You know, I’ll be the first to admit it: I haven’t played a whole lot of 2D side scrolling platformers in the past 10 years. The most recent one I played was Rayman Legends, which was fast, smooth and challenging. Basically everything I remember about a well put together 2D platformer. I only played that because I was a man desperate to justify the purchase of his PS4. Anyway, I do remember what a good 2D game should feel like, and it should most definitely not feel like Putty Squad.
Supposedly, this game existed on the Amiga at one point, and it wowed audiences across Europe. There’s a little controversy about whether this is a real franchise returning, or if this is like Matt Hazzard, a made up franchise built to play on the nostalgia of older gamers like myself. I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care. If it was released outside of Europe I never saw it.
The graphics are dutifully colorful, but have the stench of 1990’s computer animation, so if it is a remake they decided to stick to what they knew. The characters are… varied. Yes varied, that’s a word for it. The character you play (Putty?) is a little blue orb of sentient goo. It’s his job (and his alone, no idea where this talk of a squad is coming from) to rescue a bunch of sentient red goo orbs through 50 or so levels. To do this, you must battle your way through bad level design and unforgiving enemies. Enemies like carrots who speak German catch phrases while wearing sunglasses and jumping everywhere. Enemies like wizards that you can seemingly never kill who fire homing bullets at you which never miss. Enemies like short little armored knights who fire rockets at you. Cats who walk around with Shotguns and talk like Chicago Gangsters. An army of little dudes who are constantly marching around throwing grenades at you or hiding in sandbag bunkers firing mortars at you, all the while yelling “Fire in the hole!” At some point, a developer has to sit there, look at their creation and ask if the maybe things are a bit too absurd, you know? Airstrikes from bees. It goes on and on. What kind of drugs were involved in the creation of this game?
Now, when I say bad level design, I mean bad level design. Let’s start with the over world map. Picture the stem of a rose. As you move from the bottom of the stem, you come up to a thorn. That thorn is an off shoot, which has one or maybe two secret levels which you unlock by completing objectives in the basic map. Not that bad overall, but every so often the flower spins in some direction and makes navigating to the different levels a real pain. Nothing screams awkward like having to push left on the stick in order to move right on the map. Alright, the overworld map sucks, so what? Well then there are the actual levels themselves. They are littered with enemies. Okay, so bring it on right, lil Putty has loads of options to defeat those who stand in its way. It can consume (some) of them. It can fire little balloons if you’ve collected enough stars on the level. It can fire rockets at them if you’ve consumed one of the enemies. It can call in a little flying machine of sorts that can bomb those who are standing in your path… if you happen to have consumed the ammunition before it got there. Putty can even do the Mario stomp on some unsuspecting foes and then send their empty shells, I mean helmets, into other enemies to kill them too. This is all fine and dandy, I love to have options when it comes to a game. Keeps things interesting. However, when each of those attacks are coming from a round orb that gives you zero sense of what direction you are facing, it can get a little tedious.
The movement in game is great, responsive and precise. You can move about the levels with either the left analogue stick or the D-pad. I felt more at home using the D-pad, but your results may vary. Yet, even here, when I give the game praise I must then damn it. You have three different attack buttons. You punch left with L1, or right with R1, instead of just assigning a single button to punch in the direction you happen to be facing. That makes figuring out what direction you’re pointing difficult if you aren’t moving. There will be times when you decide that moving isn’t the wisest course of action, but shooting something is. Lastly you have the special weapon button, which fires off whatever you happen to have chosen with the right analogue stick. This actually isn’t too bad when it comes to moving through the levels, but some of the maps get so visually intense with enemies and bullets coming at you that it can be hard to distinguish what is what, and there is no room for mistakenly firing the wrong item. The game is almost like a platformer version of a bullet hell game.
I don’t know if I’m doing a good enough job of describing why I’m being so scathing of this game. A game’s primary job is to be fun. Plain and simple. You may say that a game’s primary job is to be challenging, but I will argue that if a game isn’t even a little bit fun, then it’s never going to survive long enough to be challenging. Rayman is challenging. It starts off easy and ramps up the difficulty, so that by the time you realize you’re in a fight the game has you, and it’s okay because you’re confident about what you can do and how you’re going to defeat the level. Putty Squad, on the other hand, is constantly changing the rules on you and is never fun. From the very beginning, the game is awkward. It proceeds from there to move on to being needlessly difficult. Some walls impede your progress while others let you pass through like you are a ghost, and there is no way I could see to distinguish between some of them until you’ve played the level and experienced it. The little space ship that you can call in that I mentioned earlier can fly through some walls but not others, and I managed to have my progress stopped on more than one occasion because I got out of the ship below the programmed floor for Putty, making it an instant death.
Putty Squad relies on the standard rules of 1990’s games by only allowing you to have two lives per attempt at a board. After that, you are knocked back out to the over world. When you complete a level, you carry forward whatever weapons you have, but if you happened to die once during that level, you won’t be rewarded with a new life. Instead, you will have to attempt the next level with only the single life. Lose it and you lose all of your weapons and are tediously sent back to the main screen. The game does provide you with a saving option, so that you can start a level over again with your weapons, but this is the worst game save system I’ve ever encountered. Worse than Dead Rising. Alright, maybe worse than Dead Rising is pushing things a little, but good lord. You must manually save after your score gets tallied at the end of a level. You then have to create a save file by pressing Circle instead of X, because X is no longer the accept button like it is everywhere else in the game, but is actually now the cancel button. It took me a few tries to realize that. This isn’t some port of a Japanese game where the developers decided not to change the accept button from Circle to X. This is just bad programming.
Short Attention Span Summary:
I could go on about Putty Squad, but I’ll end it like this. Some things are better left in the past.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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