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Over the five years that Nexon has operated in the North American market, a select number of games have become mainstays in the growing ranks of free-to-play experiences (including MMOs, for example) as this publishing method continues to gain a foothold in the region.
With the latest such effort, PopTag!, Nexon brings a social action game to the free-to-play market space with its Bomberman-inspired take on virtual water ballon fights. The only question is: does it live up to the standards of its forebears across various other genres? Let us get straight to the point as we begin to count the ways...
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It wouldn't be a twist on a classic formula if PopTag! didn't match up with the gameplay of the source of its inspiration. Thankfully, PopTag! delivers on its interpretation of the play style of the original concept, and throws in a few twists of its own.
Though you still get put out of commission upon getting drenched by a popped balloon, you spend a few seconds confined within a bubble that gives you a chance to avoid total elimination from play if freed by a teammate, or if you use a needle under specific conditions.
Water boost and multi-ballon power-ups serve as the deulge to Bomberman's fire by adding to the content and number of ballons you can drop, and special rideable critters and contraptions add an extra dimension to the gameplay by slowing you down, speeding you up, or allowing you to hover past otherwise impassible objects so long as you don't get yourself drenched while using them.
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While nothing fancy, the graphics definitely fit the social/casual nature of the game. The downside to this is that PopTag! has more of a cutesy look to it that makes it look more like a game for the kiddies than for the whole family, or even older players.
That's not to say that other groups of players will not find anything to like about this game; it just means that it's aimed more in the direction of the casual market rather than toward the core of the gaming population. It will not serve as a total replacement for anything like Call of Duty by any means (or even any of the free-to-play MMOFPS titles out there), but it serves as a nice diversion if you wish to involve the rest of the family in an online game without having to worry about on-screen violence.
Nonetheless, the graphical presentation drops a couple of marks for this approach.
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Factory-style levels pack the requisite conveyor belts that keep you moving when you are not doing so yourself.
Theme park-inspired levels have contraptions that surprise you with ballons that pop out of machines like water rising from spray machines underneath a spray-and-flip amusement ride.
Special power-ups like X-ray glasses that allow you to see what's hidden in the various blocks and boxes provide extra dimensions to the gameplay, and a well-stocked item shop provides truckloads of extras for purchase through microtransactions or with in-game currency, depending on the item you are looking for.
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There are various other reasons to keep playing round after round of PopTag! on your personal terms. New multiplayer modes can be added on a regular basis, such as the recent Revival mode where you respawn even when knocked out of play even as you attempt to do the same to as many other players on the opposing team as you can.
Special events come and go based on the time of year, much like with other Nexon-supported games. A so-called "monster mode" and the requisite vs. COM option provide target practice for when you're not playing competitive games against other players (and in the former case, you can even recruit other players to help).
Whatever way you wish to play, there's probably one that fits your preferences out there or in the works for eventual release.
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PopTag! delivers on the bulk of its fronts. While the graphics are a bit too cutesy for the core gaming populace, the game still provides a satisfying experience across the board as far as content, features and general provisions that it should not be overlooked.
It may not have the core appeal of something like Gears of War or Splinter Cell or any other core gaming powerhouse franchise, but it still delivers a fun diversion that can be enjoyed with the rest of the family. And for an experience that essentially costs nothing on the dollar, what's not to love about that?