WildPops is the second instalment in the PopWins range of slots from developer Avatar UX, a Hong Kong-based studio that works alongside Swedish developer Yggdrasil Gaming crafting slots in an Asian persuasion for European gamblers. We're used to seeing slots head in the other direction, so getting something with a genuine Eastern flavour is a refreshing twist. WildPops keeps the tradition going thanks to plenty of Asian inspired symbols in a game decked in expanding reels, multipliers, and a new wild feature.
It's possible fans of PopRocks will be split into two different camps over the sequel. On the one hand, several aspects have remained very close to the original, aside from a few obvious visual changes. That means those keen on more of the same will enjoy the familiar expanding reels set against another blurred background. It's more cheerful than the first, with a daylight green feel to it and more personable symbols on the reels.
Playable from 20 p/c to £/€50 per spin, the pay symbols are once again split into three categories – low, high, and super high. Lows are 9-A royals, in a screen print style, while highs are a collection of seven different Asian icons. The slightly misleading super high category contains one symbol, a ghostly blue dragon which is worth a more modest 30x the stake. A far cry from what was available in PopRocks, but a more achievable one regardless. Keep in mind the super high symbol doesn't land organically, it only appears from popped symbols.
WildPops is a so called win-both-ways slot. To score a win, players need to land three or more matching symbols left to right, or right to left from the first or last reel. When that happens, the winning symbols pop, and two new symbols are added to the respective reel. Avatar UX calls this the PopWins mechanic, and like other cascade/reaction features, it keeps popping along creating consecutive payouts until no new winning symbols appear. Reels do not expand indefinitely, however. Win ways vary from 486 in the default 5-reel, 3-row mode (including both ways), up to 33,614 win ways when all columns are maxed out at 7 rows.
So far, WildPops is a lot like the original. Behind the scenes, though, the figures tell quite a different story. Whilst the volatility remains high, it has been turned down from 237 to 146 on Yggdrasil's slightly confusing volatility meter. The effect on the gameplay was palpable during testing. WildPops felt a lot more forgiving, not to mention more generous with the features. Not saying it's an easy win at all, but it felt more forgiving than PopRocks did.
In saying that, the potential has seriously been dialled back (as you will see) as has RTP (slightly) to 96.2%. These math model adjustments result in two quite distinctive choices even if on the surface the two games are closely related.
When it comes to the features, WildPops has a fair amount to cover. What's nice about them is they work in complete tandem, building up to a pleasing synchronicity. It all starts with the PopWins mechanic expanding reels as mentioned above, awarding multipliers while adding in a new random wild feature which we will get to.
Firstly, when wins occur, a multiplier meter next to the reels rises by the number of symbols used in the combination. The multiplier starts at x1, increasing on every 7th symbol by +1. The multiplier resets back to x1 when no new winners appear, and the grid resets back to its default size.
Should every reel reach 7 columns high, then players are awarded 3 extra lives - basically 3 free spins for all intents and purposes. Lives mean that when no new winning combinations land the grid remains at 5x7 size, but all symbols drop off the grid to be replaced by a brand new batch. Also, the multiplier does not reset between lives.
The new addition to WildPops is the Random Wild feature. Wild symbols do not appear organically, but when players win three times in a row, 2 wilds are added in random positions. This feature pops up every three wins, so it can appear again on the sixth or ninth wins and so on.
In many ways, if you liked the first PopWins slot, you'll like the second - and vice versa. Much has remained the same, including the core mechanics, but enough alterations mean the two are quite different gaming experiences.
For one, it feels like Avatar UX has blunted the edges off the math model (to an extent) making it a gentler, more enjoyable slot than the first. PopRocks has the far larger potential, much more lucrative symbols, but is also a whole lot more volatile with loads of dead spins or low payouts.
WildPops, on the other hand, offers similar gameplay, but with features that trigger more often, and that last longer thanks to lives, for example. The trade-off, if you can say that, is potential, which at 17,707 times the stake is technically around a quarter of what PopRocks can produce but more than enough for most players.
The new Random Wild feature is a good addition which can be a real lifesaver. It might not sound like much, but it is amazing how those wilds can prevent what would have been a dead spin to keep the ball rolling. They are especially appreciated when you've got some nice expanded reels action going on that is kept alive thanks to the injection of those two useful wilds.
All up, unless players are determined to spin for the biggest wins possible, then WildPops is probably the better slot. The gameplay is more balanced, the visuals slightly improved, and more fun was had all around.
WildPops is a solid enough game, better than PopRocks, although it does little to distance itself from its older brother.