Mastering The System #44 Woody Pop: Shinjinrui no Block Kuzushi

WoodyPopMasterSystemTitleScreenDeveloper: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Year: 1987
Players: 1
Played Before: Yes
Also on: GameGear
Progress: Not very far without continuing!

During the 1980s, Breakout clones were ten a penny and appeared absolutely everywhere, some available for nothing on home computer demo tapes and disks, others on consoles for £40, but the aim of them all is generally the same; move a paddle or bat to juggle a ball to break a wall full of blocks and move on to the next screen where similar action awaits. So, Woody Pop. Yes. No giggling at the back. It’s a Breakout clone. Big, sturdy, extendable bat. Balls flying all over the place. That sort of thing. Oh, stop it!

WoodyPopMasterSystemScreen3The first clone of Breakout I ever played was a horizontal version game called Demolition which came on the ZX Spectrum+ User Guide Companion Cassette and was free with the machine. An interesting thing about Demolition was that it didn’t directly punish you for missing the ball. Instead, you would lose one of a wall of eleven windows situated on the left of the screen. The ball would then bounce back into play even if there was no window to break and the only way to lose was for the ball to destroy all of your windows. My later Spectrum favourite was the far superior Krakout, which also came in horizontal format and offered power-ups and enemies with different personalities (I was never really a fan of the more popular Batty, due to the way the busy backgrounds obscured the ball). PC DOS fans of Breakout clones may have played the shareware Bananoid, which I remember as being very colourful and fairly fun, and the most famous Breakout clone of all is probably Arkanoid, which introduced a space battle backstory and Taito-themed levels to enhance the wall breaking gameplay. Woody Pop holds a fondly remembered place in my gaming past. Along with other commercial Sega 8-bit titles, it was part of a 16-in-1 Game Gear cartridge I owned, so I had a fair bit of time with the game on a slightly blurry small screen around 1993.

Despite the chucklesome title (if you can measure your mental age in single digits, something with which I fully comply), this is not one of those erm… ‘porny’… titles which occasionally worms its greasy way out of Eastern Asia, rewarding the player’s success at a usually cloned gameplay type with pictures of nudey ladies. Instead this is fairly standard ‘destroy all those horrible blocks up there’ bat and ball with the slight twist of being able to choose your route through a grid of 64 stages. Obviously, there’s a choice between going directly onwards when possible to reach the end quickly, and making lateral moves to take in as many stages as possible and achieve a higher score. The final stage involves working the ball around a gumball machine to free a coin from some blocks. Once that falls into the machine’s slot, you’re done.

WoodyPopMasterSystemScreen2I’ve no idea what these blocks have done to upset everyone so much, perhaps their very existence angers some anti-block sector of society and they’re perfectly innocent like the ones in Mr Driller, but our mate Woody’s the one whizzing from side to side knocking a ball about to get rid of them. The box text on the Game Gear version reveals a rather questionable excuse for the action, but we’ll go with it: “The Mad Machine has shut down the Enchanted Mansion toy factory. Massive barricades have been set up, blocking off all contact with the outside world. The only thing the crazed machine didn’t count on was resistance from a courageous wooden toy – Woody Pop! Join Woody as he clashes with mechanized forces and nearly impossible barriers”. Righto. Some of the block layouts, sorry, ‘nearly impossible barriers’ on the stages are fairly easy to deal with, giving you plenty of room for manoeuvre and time to anticipate the oncoming ball. Others contain blocks with very low starting positions or even invincible blocks with slender routes through to the upper reaches of the screen. Some stages even try to catch you out by putting a rail track across the lower play area. A train periodically makes itself unwelcome and can deflect the ball, making things less predictable. You can send the ball through the rail portal at either side of the stage to make it emerge from the opposite wall and there are also portals on some trainless stages that need to be used to reach blocks that have been placed in locations a little harder to reach. Non-standard block types include small 1/2 size invincible bolts, wooden ones that take a few hits to destroy with a normal ball, and the occasional question mark block. This spits out a maximum of three wandering robots or guardsmen that get in the way and deflect your ball, but do reward you with points. Another sneaky bonus to watch out for is the train tunnels. Some of them allow you to warp through levels should you hit a diamond ball into them.

The better Breakout clones contain weapons and there are ten here to aid Woody when they’re caught, released by hitting the ice blue blocks that are present on almost every stage. There’s nothing wildly out of the ordinary, but these tend to be what you want to get the job done.

Yellow battery – Makes Woody longer (hurhur) so you have less distance to cover on the screen.
Red battery – Enlarges the size of the ball, making it easier to hit. Also destroys wooden blocks in a single hit.
Diamond – Strengthens the ball so that it travels through blocks instead of bouncing off on contact, destroying them as it goes. Also applies to wooden blocks.
Flame – Sets the ball alight, enabling destruction of two adjacent blocks at a time, including wooden blocks.
Glue tube – Makes your paddle sticky (heh) so you can catch the ball and line yourself up before launching it again.
Twin ball – Standard multi-ball. Splits your ball into two independent balls for double the fun.
Air puff – The analogue to the laser found in Arkanoid, pressing a button makes Woody blow puffs of air that destroy blocks.
Weight – Slows the ball down the next time it touches the paddle. Very useful as the ball can quickly speed up to an almost unmanageable level.
Skull – Removes the small parts of wall from the bottom corners of the screen. This makes the drop hole larger, giving you more ground to cover to avoid missing the ball.
Hammer – Rebuilds the corners of the screen that the skull destroys.

WoodyPopMasterSystemScreen1Woody Pop is quite difficult as the ball moves with a fair pace most of the time, but it’s possible to finesse the ball and slow it down, as well as speed it up if you want to. I don’t have access to a paddle controller so have had to play it on an emulator where controls are a little twitchy. I would recommend the Game Gear version which uses digital controls and a speed up button if you’re incapable of tracking down the seemingly rare Master System paddle controller. It’s the same game, just a little more manageable and portable too. There are also no continues without using a cheat code, so the challenge provided is fairly great, even on Beginner difficulty. There isn’t much choice on the Master System if Breakout games are your thing, so it’s a slice of good fortune that this one is very playable and recommended.

Exciting SEGA rating: SEGA4Rating

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