Previews// Putty Squad

Posted 16 May 2013 16:00 by
Putty Squad is one of the best games never released for the Commodore Amiga. This rather unique and critically-acclaimed platformer was released on the Super Nintendo in 1994, but System 3 only managed to get as far as a demo for the home computer. It reviewed very well, but it was made at a time when the Amigaís market viability imploded.

Now, some 19 years on, System 3 is remastering the classic - and this time itís releasing it on almost every viable system. The PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, PC and Vita are all getting to see what it was about the game that got 1990s game critics raving - albeit with a questionable slap of new paint.

The rather silly premise remains. You play as an amorphous blue blob called Putty, who has to team up with arch nemesis Dweezil the Cat (it was the 1990s, these sorts of names were acceptable back then) to rescue a bunch of fellow red blobs. Putty may look harmless, but he has an array of unique moves at his disposal - the versatile gob of goo can stretch across gaps, squash flat to absorb items, punch bad guys away and even blow up like a balloon and float around.

Gameplay wise, this remake retains a lot of the fun and innovation of the original. Stages arenít arranged in a simple left-to-right fashion, you see. Instead, you must explore the level map in order to hunt out the captive red putties. Environmental hazards (such as poisonous toads and bottomless pits) are just as deadly as the wandering cat enemies that pepper the game world. There are a few inspirations taken from Mario here too, such as the ability to use a stunned baddie as a projectile and secret pathways into hidden areas.

While accessible, Putty Squad can also be devilishly hard. This is true of both the classic SNES version and the 2013 update. Having said that, many elements of play have been tweaked over the original - it seems that System 3 has decided not just to re-release the game, but rather use the opportunity to take a step back and identify areas that could be improved. The result is a hefty balancing tweak that will make life a little less rage-inducing for todayís gamers.

Other new features that will certainly impress include touch screen controls, which worked fairly well on the PS Vita version that I playtested, and the promise of free downloadable content. Now, the way System 3 is going about DLC with Putty Squad is admirably different to other studios. Content packs can be purchased with money as normal, or if the player is good enough to complete certain challenges in a stage, it is offered to them for free. It encourages replayability in a rather unique way, which is nice to see.

While it plays and handles faithfully to the original, thereís one niggle I have with the Putty Squad remaster. And thatís in the visuals. The environments seem to have lost the charm that its 16-bit predecessor had. While the sprites used in the SNES version made for some pretty nice presentation in 1994 (and still looks quite nice today), the renders used for the scenery in this edition look equal parts simple and uncharismatic.

Additionally, the gameís HUD seems way too busy. Colourful icons help identify key elements (such as lives and collected stars) at a quick glance, but thereís something to be said for the clean elegance of the SNES HUD bar. And, while it was sometimes difficult to determine what a platform was in the SNES version, in modern Putty Squad itís can be hard to figure out what is foreground and what is background. Itís not too bad for the most part, but when there are a lot of characters and action on the screen it can be quite a mess.

But, Iím assured that thereís still time for further tweaking. When I played the Vita version, it was clear that there were some balancing issues to be ironed out, with certain elements of game design yet to be nailed down. So thereís every chance that the graphics will look a little better by the time the game releases this Summer.

Because under the face of it, thereís a pretty enjoyable gaming experience that feels faithful enough to the original. And after all this time, it will be nice to give modern gamers a taste of what Amiga owners in the 1990s so narrowly missed out on.
Companies:
Games: Putty Squad

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