Version tested PC
A zero, followed by ten more zeroes. That's a pretty frightening number. It is when it's the starting point of the hi-score table for Poof vs. the Cursed Kitty, anyway. It is once you realise there's a fairly good chance your final score for an early round will be 00000000006.
And that lonely 6 really hurts here, because Poof is one of those games in which the score is the only thing that truly matters. After the luxurious bestiary and gratuitous invention of Hell Yeah!, Arkedo's really reined things in for this, its last ever game. Scoring is the be all and end all in Poof. Scoring is the alpha and the omega - and all the other Greek letters that I never learned the names of.
It's an elegant muddle, if such a thing is possible - a blend of tower defense, single-room platformer and even spatial-puzzler. You're a dog, I gather, and your job is to protect a cat who's located in a central position at the bottom of the screen. Creeps, meanwhile, attack from all angles - flying creeps, hopping creeps, creeps with bombs, creeps who lob flaming axes.
Taking out the creeps is how you score those magical points - either by hopping on their heads or by placing a series of turrets at certain points around the map to mop them up in interesting ways. The turrets come in electrical, arrow-firing, and even circular saw flavours. The last two can damage you as well as the creeps, incidentally, and those saws are the absolute worst, chewing back and forth across a platform, forever under your feet.
Alongside turrets, there are a range of other pick-ups that spawn around the arena, which starts out bigger than your screen, incidentally, and only gets bigger as you open more areas up. You'll get healing hearts and throwing knives, and you'll also get stuff that freezes the onslaught for a few precious seconds - a must in a game that's so concerned with crowd management.
The dark magic at the heart of Poof is that the objective is so simple, but the designers always give you one too many things to comfortably think about at any given time. There's a slowdown that will get you out of trouble if you remember to use it, but will you remember when there are enemies advancing from separate points, pick-ups to transform into golden poos if you don't need them - these slow down any creeps who pass through them - and a central combo system that keeps upping the multiplier if you stomp on enemies' heads quickly enough?
You'll die for a dozen different reasons in a dozen different games - your combo led you astray, your own turret took out your legs, you were too busy killing that you let your health drop, you were so busy topping up your health that the creeps got your kitty. Luckily, the depth that keeps frustrating your ambitions is also the depth that keeps you coming back for more punishment. You'll learn that the jewels dropped by dead creeps keep a multiplier alive between bounces, for example, or you'll stumble upon the best moment to freeze all enemies in place, or you'll start to get your head around a special attack that doubles the power of a head bounce. Onwards!
For the first few hours, you'll also have a neat unlock system to work through. Poof drops new ideas in at a pace that will suit you quite well for the most part, offering an upgrade tree that allows you to unleash additional tools or open up new areas of the map when you beat a handful of missions, iOS endless runner-style. In return, the missions themselves are brilliant at teaching you some of the deeper aspects of the design - and leading you astray again. This is one of those games that leaves you constantly pinwheeling between frustration and elation, safe in the knowledge that each death is pretty much your own fault.
From the cartoon sketchiness of the art to the breezy gallicisms that litter the text, there's a wonderful sense that, for all its elegance, the core of Poof vs. the Cursed Kitty came together in a mad rush. And although it's a pretty simple affair at heart, it will drink in your free time with surprising ease. Just one more go, I reckon. One more go followed by eleven zeroes.
8 / 10