, moving death balls and enemies to hit with your wooden sword – but they’re positioned in way to make the game challenging. In one section, small platforms are housed above and below by a row of instadeath red thorns. Between each jump is a floating orb that will take 1 of your 3 health hearts away if you touch it. A full jump – by holding the button down – will have Potata head butting the thorns and killing her. Jump too lightly and the orb will hit you and likely send Potata into the thorns below, killing her. You need the baby bear bed of jumps – not too big, not too small, just right – to navigate this and many other sections in the game.
The tension of the level design is helped by the checkpoint system. When you die, you’re respawned at the last totem-esque statue you activated. There’s portions in Potata: Fairy Flower that ask you to do a whole lot of platforming before there’s another save point and not many of these sections are easy. Die after traversing 90% of one of these area’s and you’ll have to do it all over again. While this system does lend itself to the tense nature of the game, some levels are straight up sadistic and feel overtly punishing with their save spot locations. I rage quit twice on my way to completion.
I’d be remiss to not mention the item system here which is really quite fun. At any one time, Potata can be carrying up to 5 items. These are things you’ll find in the world like keys, seeds, lever’s, puzzle pieces and much more. Each of these items has a use in the game world but not all of them are mandatory. Head off the beaten track and you might find a key that will open a chest later in the game. That chest might hold a seed which can be planted in the ground later in the level to grow a new platform that’ll allow you to reach places you couldn’t otherwise. Some progress blocking obstacles – the first being a giant snapping plant that eats you if you get too close – require objects to overcome which encourages you to explore the whole game rather than just keep heading right.
Potata: Fairy Flower has a little Metrovania DNA in its make-up too as there’s often multiple routes you can take through a level and you return to one location multiple times with new items or powers in order to reach new areas. There’s no way points, arrows or guidance on which way to go however. Instead, there are collectable stones with a swirl on them that act like a bread crumb thread through each level, like Sonic’s rings. Find yourself in a space where there are none of these stones? Well, you’ve probably ended up coming back on yourself. These collectable stones can be spent at a store to increase your health and abilities, can be used to save at a totem location (your first save is free, each subsequent one will cost you) or to skip some puzzles.
And you might want to skip some of these puzzles. There’s a few different types in Potata and some are far more enjoyable the others. The first is a game where you put tetromino’s into a shape on a board. The aim is to fill the space with all the shapes available. This in my opinion is a really great puzzle for this type of game. It’s quick, fun and keeps the game moving. At the other end of the spectrum are a grid bound puzzle that test you to colour the appropriate squares. To do so, you have to press on any square which will colour in the squares to the north, south, east and west of it. These puzzles, while not particularly difficulty, are simply onerous. They slow the game down to a halt and feel completely out of place in a fast paces, tense platformer like this. Lastly, there are some puzzles that can’t be skipped and they’re environment based. Having picked up some puzzle pieces, you’ll have to use them in a particular order in set locations. The clues are in the surrounding environment for these which isn’t immediately apparent or at all hinted towards.
Each of the story levels in Potata, excluding the optional challenge levels, is punctuated by a boss fight. These always incorporate a theme from the level it’s ending. These vary in quality and difficulty. Some involve quick and precise platforming – like getting out of the way of Big Boss Spider as he rushes across large sections of the screen – and others require a deeper understand of the mechanics in the game – like setting off traps that have been laid for you by the Mushroom Fairy without falling victim to them.
Fairy Flower is backed by a soundtrack that really leans into fantasy and fancy free feeling the character Potata gives off. Some tracks feel like baroque ballads you’d expect played at a stately dance while others are more restrained and almost quiet. It is a little odd that some of the more action packed levels are paired off with melodies that are slower paced but the quality of the music itself is not in question.
When Potata: Fairy Flower is doing what it does best – tense platforming among open, branching levels loaded with danger – it’s excellent. Sure, it can be punishing at times but it has been quite some time since a game made my palms as sweaty as this game did at times. For that, it has to be commended. It’s a shame these moments are offset by meandering, sometimes nonsensical quests coupled with reams of text to read, some of which are confusing, and puzzles which grind the game to a halt. As a melting pot of ideas, a few too many counter-intuitive mechanics rose to the top in Potata: Fairy Flower which wow’s you with its visuals one moment then puts you to sleep with an unnecessary and cumbersome conversation the next.
Potata: Fairy Flower is available on Nintendo Switch (Review Platform), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC now.
Developer: Potata Company
Publisher: Potata Company
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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