Poi is a 3D platformer heavily inspired by Super Mario 64. It’s so blatant that it becomes difficult to separate the two games. Fans of SM64 will inherently like parts of Poi because of this, but it comes at the expense of originality. Poi feels more like a fan game based on SM64 than its own game. Level designs and themes feel like they are borrowed from or at least based on existing Mario levels. While Poi does have some original mechanics, it still plays like a shameless ripoff.
Gameplay in Poi is incredibly similar to SM64. Not just because it’s a 3D platformer, but due to many techniques being lifted directly from SM64. You can do a leap jump, you can dive on your stomach to slide, you can do a triple jump to get a bigger boost, etc. Even in the game’s level mechanics, it borrows from SM64. You play only a handful of levels, but you play them each multiple times with different objectives in order to get all the medallions (Mario stars). There is even a medallion for collecting 100 coins in a level. Still, even with this borderline plagiarism, it’s fun. Yes, the game wears its influences on its sleeve, but all games will be influenced by their predecessors to some degree. It isn’t a one to one copy, so you can still find some new stuff, it’s just buried in a pile of familiar elements. This might turn away huge fans of SM64 who won’t enjoy playing a lesser version of it, but for people who like, but don’t love SM64, Poi offers a more relaxed, modern take on it.
There aren’t many levels in Poi, but they are typically dense levels with secrets and hidden areas. Not having played SM64 in a while, I would say that level design in Poi is usually more cramped and compact, where as SM64 favored larger, more expansive levels. Every level has a distinct theme, but none are particularly unique or inventive. The quality of each level is always decent, but never great. It lacks the highs and lows of a game like SM64, most likely because of the small amount of levels in Poi.
Boss fights in Poi are standard for the genre, but the game would probably be better if they were removed. They break the flow of the game and aren’t very engaging. They seem to be there only for narrative purposes, to help punctuate story points. Unfortunately, Poi has similarly lackluster writing, so these boss fights never feel meaningful. The basic plot revolves around you exploring the world with an aging explorer who has a backstory reminiscent of the movie “Up”. It’s bland and simply gives the game an excuse to bring you to a wide variety of locations. For a 3D platformer trying to emulate SM64, this actually isn’t that bad, but if a player is looking for an interesting story, this isn’t the game for them.
Compared to SM64, Poi’s visuals hold up fairly well. Obviously SM64 looks dated, but stylistically, they both utilize cartoony, colorful aesthetics. Poi gives off a Mario inspired vibe, but it’s different enough that most players will let it slide.
When it comes to sound, SM64 easily beats Poi, although being an indie platformer, it’s understandable. Poi has some decent tracks, but they only work as background music. There isn’t much music either, so some songs can get repetitive after hearing them 50 times. Poi is probably a good candidate for muting the music and playing your own soundtrack, although some might disagree. Sound effects in Poi borrow heavily from SM64, to the point where some almost sound like impressions. When combined with some animations and poses pulled from Mario, it can be a little jarring when you see them together and instantly picture Mario. Outside of these rare moments, the sound effects are passable but nothing special.
In summation, Poi is a flawed clone of a better game. While I think SM64 is better, especially in the context of its era, I also acknowledge that in today’s world, it doesn’t hold up that well. If you are a SM64 fan who truly thinks it’s a flawless game, Poi won’t be for you. Poi is really best enjoyed by people who want a modernized version of SM64. This won’t play like a remaster of SM64, but it does improve on some of the worst elements of SM64. Disappointingly, it’s also a noticeable downgrade in some areas, so your experience will vary.