“Little Jogger” by Spikeynator

4h0h20z | “Little Jogger” by Spikeynator @kknrmp | Kaizo, Precise, Teaching

I absolutely love this level. It does a great job of teaching some of the basic mechanics. I really enjoyed the challenges and the increasing difficulty, that was great. I’m not sure if I had done the ocula throw and bounce before.

There were signs and clear indicators everywhere, but still a little bit of space for that lightbulb moment as a player. Each section feels different and the use of backdrop and variety makes the levels aesthetically pleasing

I have a few recommended changes. First, I think for any level like this, there should be a checkpoint after every challenge, even the simple ones. Second, I would consider swapping out the kaizo with beginner friendly. This is a great beginner friendly kaizo level! and I know for me that I generally avoid kaizo levels because they are too hard, but thankfully the diamond indicator exists. Finally, it could be longer! I was surprised it was only 3 challenges, you could easy have 5 and it wouldn’t be too long if you had a checkpoint for each one and a forgiving difficulty curve.

This level unabashedly earns the Popdonk Recommends badge!

“Asteroid Cavern Trek” by 0twlrf

hkcz26z | “Asteroid Cavern Trek” by @0twlrf | Simple, Secrets, Explore

I really love this level, if follows a lot of good design principles. The different sections feel different and have an organic feeling layout. I also enjoyed the choice of music and tileset. The level forces the player to back track and re-use space. It hints at bonus areas and encourages the player to explore. It make good use of signs and arrows to help guide the player as what to do.

I enjoyed that there was a good amount of variety in the challenges. The was combat, platforming, sneaking, finding hidden tiles, and key transport. Plenty of options for all tastes.

I had a lot of fun playing this level, there is only two things I would consider changing. First, I probably died two dozen times trying to get past the first hurdle, because I thought I had to land exactly on the last conveyor tile, but eventually I figured it out. If this was intended, then this is a great puzzle. If it’s not intended, I would consider either restricting the player’s movement or adding a few more hints to make it clear what to do.

This did not end well for me
Doing it the wrong way leaves you juuuust short

The other thing I’d consider changing is there is a very soft soft-lock if you beat the boss battle but don’t have your package with you. I was able to get around this by resetting to the last checkpoint, but it would have been nice to go back and retrieve it. Not a big issue, but the door opening when you kill the boss might be a nice touch, assuming it didn’t encourage people backtracking.

I want to know why there is a door switch up there!

Overall a great level! And deserving of the first Popdonk Recommends of the year!

Missile Madness by Tobvet

1pt11ds | “Missile Madness” by Tobvet | Beginner-Friendly, Contraption, Boss

This is a great example of level design. There is a nice use of varied tiles, backdrop and asymmetry to make it feel like a lived space. Gems and layout are used to guide the player to the first challenge in such a way that it become quickly apparent what needs to be done. The level has multiple varied challenges, but the use of checkpoints keeps it from becoming overwhelming.

In particular I enjoyed how the missiles have the frenemy relationship with you. You need them to progress through the level, but the wrong angle and they will kill you. I found it to be an enjoyable challenge and something silly about trying to guide this huge missile through a tiny cavern. Really well done, Popdonk recommends!

Jungle Tower Trouble” by BscotchSeth

h9zc5z5 | “Jungle Tower Trouble” by BscotchSeth | Well-Paced, Secrets, Precarious

This is a good example of level design. The creator starts of with a sense of ambiance with the use of rain, house-like structures, a good variety of terrain and ropes. This level very much feels like a place. Why you would live somewhere where Kromblers keep banging on the roof, well that is not for us to ever know.

We see early on in the level a gentle escalation of difficulty. The first battery is highlighted on a pedestal, but that pedestal also protects any new players from the vacrat to the left of it.

Ahh, that’s where I left me aaa’s.

We see this escalation is well with the elevators, which use a variety of mechanisms. The first one using a level is smart because it forces the user to focus on it, it make new players feel smart and it slows down the initial pacing.

Going up!

The second floor is more challenging but still doable. I appreciated the implicit pause point shown below, as well as the use of checkpoints overall.

On the third floor, I feel a bit mixed about the puzzle with the blopfush. It works overall, but I could see someone jumping straight into the fray and then realizing too late they need to do a package jump right after. I very much appreciated the portal at the bottom of the level that brings you back to this floor. I fell down the once and was quite grateful I didn’t have to do things over or force a respawn. This was a very thoughtful touch.

