Commuting is hell. There’s no concept of personal space, so you’re often forced to ditch the light paperback stashed away in your satchel. And as much as you want to message your friends, glancing eyes and a lack of privacy leave you to swipe around mindlessly or doomscroll social media. The only sane option left is to play a game. Several years ago, my rush-hour reprieve was Downwell, a vertical action-platformer. Your goal was to continue the journey down a well while fighting demonic creatures with perfectly timed jumps and gunshots. My phone would be covered in smudges before 9 a.m. The game was so well received it later found an extra life on traditional gaming systems.
I was reminded of Downwell when I fired up Poinpy — one of Netflix’s original offerings in its battle against Fortnite and anything else that may be taking your attention away from the streaming giant — a few weeks ago. That makes sense: It was made by Ojiro Fumoto, the same guy who gave us Downwell.
Poinpy is another vertical-only action-platformer, available to all Netflix subscribers. Your task is to jump off the walls on either side of the screen while collecting certain fruits midair in order to make juice for the hungry beast snapping at your feet. It’s fast, innovative, and has a casual vibe that hides the addictive, hard-core gameplay behind the whole thing.
For example, each playthrough — especially in your first several (or several dozen) attempts — will almost certainly last a few minutes, at most. As you progress, the juice mixes you’re tasked to create become bigger and more complex, such as the need to collect a lemon or a bunch of grapes to go along with some blueberries. And although you can slowly increase the number of jumps you make before hitting the ground and losing all your carefully collected fruit, the more you play the game, every single jump must count; otherwise, you’ll be angering the beast lurking at the bottom. Also, completing each stage reveals the next one, with new enemies and obstructions ready to make your life even more difficult.
While these caveats make the game’s objective such a challenge, you can swap in different power-ups to make things a little easier, similar to Downwell. This ranges from big wall bounces to increased jumping power to fruit spawning in doubles for a quicker juice mix. The abilities are unlocked by collecting golden seeds, provided at the end of each successful turn.
These thoughtful mechanics have been hidden well in the cutesy aesthetic that makes it easy to present as a casual, wide-appealing game. The Totoro-like creature you have to keep feeding doesn’t have the arresting grimace of Studio Ghibli’s lovable mammal. In fact, once you inevitably fail during a run, the unfed beast will take a deep breath and spit out a fireball as a form of saying “game over.” (Maybe it’s a capitalist analogy for workers always having to feed the beast that is Wall Street and the stock market.) But the music is so whimsical and charming, matched by satisfying crackling and popping sounds, that you immediately feel the need to jump in (pun intended) for one more turn.
The design is so approachable — and commute friendly — that the entire thing can be played with one hand. And thanks to the lines that show the projections of each jump you’re about to make, your lizard brain thinks the whole game is quite easy to figure out. But Fumoto is a masterful designer, making the punishment appear friendly and inviting. Despite the many (many!) hours I’ve put into it, I’m still failing at an early level.
Poinpy is a true bite-size joy and an effortless download if you’re already paying for Netflix. The delightful presentation makes it seem far simpler than it is, a callback to an era of repetitive, deceptively addicting mobile games. Back then, the original iPhone generously came with a cleaning cloth in the box. Apple currently sells a $19 “polishing cloth” for its fancy displays, which may be worth investing in. Poinpy will have your screen covered with smudges before you clock in each morning.