SuperFami Box['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Falcom's Popful Mail]

Funny story. Once I associated the company name Working Designs completely with Japanese Style RPGs. The first time I heard about Popful Mail it was introduced to me as that “new game from Working Designs,” and my brain instantly came up with an RPG about a mail delivery service. Warning: This game involves no delivering or receiving of any mail. I was so wrong it hurts. Popful Mail is the main character’s name. It is obviously just some kind of mammary joke, and this time it wasn’t Vic Ireland making it.

popful-tg16.pngReady for Delivery

While there were many version of Popful on many systems the only version of the game to get released in the US was for the Sega CD. The game was originally developed by Falcom, who is most well known for their Ys series of games. The first version of the game was released for the PC-8801, a Japanese home computer. That version's style of the game was ported over to the PCE Duo. They were released in '91 and '94 respectively. These versions of the game play most like Wanderer’s From Ys and the Xanadu series of games (which weren’t released in the US, but Faxanadu, which was loosely related to it, was).

The next version of the game was for the Sega CD and released in 1994 as well. This version was programmed by Sega instead of Falcom and the game takes a major turn in the gameplay department. This is also the version that Working Designs brought over to the US. No longer playing like “bumper-car Zelda 2” the game is much more like a traditional platformer. The story is mostly the same as the original games, and the structure and levels are very similar, but because of the new play method you have much more control over your actions and thus the entire game feels quite different.

popful-segacd.pngLater in 1994, Falcom tried their hand at a similar task to what Sega accomplished by turning Popful Mail into a more traditional platformer for the Super Famicom. This version, unfortunately, is the weakest of the lot. The controls aren’t quite right, the response of the enemies is a little off, and overall the game has been reorganized. While the story remains mostly the same it doesn’t have the impact of the Duo and SCD versions. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself though, so let’s digress back to some basic explanations.

Nut's a Crackin'

The game is a light-hearted tale of a bounty hunter getting into many misadventures. The story follows a pretty clichéd and silly plot that sees the hero team up with a couple of outcast characters while chasing enemies like Nuts Cracker and Muttonhead. All versions of the game have full motion cutscenes, but as you could guess the CD format of the Duo and SCD opens those up to voice acting. Also, considering that the cutscenes were all done using in engine sprites and sounds, it is a very impressive technical feat when seen it in motion. While the SCD cutscenes can’t produce as many colors it still does an excellent job in the delivery.

popful-snes.pngAll the games are good in their own right, but I prefer the Sega CD version. The US version is even a slightly different version than the MegaCD version in Japan. While Vic and company are up to their normal tricks of loose localization within the story, the Working Designs team also decided that the game was too easy in its original form. Now only three hits will kill you and the amount of invincibility you have after receiving a blow is quite short. While they may have made it a little more difficult than necessary it is a nice compromise from the fairly easy difficulty of the Japanese version.

Popful Mail was a very successful series in Japan. The game went on to spawn a large amount of followers with quite a few doujinshi being released for the series. Popful also received a five part series of radio dramas titled “Paradise.” These went as far as to write in an alternate realm where there is an evil/dark version of all the characters in the original game, and many other silly clichéd fantasy story elements. If you haven’t played any of the Popful Mail games I recommend that you track them down. I promise that you won’t be delivering mail or navigating menus.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter (which just had a new issue released!), an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]