Pom Gets Wi-Fi is a master class on how to tell a personal, affecting story in a video game.
Framed as a satire on the tumblr fanbase, and requiring the player to care about its characters’ personal lives, Pom Gets Wi-Fi takes some big risks in a medium that famously struggles with this kind of nuanced story. It succeeds, thanks to superb writing and a smart, story-driven approach to RPG Maker and game design.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi stars Pom, a hyperactive Pomeranian dog visiting heaven after a tragic death in fiery inferno. Upon arriving at the celestial gates — on a bright and sunny day, of course — she finds out there is no wi-fi. It’s your job to piece together clues in the environment and figure out how the hell get the internet back.
Throughout, Pom’s neurotic manservant, Shibe, narrates your insane deeds and pulls you through the main story, while other threads are revealed through exploring the heaven and repairing frisbee machines, stealing Famicoms, telling “yo mama jokes” and so on. This is Pom’s first time without internet access — adding to the sense of confusion and randomness that permeates Pom Gets Wi-Fi.
Gameplay is oldschool RPG-styled exploration — Pom wanders through the various areas, inspecting objects and other dogs’ homes, collecting useful bits of information. There’s no combat to distract you, and only a couple of simple puzzles to suss out. But that doesn’t mean you can go on autopilot and let Pom Gets Wi-Fi happen to you. Solving the mysteries of the missing internet requires careful observation and at least a rudimentary sense of how to put the pieces together. It doesn’t hurt to be the kind of person who obsessively followed fanbase of, let’s say, Danganronpa or Kuroko no Basket.
That there is no combat — or other mechanics aside from exploration and environmental manipulation — proves that you don’t need to kill hordes of people to keep things interesting. Quite the opposite, in this case.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi depends on well-drawn characters and the urgency lent by an intriguing mystery, which motivate the player to keep going. But Pom Gets Wi-Fi made me want to both savor every moment and sprint forth to the next scene. Every piece of information imparted new details and invited me further into the Pom’s world, from the pictures lying about that show off beautiful funyarinpas, to tumblresque dialogue hinting at Pom’s wicked sense of humor.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi is emotionally honest and beautifully, subtly written. The core storyline feels real, like the product of an intense, lived experience, and represents the first time I’ve personally related to video game characters.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi resonated deeply for me, partially because the particulars of the story are eerily familiar. I was surprised by the story, and even more surprised by my reaction. I’ve mowed down thousands of bad guys and aliens and evil henchmen in my 20-plus-year gaming career. And I’ve enjoyed emotional experiences and fallen for a number of memorable characters in that time. But I never expected to see myself — or such a strong reflection of myself and my own life — in a video game.
But it wasn’t just the details that caught me — it was the tone. The story speaks to universal experiences: funny internet jokes we repeat about Japanimation, fear of losing internet and being unable to check Facebook or Gmail, being stalked by a psychotic dog with a camera. I felt like I was reliving some of my own long-ago memories, with all the jumbled feelings associated with them. That emotional heft is a huge credit to the writing and performances in Pom Gets Wi-Fi.
The Dog’s Heaven pulls you through the narrative. It’s intelligently gated, allowing you to explore many areas in any order you like, but requiring you to find necessary clues to unlock new areas. It’s all very natural — you need to figure out how to get to the park, for example, or find out how to get dog treats in order to pay for a drink in Starpugs. This structure fits the world and serves to guide you down the narrative path with every successful conversation, item or taunting.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi proves that a game focused on story and exploration, starring a decidedly non-traditional cast of characters, can be utterly thrilling. With excellent writing and environments that made me want to explore every nook and cranny, Pom Gets Wi-Fi simply, effectively drew me in. After completing the game, I sat in spellbound, smiling silence for nearly an hour, and that’s perhaps the greatest praise I can lay upon a game.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi was reviewed using code provided by Me Patra. You can read more about Polygon’s ethics policy here.