The last floor was quite challenging, but it was short enough that you could brute force it and rely on lucky timing. I appreciated that aspect. Finally, I enjoyed the fact that there were some hidden areas and bonus jems.

Overall a great level and a Popdonk Reccomends!

Welcome 2 Ping Bump, Friend! by Egomouse

kss6p3c | “Welcome 2 Ping Bump, Friend!” by Egomouse | Casual, Blasters, Contraption

This level is pure chaos. You have a certain degree of control but you also have a ton of bumpers and blasters, in a level littered with jems. But what do you expect when you are trying to take the crown from KING PING BUMP.

Drawing by egomouse

This definitely feels a lot more like old style pinball games where you have some control, but you totally could get hosed as well. And just like a pinball game you have a limited set of lives. It’s really cool how the creator implemented this. And when you get too close to losing a life at the bottom, you hear explosions that add tension to the game.

It definitely fits the theme well and makes great use of sound effects and music boxes.

I only have two minor recommendations, if you can even call them that. First, it might have been nice to have a couple of player controlled blasters, to give the player a moment to catch their breathe, and a slightly expanded sense of control and agency. But honestly, that’s mostly personal preference.

Secondly, it can be a little bit difficult to see what’s going initially because the level is so littered in jems. I wonder if hiding the jems until the player leaves the starting room might have made it easier to get one’s bearings. Again, more a matter of personal preference.

This level gets the Popdonk Recommends badge for sheer effort.

Through The Giant Mound by Sephy

60m94tv | “Through The Giant Mound” by Sephy | Beginner-Friendly, Powerups, Well-Paced

This level is just plain amazing. It takes a specific theme and blends it throughout the whole level. Each section was somewhat challenging but approachable. I really liked that most of them were simple but required some minor rethinking of one’s approach.

I must have died at least a dozen times on the spikes section, but thanks to checkpoints and having made it through most of the level, I kept at it.

This level earns the Popdonk Recommends badge for fitting a theme so well.

Triple Trap Trouble by Sjosz

7n01t80 | “Triple Trap Trouble” by Sjosz | Traps, Quick, Choice

Sjosz has a brilliantly designed level here. He takes the raceway idea and says “But what if it was trying to kill you?”. I love that the user gets a chance to learn the terrain, and that every lap gets increasingly more dangerous. Good use of hidden areas, checkpoints and armor to make the level appealing to a wide variety of levels.

The jem gates were a nice touch. Great use of paths and backdrop for decoration. Overall a simple but challenging and fun level. This one earns the Popdonk Recommends badge!

Hopeful Infinity by Rain

x8ggc36 | “Hopeful Infinity” by Rain | Package Jump, Casual, Simple

Casual infinity is a well designed level for casual players. It uses backdrop and a variety of tile types to look visually appealing. It makes good use of checkpoints to be forgiving and Jems to encourage a bit of exploration. Having the package plus the regret gates is smart because it shows the player the objective, shows them a way that won’t work, and thus gets their brain working on a valid solution.

The puzzles are appropriate for a casual player, but still require some thought. I really enjoyed the reuse of space and going back through an area that was blocked off by spikes.

My singular piece of advice would, once you have unlocked the tiles, to have hidden areas with larger jems so that some players can get a high score without having to speedrun the level. That will add some replayability and cater to a third audience beyond casual players and speedrunners. Overall, this level earns the Popdonk Recommends badge for great design.

Bomba Do Suco De Maracujoia by Enzonaki

0810l4d | “Bomba Do Suco De Maracujoia” by Enzonaki | Bombs, Simple

This level makes good use of backdrop, checkpoints, jems, signs, and arrows. This very much feels like a daily build because of it’s simplicity, but it doesn’t appear to be one. I really enjoyed the burny whirlers at the beginning signalling “Wrong way!!!” I also appreciated the hidden area with jems. Given the number of challenges and the difficulty, it felt like it was just the right length.

I’m not sure if I have any recommended changes. I found it frustrating and difficult at times, but I’m not sure if there is a good way to change that or make the learning curve smoother. It may simply be a challenging but fun level. Overall, a good design.

Wumble, The Hideous Champion by GooGroker

2pjqs7m | “Wumble, The Hideous Champion” by GooGroker | Chase, Panic Moments, Intense

This level is utterly amazing and you should go play it now. Googroker has made a chase level with some sort of hideous monster built out of hazards are on paths. The monster, the sound effects, everything, it is great. It truly creates the feeling of being chased. This level wholeheartedly earns the Popdonk Recommends badge.