Poacher is a 2D Metroidvania-style action-platformer. It is an independant freeware project by Yahtzee who you probably already know by now.
Under the green and peaceful pastures of Yorkshire lies a sprawling land of wonder lost in time. The land is the kingdom of the spirits, incorporeal beings wielders of arcane magic. You control Derek Badger, a stocky Yorkshireman who happenned upon the land during a poaching trip. You meet the spirit Rebecca who fuses with Derek to give him enhanced abilities. Together you must venture to unravel the misteries of this strange and ancient world while fighting against the ominuous and misterious but more importantly evil Dark Ones.
The game centers around jumping puzzles and shooting your shotgun in 4 directions. You acquire several powerups along your journey but the core mechanics remain solid. As you explore different areas you will have to adapt your style of play in order to survive. Many of the individual elements are reminiscent of past classics. Super Mario swimming sections, Sonic air bubbles (Oh yes, you read that right), Castlevania secondary weapon swap and multidirectional attacks. The controls feel very fluid and intuitive at all times mind you.
The games itself is pretty challenging and rarely will you find yourself breezing through any new sections. The curve is gradual and balanced allowing for good game flow.
Their is a decent balance between gameplay and story. The exchanges between the unflappable Derek and the very grounded to the Earth Rebecca have a healthy dose of humour that stays fresh through the whole game. The exposition given is concise and scarce. As a matter of fact, exploration is often awarded with story expositions from the misterious tea lady which is a refreshing approach to storytelling in gaming to say the least.
There are shops spread out through the map where you can buy powerups of different sorts with coins that fallen enemies drop. They are not essential but they come in handy and give a degree of personalization to each player's style.
Even if this is essentially a Metroidvania game, one important characteristic is the almost total absence of RPG elements, in particular the absence of levelling. Other than better movility and a single powerup near the end that doubles your damage per shot, your firepower remains fixed throughout.
You are shown a completion percentage when saving that decides which ending you get. Yahtzee's approach to this is very much the same Fuck You approach of Symphony of the Night where you are expected to get 100% completion for the real ending and given very little clue as to what is needed for 100% completion.
The final part of the game is pretty stelar and very much meta-gaming at it's finest.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this game to any fan of 2D platformers. There are enough innovative ideas to make this game stand out as a unique experience and a good test for those eager to test their gaming abilities.
Actually, the endings have little to do with the percentages.
As a side-note, you don't have to get the shotgun upgrade last - I did that my first playthrough, but after that I went up through the forest and the mines first - makes the game much easier, since the shotgun puzzles are annoying anyway but shooting underwater is much more useful on the ocean floor than water-breathing is in the forest.
Either way, much fun to be had.
Nice review, by the way. Sums it up nicely.
Has a few bugs though. If you remap the keys to put the map key on anything but M, then pressing it causes the map to open and remain open, covering the action -- the only way to close it is to then press M, making it pointless to change that key at all.
When you finally gain access to the Dark Realm, there's a brief dialogue interlude just before you step within. During that interlude, if you haven't killed the worm clusters, they will probably shoot you and you cannot move until the dialogue has run its course. If their shots knock you to the right into the next screen, the game crashes.
Otherwise, the game has proven quite good. I don't know how EASY I would call it (the platforming segments feel like a OHKO away from I Wanna Be the Guy caliber), but it feels fair and balanced to me. I could stand to have a little more exploration, but I don't have 100%, either...
1 more 'bug':
when going down the sea to the good ending, and the old spirit dissolves the bridge, you can get off the bridge in time. You lose the ability to jump off walls so you cannot retreat past the previous screen. However, upon reentering, the bridge is intact and you cannot talk to the spirit anymore. You are stuck. Esc+y.