Despite iconic status in Korea- where Pucca’s likeness can be found on items ranging from Kleenex, cutlery, and adult-sized scooters, the character hasn’t quite broken into the upper echelons of stardom within the United States. At least some of the blame can be placed on an irregular television schedule, which saw the character shuffled across Toon Disney, Jetix, and Disney XD. Despite this minor obstacle, Pucca’s dogged determination and irrefutable adorability may provide the plucky 10-year old with a chance to charm American audiences through an alternative medium.
Recent DS release Pucca’s Power Up offers a furtively feministic adaptation of the damsel in distress formula. The game opens with the heroine in pursuit of the ninja-in-training, Garu- whose dedication to shinobi-ship prohibits overt reciprocation. Once her shuriken-throwing sweetheart is kidnapped, Power Up subverts conventional gender roles, tasking Pucca with the liberation. Although stages alternate control between the two protagonists, the abilities of each character are quite similar. Both Pucca and Garu have the capacity to double jump over obstacles, melee strike adjacent threats, and each has a limited supply of ranged shots. Ideally, there should have been more variance between the two characters. Even the duos’ boost of invincibility- initiated by tapping the touchscreen after collecting enough chili icons is woefully similar.
Fortunately, the title’s mechanics and level design helps to overcome the homogeneity of the game’s heroes. Power Up’s jumps are responsive, and thankfully, never require pixel-perfect precision. While Pucca and Garu aren’t especially powerful, frequently requiring three swings to dispatch a foe, the wholesale elimination of all enemies isn’t the game’s goal. At best, vanquishing a villain offers a health replenishing cha siu bao- but given the game’s generous health bar and checkpoint system, the perk is rarely needed.
Once players traverse the game’s early stages, Pucca Power Up’s level design becomes much more labyrinthine. As players scale the game’s halfway point, levels conceal subterranean alcoves, while switches need to be flipped before advancements can be made. With six worlds, each possessing three to five stages, Power Up isn’t especially long, with a main adventure that can be completed during an unwavering weekend run. Complementing the main campaign, a couple of supplementary pursuits await players. A sextet of minigames, which range from the stylus-slicing of ninjas to a Frogger-like scamper across logs are all fairly simple. More interesting is the title’s shopping component, where players can trade the game’s gingerbread men collectibles to fortify their health bar or arsenal, as well as unlock additional levels and cinematics.
While all of Power Up’s worlds have a different visual theme, there’s bit of asset recycling in each realm as players surmount the same sets of traps and pass reoccurring background objects. Other than that blemish, the title’s graphics are well drawn and highlighted by the sporadic effect, like vanquished villains flying toward the DS screen. Sonically, Pucca and Garu’s communicative mumbles as well as the game’s spirited soundtrack are both proficient at conveying the game’s upbeat vibe.
Although Pucca Power Up can’t quite compete against Nintendo’s celebrated first-party platformers, the cartridge is an enjoyable jaunt which should captivate younger players. Like most competent titles aimed at a youthful demographic, the game has enough easy-going appeal to pique the interest of the open-minded, mature set. While Garu might disagree, Pucca’s charms are difficult to resist.