Tuesday, 27 May 2014

REVIEW - Putty Squad (PS Vita)

Like putty in my hands

Retro gamers and owners of Commodore's wonderful Amiga computer will be familiar with System 3's Putty games. The first, simply entitled Putty, was released in 1992 to favourable reviews, and gained a loyal fan-base thanks to the zany humour and stretchy protagonist. The sequel, Putty Squad, developed two years later, never made it to the system, instead finding a home on Nintendo's SNES console. This was due to the Amiga being a bit long in the tooth by this stage, and the publishers not wanting to risk releasing the, already completed, game to market. All was not lost, however, as System 3 finally released the Amiga 1200 version of Putty Squad - available as a free downloadable disk image - in 2013, as a warm up to the brand new reboot that is now doing the rounds on the PS4, 3DS, and now PS Vita. So, does the remake do the original justice? And is it still relevant in 2014, when fantastic 2D platformers such as Spelunky, Fez, Super Meat Boy and Rayman Legends exist?

Putty's new adventure is a remake that sticks very closely to the original SNES / Amiga game, with identical levels and gameplay, only this time with a lick of modern graphical paint. It looks lovely, with vibrant colours that come alive thanks to the Vita's OLED screen, and a bonkers cartoon appearance that gives it the feel of a Nickelodeon cartoon. I still prefer the Amiga 1200's pixellated sprites to this new look as I'm old school through and through, but it's a close call. The audio in Putty Squad is also of a very high standard with well produced, remixed versions of the original score (I love the title screen music, complete with Putty and pals playing the instruments) and some fantastic use of classic music at epic moments. Some truly silly, amusing sound effects and speech samples accompanying the action and give the game its very British sense of humour which keeps everything light-hearted and fun. Putty Squad certainly doesn't take itself at all seriously, and is all the more charming for it.

Taking control of the pliable protagonist you must navigate the 2D stages in order to locate and rescue the red putties while avoiding enemies and collecting stars. Putty can stretch to reach nearby platforms, inflate himself in order to float and use his fist to pummel any of the quirky foes who stand in his way. Collecting the many stars that litter the stages (or dropped by certain enemies upon their demise) fills up a bar on the left side of the screen, and once full, levels up Putty's primary attack - after the fist comes arrows, a giant electrocuting finger and even exploding Putty clones. There are plenty of power-ups to assist you too, from the essential Nitro explosives - required to blow up barricades housing captured putties - to a shield, rockets, a middle-aged DJ whose beats cause the enemies to stop and dance, and even a neat rocket ship that allows Putty to fly around the stage dropping bombs onto anything stupid enough to get in his path. The controls are infinitely better this time around, with the Vita's many buttons and touch screen all utilised to great effect - tapping the power-up icons on the right of the screen to use them is especially useful. 

The new world map shows your progress through the nine worlds available, which sees our blue blob traverse forests, deserts, snow covered rooftops, the foggy streets of London, the middle east, and a sunken pirate ship. Each has it's own character and there are enough locations to keep things from getting stale. It's fairly straightforward stuff, but thanks to the variety in enemy types - including Terminator carrots ("Achtung!), Dweezle the invincible skateboarding cat, flying shamen and the pups in their many guises - the various abilities and power-ups at Putty's disposal and the many hidden areas and bonus levels, it maintains your interest. Completing a stage awards you with a possible three stars, one for collecting all the stars, one for not losing a life, and another for beating the level score. All three are easily obtainable, though, so you shouldn't need to revisit a level in order to acquire all three. In fact, the low difficulty of Putty Squad is a big problem - a real surprise, considering how difficult (and frustrating) the original games were - so much so that I completed the games nine worlds, including all of the small secret levels, in about 4 hours or so. This is due in part to the much improved control method and Putty's ability to inflate and float around the levels (though this causes your health to slowly deplete). It makes for a more enjoyable and far less annoying game than the retro versions, but it results in the end credits coming far too soon.

To milk some extra gameplay out of Putty Squad, System 3 have seen fit to add a challenge mode which tasks you with completing every level again, only this time having to achieve seven goals (which can be achieved over multiple attempts). These goals include; beating a certain time limit, not dying, not eating any of the health-giving food items (Putty loves his junk food it would seem) and killing all the pups. It's not very inventive, but I as enjoyed the game so much I felt compelled to go through again and collect the trophies. There's also a sticker book that you fill with images of characters and items from the game. These can be found in (fairly obvious) places around the levels, or are awarding just for finishing a stage. It's utterly pointless, naturally, but some of the images evoke a smirk so are a welcome addition.

I actually enjoyed Putty Squad a great deal. It's a fun, silly game that really nails the feeling of early 90's platform games, especially those found on the originally intended Amiga platform. It will make you laugh, and it gets rid of nearly all of the frustration found in the original. Unfortunately, decent game or not, Putty Squad is marred by the fact that System 3 have taken the inexplicable decision to release the game as a boxed retail game, priced at £29.99, with the PSN download version clocking in at a whopping £19.99. This is a slightly odd marketing decision as everything about Putty Squad screams 'cheap but fun downloadable title'. When you consider that other reboots of classic games such as Superfrog HD, Alien Breed, Duck Tales Remastered and Castle of Illusion - not to mention great vita platformers like Steamworld Dig, Runner 2, Fez and Spelunky all clock in at half the price or less, you are left with a title that only the most hardcore Putty Squad fans will even consider purchasing. At around a tenner Putty Squad would have been a no-brainer purchase for Amiga fans or lovers of quirky 2D platformers and may have sold quite well, but unfortunately, this over-pricing of the product has probably doomed Putty Squad to low sales figures. However, I still suggest supporting System 3's zany, retro title as it offers a lot of fun and will keep you entertained until you have aced the single player mode and the challenges. 

The Good

  • Great cartoon visual style that updates the original look well
  • Remixed soundtrack and sound effects are top notch (and funny)
  • Quirky sense of humour and sense of fun
  • Enjoyable gameplay that keeps you playing until the end
  • Extra Challenge Mode adds replay value

The Bad

  • Overpriced (though it is cross-buy for PS4 and Vita)
  • Improvements to gameplay actually make it far too easy to complete

Title : Putty Squad
Developer : System 3
Year : 2014
System : PS Vita
Also On : PS4, 3DS, Amiga, SNES, XBLA
Price : £19.99 (Download, cross-buy) £29.99 (Retail)
Genre : Platformer