There's a good number of old, largely-unknown Korean PC games out there that are probably worth a second look. Electronic Popple stands out among them for the simple reason that it is inexplicably available in English. Rumor has it that Capcom was responsible for the game's publication, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any evidence that the game ever existed on store shelves. The developer, ByteShock, apparently never released anything else other than an unofficial DOS port of Kiki Kaikai. (Another game, Atrocity, was never finished.) However it came to be, it's a good thing the game is accessible to those unfamiliar with the Korean language, as there aren't too many scrolling PC beat-em-up games out there, especially games as enjoyable as this one.
The genre of the beat-em-up is hardly known for its intricate narratives, which is probably just as well, because even though Electronic Popple has English text, it isn't particularly well-written. What's there fleshes out the game world and its small cast of characters just enough to give it some pleasant depth.
One of two CPUs that can be used as a playable character, Min is fast and has a lengthy attack combination.
The other playable character, Max is slower than Min, but his individual attacks do more damage.
Evidently not named by a Transformers fan, Megatron is an evil lightsaber-weilding CPU who shows up on one or two occasions to taunt you, and can be fought if you seek him out.
Over Clock King
The wonderfully-named final boss sensibly stays hidden until the end of the game. He's trying to take over the peaceful world inhabited by Min and Max by spreading "popples": small orbs that take possession of individuals.
Min and Max are also aided by a couple of other NPCs dotted throughout the game, including a band of resistance fighters and some giant computer speakers. The mid-bosses take the form of a hard drive (whose name, given as "Die HDD", is either a clever pun on IDE HDD or a brazen error by the translators) and a flying cooling fan.
As is clear from the screenshots, Electronic Popple takes place in a delightful-looking realm inhabited by electrical parts and computer components – resistors, capacitors, floppy disks, and so on – all of which are cleverly anthropomorphized by free-floating eyes, hands, and feet. It's an aesthetic best compared to Ubisoft's Rayman, released two years previously. What really helps the game come alive is how exceptionally well-animated each of the characters is; they all have unique attacks and even odd little idle animations. A resistor might pause to twang the wire sprouting from its head; a bolt might start polishing itself. Late in the game you can come across mice that aggressively slide towards you and will occasionally whip their torsos around while their eyes and feet remain stationary. It's a rather astonishing display of creativity and attention to detail.
Although the gameplay really only involves a single jump button and a single attack button, usable in a couple of different combinations, Electronic Popple still presents a couple of unique twists on the beat-em-up formula. The game is basically a linear journey through five or so stages, each with its clever variations: a sunny circuit board, a graveyard named "Mt. Junk" filled with zombified components, a shiny multimedia zone, and so on. There's no time limit of any kind, and you're free to wander back to any stage you've already been to, as you are in fact required to do on some occasions. Your other reason for backtracking is to build up experience: defeated enemies will often drop popples, and collecting enough popples will level-up your character, significantly boosting its strength and stamina. Thus, if the next stage is proving to be too much of a challenge, you can linger a little on the previous stage until you've levelled up. The sixth, maximum experience level requires you to assemble a special key from components scattered around the game, one of which is held by Megatron at the end of a sort-of hidden snowy mountain level.
Enemies also tend to frequently drop power-ups, and in another twist, most of them don't activate right away, but are instead stored in a handy inventory that pops up in the corner of the screen with the press of a button. Grenade-style bombs can be thrown one by one, but they're difficult to aim. You can also build a stockpile of land mines, but they're tricky to use correctly and can just as easily end up damaging you. Much handier are the glove power-ups: blue gloves let you punch more quickly, red gloves increase the strength of each attack, and black gloves let you fire giant black boxing gloves across the screen. You can activate more than one powerup simultaneously; activating all three at once thus lets you send out a barrage of powerful projectiles that comes in quite handy.
Wandering around is made somewhat problematic by the fact that enemies really don't drop health pickups very often; even though popples will restore some health, it's not nearly enough relative to the damage some enemies can do. There's exactly one place near the start of the second stage where a 50% health pickup can be reliably collected repeatedly, but otherwise pretty much all the other health pickups placed in the stages are one-shot deals.
Just as deadly as the enemies are the game's platforming elements. A lot of beat-em-ups have tricky jumping portions for which a control scheme based around fighting is poorly-suited, and Electronic Popple is no exception. Most falls aren't fatal, provided you release the friendly cooling fan at the very start of the game so it can fly to your rescue, but falling off the edge of a platform still takes off a sizable chunk of your health. However, there's a save point in each stage that can be used as many times as desired, so you're free to practice tricky spots repeatedly and reload when you're ready.
Electronic Popple uses redbook audio for its soundtrack, but sadly the music is largely forgettable. Being redbook audio, it is fortunately trivial to substitute music from another audio CD; oddly enough, the redbook audio soundtrack from a CD version of Rayman syncs up with the game's stages quite nicely.
If you've already played every other beat-em-up out there, or even if you haven't, Electronic Popple is a good diversion for a few hours. If nothing else, the wacky setting is a refreshing change of pace from the usual musclebound thugs that populate such games.