The 15th anniversary of THE iDOLM@STER series is certainly a very exciting time to be, and the first iDOLM@STER game featuring all five main branches of THE iDOLM@STER is finally released, in a surprise release.
The first five-branch iDOLM@STER game
To be honest, I did not expect POPLINKS to be released this soon. It's only one month since the Open Beta Test was commenced, which I wrote about previously, and it had just been three days since the release of an iDOLM@STER-related application (the P Greeting Kit, which I also wrote about).
POPLINKS is developed by NHN PlayArt, and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. NHN PlayArt also developed #COMPASS and Disney Tsum Tsum, among other games.
Since I have just written about the OBT recently, this article will focus on the differences between the beta and the final release, and whether my impression is changed by them, so I highly recommend you to read the Open Beta Test review first, then come back here.
A difference can be immediately spotted right at the title screen. Now that POPLINKS TUNE!!!!! is revealed, this is now the base for the game's title music, instead of Nandodemo Waraou that the OBT used.
Like in the OBT, the tutorial will bring you to choose your secretary, learn the basics of the game, and form your first unit. For the final release, I went a bit unusual route and picked Yuriko (Million Live), Rei (SideM), and Chiyuki (Shiny Colors) for my first unit.
The home screen has slight tweaks to it, although interface has stayed mostly the same. The bottom menu however has been made circular instead of a grid.
The unit screen has a slight tweak to it: it now has a handy home button for going straight to the home screen of the game.
There are numerous additions to the coaching tree, as you now can meet other idols along the way.
Other functionalities are still largely the same, so the unit system and jacket designing are retained.
The Idols and Skills menus are now consolidated into the Album menu, where you can access the Dress-up Parts, Music, and Jacket Parts as well.
Dress-Up Parts are additonal decorative accessories that can be worn alongside their costumes.
Again, the default music for POPLINKS is now the recently revealed POPLINKS TUNE!!!!!, with Nandodemo Waraou, the OBT default, being now unlocked at P-Rank 3.
Jacket Parts lists all the assets usable when designing a jacket for your units.
The gameplay itself doesn't change much from the previous iterations, but I noticed that it's easier for me to pull of Unit Appeal two times in the final release. Whether it's because it's really made easier, or because I'm playing it better, I don't know.
Other systems are still largely the same, like the rank up system, the leaderboard Ranking, Training, and Work..
The main difference between the OBT and the final release here is the fact that social features are now activated. POPLINKS is a game that involves more social aspects into it.
For example, in Training, you can ask people to help with the training, and share it to other media.
Turns out, POPLINKS uses the sharing facilities of the OS, so you can share it to literally everywhere you can post text to.
You can also share your profile to other media using similar mechanism, however there is a currently broken Twitter integration here.
Using QR codes is also possible too, however, the code only applies to people nearby.
You can send and receive stamina from your friends, which is another social aspect in POPLINKS. A stamina request lasts 8 hours, during which your friends can send you 1 stamina each.
Still promising engaging
As the first iDOLM@STER game with the involvement of every branch of the franchise, this is very promising. Witnessing never-before-seen interactions with the idols is very enjoyable. The fact that the gacha here is mostly for the costumes and skills is even better news, as now I can create units to my heart's content, just picking who I like the most, and I can then customize this to make this unit truly feel like I'm producing them, with features such as jacket design. By the way, if there's an image editor, it's a meme editor, as people's creativity has shown all the unique things this jacket design feature has to offer.
Despite POPLINKS being a puzzle game, usually seen as a casual genre, there is a surprising amount of things that can make it competitive. When you only have 60-second in a play, every second matters. There are skills that can be honed from this. While I can play this when commuting, there is so much potential for competition here.
Overall, POPLINKS is an exciting game where you can see all five branches of THE iDOLM@STER together in the first game ever to do so, where you can play either casually or competitively, and fully immerse yourself in your favorite idols. It is quite something.