|Product: POX Handheld Game
|Platform: Your hand
||SRP: US$25 |
Street Price: same
|Cred Rating:||Special Award: |
Geeks are certainly no strangers to games and gaming, and while video and computer games immediately spring to mind, all sorts of games are likely to be found on most geek's bookshelves, from intricately painted Warhammer miniatures, to the latest edition of D&D, to Diskwars pogs and Magic: The Gathering decks. Which brings us to POX. Described by its creators as "Pokemon for grownups," this unique game takes the obsessiveness of the collectible card game and sticks it into a nifty little handheld gadget with RF (radio frequency) capability, allowing you to wage war against others armed with POX units.
Physically, the handheld POX units (called PCUs or "POX Containment Units") resemble nothing so much as a shrunken gamepad, with some engineering omissions that are hardly surprising, given the price and purpose. Absent are a contrast wheel and backlight, and the units seem designed to ignore lefties altogether. However, since gameplay is more turn-based than twitchy arcade-style actionfest, this is really more of an ergonomic annoyance than a real hardship.
Another annoyance is that the documentation reads more like gadget instructions than game rules. While such rules can sometimes be obtuse, they usually go through enough playtesting that the vast majority of new player's questions are answered in the rulebook. Of course, most games don't have to deal with hardware operation and interface instructions. Since all the POX game rules are firmly coded into the machine, you don't have to puzzle over or argue about how a rule works. It works the way the electronics says it works. POX gives you two pieces of documentation: a booklet describing the PCU and the various menu and gameplay functions available in the software, plus a quick reference card describing just about all the known POX body parts and functions.
The sci-fi backstory is simple: a couple of nasty viruses from outer space (arriving via a meteor shower) have been captured and analyzed by Earth scientists and are now stored in the POX units. Your goal is to create a POX/nano-bot hybrid that can destroy all other POX strains, thereby saving Earth from this alien menace.
The devices come in three flavors, red, green, and blue, each containing its own species of virus. The red virus, Spino, is strong on offense, the green one, Cipro ...er... Cycro, relies on speed and agility, and the blue virus, Plasmo, relies on camouflage and defensive weapons. The differences are really only noteworthy for the first stages of the game, when you're playing the solo (Arena) game in order to collect various POX body parts. While the colors determine what parts are stashed in your arena, parts from all three flavors of POX are interchangeable. You collect other parts by battling opponents armed with their own PCUs.
When you first fire up the game, you're dropped into the Forge where you build your first POX. You give it a name, a head, body, a tail and a battle plan to use in real world combat. The first thing you'll want to do is go into the Arena to fight other POX within your PCU, This is how you collect additional parts to build more powerful alien critters. You can store up to four POX, one of which is designated your attack POX (which will go out and battle other POX within other PCUs), while the other three stay inside your machine to battle invading POX.
The solo Arena is about as exciting as Wizardry or The Bard's Tale (remember them?). This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the real fun comes in battling real world opponents via the RF interface. The primary purpose of the Arena is to get you used to the battle system and to let you build up a library of parts so you can create more potent POX to unleash on your opponents.
Combat is turn-based, though no interaction is required once you set up the WAD, an acronym for "With At Defend." You designate what body part your POX will attack with, what body part of its foe it should aim at, and what body part it'll use to defend. You have to make three entries for this, as each round of combat consists of three of these strikes.
Damage is equal to 10% of the attacking body part's hit points. If any one part goes to zero, your POX is defeated, so you have defensive parts that do things such as reflect damage back on to the attacker and distribute damage equally across all parts of your POX. All the parts found in the Arena have a maximum of thirty hit points, though some can be increased beyond that through combat with real world opponents.
All of your Arena opponents will have hit points equal to about half of yours, until you get to the (cue reverb) Overspore, a.k.a the Level Boss, who guards the most prized body part of that level. It has hit points equal to yours. A defeat means you're dumped out of the Arena to replay that level again, fully healed, or you can play any other level you've previously mastered. This is sometimes desirable if you want to collect another part with a different color focus. When you collect a new body part by defeating a level, or when you're building a new one in the Forge, you select what two colors the part will be antagonistic towards: Red and Green, Green and Blue, or Blue and Red.
Aside from opponent POX, the Arena levels contain pieces of terrain and landmarks that exist solely as movement obstacles, as well as pods that contain both hazards (such as additional opponents, bombs, a disease) or rewards (such as currency or healing). Defeating a real world foe sometimes yields similar rewards.
While the stock science fiction backstory is surprisingly effective in establishing the POX universe, and the game system makes for a suitably addictive experience, perhaps the most interesting aspect of POX is that it seems to be the first generation of a whole new gaming genre: the electronic card deck. It'll be interesting to see where this technology is headed.
- Bruce Dykes [11/14/01]
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