Platforms: PC | PS3 | PS4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | Wii U | 3DS | PS Vita (previewed)
Developers: System 3
System 3's "best game never released for the Amiga" is back. Putty Squad, which did manage to make it onto the SNES in 1994 where everyone promptly ignored it, is being resurrected for System 3's 30th anniversary celebration. This time, it's coing to pretty much every platform you can think of and, if all goes well, there might even be a super-limited run of classic Amiga copies on-disc for old school collector types. Maybe, they're still ironing the kinks out on that front.
Of course, what reviewed fantastically well back in 1994 might not fare so well in 2013. Then again, it looks like System 3 have that pretty well covered.
You play as the titular hero Putty, who can perform platforming tricks that Mario and Sonic can only dream of -- stretching out and elongating his body to span gaps, punch bad guys, inflating like a balloon, absorbing items into his gelatinous body to be used at a later stage such as arrows and bombs and an airship. Plopped down into a series of non-linear levels, your job is to collect as many of the little red putties in a level as you find, triggering their appearances by solving environmental puzzles, navigating hazards of all shapes and sizes, and punching dapper cats.
In many ways, Putty Squad encapsulates the unfettered creative spirit that the Nineties embraced. It's all written out on the screen from the very first level, an abundance of inventive gameplay mechanisms all thrown at the player from the word go for better or for worse. There's retro wackiness here for wackiness' sake, animations and soundbites that trigger chuckles effortlessly, and a simple joy to mucking about and playing with the tools that the game has given you.
"After we overhauled the graphics, we realised that there were certain other things to be done to help the game fit in with the modern times," says System 3 CEO, Mark Cale. "Gamers these days don't have as much time as they used to, and we wanted to make sure that whatever platform you're playing on, it's easy to get involved and get going."
The added tutorial is one such example. Unthinkable perhaps in the Amiga's heyday, now
such features are standard affair, even for games that don't really need them. It's short, sweet, and introduces gamers to the full range of Putty's capabilities, which are all delivered right from the word go.
"I never understood why games these days make you wait for the full content," says Cale. "It just restricts the fun. We give you an enormous range of tools and abilities from the very start, and then it's up to players to discover how and when best to use them."
He's not wrong, and although time extension is a new feature that System 3 have added into this reboot, the early level I get to mess about in doesn't penalise me for just going off and playing with the little world in which I find myself. Defeating enemies, absorbing pickups and food, collecting the red putties, pretty much every successful action you make to change the world around you will extend your time. Once you've found the stipulated number of red putties in an area, an exit door will appear, and you can either dash straight for it or stick around to tick off items on your challenge list.
Later on, in a level a little further down the line with more numerous hazards and enemies, it becomes readily apparent just how important mastery of Putty's moves will be. A perfectly timed punch can send an enemy rocket flying back towards its owner and clear a path, but then there'll be rotating blades, a laser or two, stubbornly aggressive frogs, spike traps, and a dwindling clock to focus upon. There's no hand-holding, though; you're given the tools for the job and empowered to make your own decisions. It's surprising (and perhaps a little depressing) just how refreshing that feels.
Putty Squad is coming to PC, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, and Wii U, but we were playing it on the Vita, and its easy to see why Cale was demonstrating the game on Sony's device. It's a perfect fit for a game like this, and the revamped visuals gleam on the OLED screen, though it can occasionally be difficult to tell the differencce between background vistas and foreground platforms. There are little touchscreen shortcuts for selecting between rockets, nitro, your little airship, bombs, and triggering the game's map mode. Cale acknowledges that there are still one or two navigational and balancing issues to be sorted out, perhaps with little HUD reminders of where everything is, but by and large the Vita seems a perfect fit for Putty Squad.
"Love for platformers never went away, but the games did," says Cale. "These days you only really have the Mario and Sonic franchises, but there's still a desire for these types of games. And it's not just an entry point into the world of gaming for younger players, there's a fundamental hardcore aspect to these games as well, there's always been. Things like speed runs, and collecting everything in a level in a set time; comparing completion stats with your friends. Even without a sort of dedicated multiplayer, there's always been a competitive element to these games; there's something here for everyone."
This is where the game's Stickers come in.There's a new Challenge mode that gives the player certain conditions under which to complete levels or fulfil objectives -- don't use food to replenish your health, don't lose a life, defeat all of the enemies in a level in a set time -- and ticking off these challenges will earn you Stickers that you can then use to buy additional all-new levels as they release in the form of DLC after the game's launch. Every week, there'll be a new level, and Cale tells me that this will run beyond six months at the very least, rewarding gamers who put the time in with more content. Of course, as a concession to those who'd rather pay, you can drop a little real cash to save time bolstering your Sticker Book.
"Microtransactions," Cale practically spits when we come to the subject. "What a load of bollocks. Either buy the game or don't." He pauses. "That probably makes me something of a dinosaur today. With this, you get the full game that you pay for. And all of the supplemental levels are naturally unlockable through the Sticker system. The little payment option is just that. It's an option for people who want the stuff immediately, nothing more."
System 3 haven't sat on their laurels, there are more gameplay features, moving platforms, interactive items within levels. There's more to do than there ever would have been in the original Amiga version, and plenty of free content to come post-release. It's clear that reviving this game has been something of a labour of love, and my half hour with Cale is peppered with nostalgic vignettes and a feeling that System 3 are looking to give their critically-acclaimed no-show the triumphant return that they feel it deserves. It'll be interesting to see how the UI and little details are tweaked between now and the game's release, and I'm hoping that the £29.99 price point (it's not set in stone) Cale threw at me might come down a little. But Putty Squad has the chance to be something really rather special and, in today's market, pretty unique too.