For my first series of articles I’ll be going back through the games of yesteryear, and discussing the games people ‘should’ have played, but had probably never even heard of. The first of which is the lesser known Super Nintendo title from 1995 titled ‘Plok’. The game from my childhood that stuck in my head enough, to become part of my bio on this very site.
Originally developed as a game called ‘Fleapit’ on hardware by Rare (or Rareware at the time), Plok was a title that recieved the short end of the flagpole at every turn. Intitially gaining immense interest from Nintendo God Shigeru Miyamoto himself, he sadly due to his ongoing work at the time with Yoshi’s Island was unable to help out with the game’s development or publication. As a result Ste and John Pickford turned to Software Creations (who later joined Acclaim for even more bad luck) to publish the title for them. A company who later would declare bankrupcy and leave the gaming world for good.
In regards to the game’s narrative, Plok is very straightforward. Based on the isle of Akrillic in the region of Polyesta, Plok leaves his house one morning to discover that the flag next to his home has been stolen. As a result, after an incredibly catchy Press Start Theme Tune written by Tim Follin (also responsible for the Ecco the Dolphin soundtrack), Plok is led on a wild goose chase around Polyesta destroying enemies and jumping over obstacles in order to retrieve his flag. At the end of each level, a flagpost is there for you to raise what you hope is your own flag, but instead find various decoys such as polka-dot boxers and scarves. Once finally recovering your flag, you return home to discover the theft of Plok’s flag was nothing but a distraction, with an unguarded Akrillic now covered in giant blue fleas. It’s now Plok’s mission to rid the island of fleas by discovering the fleapit (see what they did with the original development name there?) and defeat the Flea Queen to beat the game.
It all sounds incredibly random, and in true British Python’eske humour, it really is. Later on the game’s original hardware developer Rare would imitate the game’s writing style in titles such as Banjo Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. But for 1995, the British dry scripting was completely fresh and unused in a platformer for Nintendo. And it isn’t just the game’s writing style that many could so easily presume were copied by Plok, but were in fact originated by the Pickford Bros title. The ability to fire your limbs as weapons would become known as a Rayman mechanism. The art design of the game would be perceived as copying Bubsy the Cat. And the ability to gain powers and transform into vehicles such as a helicopter would be considered close to Yoshi’s Island territory (we’re onto you Shigsy!). But all these games were released within the same two month window of 1995, and therefore were clearly not imitated by each other at all.
As a result of multiple platform titles being released in such a short space of time, the genre became saturated, and only the most marketed of mascots stuck. Whilst characters such as Bubsy, Rayman and Sonic were popping up across multiple consoles, Plok inadvertently was perceived as the imitator, and therefore never got its detachable feet off the ground. Reviewers at the time however received the game very well, with magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and Super Play giving the game high scores. Many original fans of the title have since tried to encourage the Pickford Bros to create a sequel and release it digitally on console eshops and stores, or at least remaster the original to give it a second chance with a new audience (this idea has been dismissed by the developers, saying that younger gamers would instantly refer to the remaster as a Rayman wannabe). An indie title in 2009 even gained permission from Ste and John to include Plok as an easter egg in the horizontal shooter Zaku. However, from a first party level the Pickford Bros instead had a different idea to give Plok a new lease of life. Comic books.
In 2013, Ste and John created Zee-3. An online independent developer, creating smartphone games such as Magnetic Billiards (a simple but addictive take on pool worth giving a download) and Naked War. The website also started a weekly comic strip based on the world of Plok to give fans a new meta-insight into the world they live in. The strip became a cult hit, now spawning five printed and digital volumes consisting of over 120 stories, colouring books, and a fairly large social media following. In 2016, when Nintendo asked fans to choose the final character to be added to Super Smash Bros’ DLC content, Plok was one of the more popular names being discussed on Twitter alongside Bayonetta and Banjo Kazooie. Sadly he wasn’t chosen, and Bayonetta was the winner. But the fan art that stemmed from people’s hopes is worth checking out online still.
While it now seems unlikely, the website maintained by the Pickford Bros does imply that the pair may one day return to the world of Akrillic in video game form, stating there were many ideas they had for Plok that never made it into the first game. In the mean time however, please do get hold of a copy and discover the comical flag and flea filled world for yourself. Like older games, the difficulty level ramps up dramatically, so don’t let the game’s humour deceive you! And yes, that theme tune will be going around in your head for days to come afterwards. Just don’t let anyone steal your polka dot pants in the mean time…
Developer: Software Creations
Release: December 1993
Format: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Steam