Between the months of March and October, owners of the Nintendo Switch were patiently awaiting the arrival of a certain plumber to satiate the 3d platforming void the system had. Video games most iconic character, Mario hadn’t had a straight up sequel in the style of Mario 64 since the now polarising Super Mario Sunshine. With most Mario games becoming classics, it was expected that Odyssey would be no different. All that said, you would want to avoid releasing anywhere near the plumbers expected arrival, especially if you are an indie 3d platformer. And thus we come to the unfortunate tale of Poi.
Poi is a wonderfully charming little platformer. It evokes the likes of Super Mario 64, which is quite the compliment. Everything, from the story, art style, music and characters are oozing with a joyous charm that will leave you smiling. The platforming isn’t all too complicated, which works in its favour in a way. With it being so simple, it means it relies on well thought out puzzles and platforming, rather than forcing you to interact with multiple systems to justify their addition to the game.
In Poi, you travel the world on a flying ship, wandering from place to place searching for medallions. These medallions used to be an old man’s who collected them over years of being a traveller himself. Being the good samaritans you are, and also hungry for adventure, you agree to help him and board his airship, no questions asked. From there you steer your ship to your desired destination, then try to find one of the medallions within the level. Finding a medallion is done in the exact same way as finding a star was back in Mario 64. You are given a clue as to where the medallion is, then you enter the world trying to find it. Very simple, but also a lot of fun.
It is clear that a lot of thought and care went into Poi. That is why its release on the Nintendo Switch is all the more tragic. Release dates are extremely important to a games sales. If you are a kart racer and release the same date as Mario Kart, you are going to be brutalised and forgotten. An assassination game on the same day as Assassins Creed will meet the same fate. A racing game against Forza, a shooter against Call of Duty, a JRPG against Final Fantasy, all these are death sentences. It doesn’t matter how great your game is, the name of all these big brands will destroy you.
And that brings us to when Poi released. Poi dropped on the Nintendo Switch on the 23rd of October. That is only a few days before Super Mario Odyssey. Because of that, Poi’s release came and went to little fanfare. The game was largely ignored by everyone. This excellent little bundle of joy was lost in a sea of Mario hype. Poi did see a little resurgence, with some people believing the physical cart to be rare and hard to find. This isn’t exactly true, as there are plenty still available for purchase, usually found quite cheap on clearance. That is where I found my copy, and I didn’t regret the purchase one bit.
I reached out to PolyKid, the developers of Poi, with a few questions concerning the release date. They confirmed that Poi’s release date was set before Mario’s had been announced. Taking a guess that Mario would launch in the fall, they had to try and come up with a release date that would be out of the way, choosing to go with October 23rd. Considering late October saw the releases of Assassins Creed Origins and Wolfenstein 2, it makes sense to assume Mario wouldn’t release at that time. Who would expect Mario to drop late October?
When asked whether moving the release date was an option, I was told that once a release date is set for a product it is extremely difficult to move it. They had signed a deal with a publisher (Alliance Digital Media), had all their marketing lined up for youtube videos, reviewers, streamers etc ready to go for the October 23rd date. They were also caught in a long queue for the manufacturing of Switch cartridges. The cartridges come out of Japan only and every major publisher was trying to print cartridges for the holiday season. As you can see, it would take a lot to change a release date once the wheels are already set in motion, something that just isn’t viable for smaller developers.
I also asked if they felt that the release being so close to Mario negatively impacted the sales of Poi, or if they found that it met the expected sales they were hoping for. Their response said it all. “We definitely suffered launching so close to a Mario (or any Nintendo title, really) game. But at the lower price point, we were hoping to be another alternative for consumers.” That price is currently $29.99 USD, or £29.99 GBP.
So that is the story behind Poi’s unfortunate release date. Hopefully this article has shed some light on why certain games release so close to huge behemoths like Mario. A lot goes into the release of a game, and changing the date isn’t as easy as just deciding to move it on a whim. Also, when a big game is coming up, don’t forget to search the crevices of the video game release schedule. Sometimes there is a gem like Poi hiding there, just begging to be played and enjoyed.
Thank you to Paul from PolyKid for responding to my questions for this article.