Every now and again, there’s an occasion when a game just is. It isn’t bad, and it isn’t noteworthy. It just kind of exists in a space where you say “Yup, that’s a game!” without cause for either memorable praise or criticism. Pop-Up Pilgrims prevails in this very space, a virtual reality game that could just as easily be played on a standard screen, yet has layers that can only be seen in a headset. It’s a game that overstays its welcome, quickly becoming redundant and dull while simultaneously offering new challenges to overcome. Every point of commendation is balanced with a critique and it doesn’t stand out as an example of the good or the bad.
I didn’t hate the five or six hours I put into getting the Platinum trophy on Pop-Up Pilgrims. The Lemmings-like gameplay provides what ought to be an intriguing loop. As the floating cloud god, my job was to guide eight villagers through each of the game’s 60+ levels, collecting golden octopus statues along the way. Collecting all eight relics and finishing a stage with eight living villagers nets me a gold rank on the level. VR comes into play as each of the platforms are layered one in front of the other, providing a kind of 2.5D semi-circle obstacle course to guide the villagers through. The flat visuals in virtual reality are reminiscent of a pop-up book, hence the name of the game. Screenshots don’t do the visuals any justice, and if there’s one notable thing about Pop-Up Pilgrims, it’s that I’d love to see more of this kind of flat, paper, pop-up style in VR.
Six varying worlds provide different challenges and visual variety, from sunny and green to cold and blue. Each world has ten levels plus a boss encounter, which gets to feel quite exhausting as there’s little real variety within each world. The challenges presented don’t build into future worlds, leaving each world with a distinct theme, but also never giving Pop-Up Pilgrims a sense of progression and growth. No matter if I was facing freezing ice blocks or moving platforms, I fell into a routine of finding a safe loop for the villagers, after which I’d send one of them out to solve the puzzles and open the way to get the rest of them safely to the finish. There was the occasional challenging or interesting level, but for the most part, it was mundanity for more than 60 stages.
Pop-Up Pilgrims could benefit from being about half as long. Five levels in was where each world started to overstay its welcome. The droning music and sound effects had me playing the game on mute before long. It’s far too simple of a game to justify the massive amount of levels that it has, particularly with the effort of using something as involved as VR to play it. If I am getting out the VR headset, it’s typically with the intention to play something compelling for a long time. Pop-Up Pilgrims has all the panache of a mobile arcade title, best consumed in bite-sized chunks a couple of levels at a time. It’s not a bad game in its own right, but the simple pick-up-and-play nature of it clashes with the immersive and encompassing essence of VR.
Tracking the Pilgrims
VR is used as a cursor that directs a little cloud. The cloud will stretch out to the villagers and tapping R2 will make them jump towards the cloud. Getting used to the physics of this control system is a little odd at first, and a number of times I faced unfair villager deaths at the hands of the awkward systems. Sometimes the cloud would suddenly switch which villager it was linked to, and other times, tracking would hiccup, causing the cursor to not be where I intended. This skipping was the most aggravating part, as the control scheme is entirely reliant on precise tracking. Sometimes the entire screen would lock to my head position and just start moving along with me, an issue that I’ve never had in any other game.
At first I thought the tracking issues were with my headset or lighting in the room. I switched to other games to see if the problem persisted, but only Pop-Up Pilgrims presented me with any continued tracking difficulties. As a trophy hunter, it was annoying to be moments away from completing a particularly tough level, only to throw a villager off a cliff due to tracking issues. I could have been content and “completed” the game without achieving perfect scores on each level (technically, you can win the game by getting a single villager to the finish on all 60 levels), but a game shouldn’t have problems so prevalent that they dissuade users from attempting perfection. The tracking issues were the only major complications I faced. They could honestly be as much a hardware issue as a software one, so it’s hard to fault Pop-Up Pilgrims too much without a lot more testing.
When I was finished with it all and the Platinum trophy popped up, I had no desire to play the game again, but neither did I regret the experience. Pop-Up Pilgrims is an interesting virtual reality diorama that is just a bit longer than it should be. The best thing that Pop-Up Pilgrims does is present a fascinating papercraft pop-up world that more VR developers should explore. Had it offered a more consistent growth on mechanics and rapid change between the variety, it would have stuck with me more than it did. Instead it was a monotonous and repetitive 60 levels that didn’t offer anything memorable during the five or so hours that it took to complete. Pop-Up Pilgrims isn’t a bad game by any stretch, but it’s not all that interesting or engaging either.
Pop Up Pilgrims review code provided by developer. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.