It's normal for games to get delayed every now and then. With a huge amount of work going into the average title, getting everything sorted in time for launch is a huge task, with graphics, sound, programming, and dozens of other bits and pieces all needing to be finalised for deadline day, and undoubtedly, sometimes something will lag behind. But even taking all this into account, Putty Squad is still something of an oddity. After all, there's delaying a game for a few days, and then there's delaying it for a whopping twenty years.
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Such is the fate that befell Putty Squad, a game that was originally in development for the industry leading Amiga in 1994, right around the time people started abandoning the system in search of pastures new. It couldn't have happened at a worse time for London-based developer System 3, as the marketing machine had already been put into place - magazines had reviews printed, demos had been put onto cover discs, and everything was ready to roll - but then the developers discovered there was no place for Putty in stores. As retailers stopped accepting Amiga games to sell, poor old Putty Squad was shelved, despite the rave reviews, becoming the best Amiga game never released. Until now.
Reworked from the original Amiga code, Putty Squad has been brought back from the dead (can it be dead if it was never born?) for today's latest hardware, leading the charge on the Playstation 4, with versions for the PC, PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360 also in development. An incredibly retro themed platformer, Putty Squad is a game the likes of which are incredibly rarely seen today - a game about a little, squishy ball of putty, that has a fairly simple task. All he has to do is make his way through the level, and collect the friendly red balls of putty (by absorbing them, no less), before hot footing it to the exit. Along the way, you'll be lambasted by flying dogs, attacked by skateboarding, wise-talking cats, and shot at by a German carrot with a machine gun that screams "Achtung" before firing off a few shots. And it's as old school as it is barmy.
However, while it may have its roots in the past, Putty Squad is far from a bog-standard platformer. In fact, rather than simply asking you to get from A to B, the levels here are effectively free form, with no set route from one end to the other. With the putties you need to rescue being scattered across the levels, figuring out how to get to each of them is half of the challenge, whether you're using your Putty-ness to squeeze through walls, up ladders, or lower yourself down onto a platform.
With solid resistance from the game's baddies, it's a good job your putty has plenty of tricks up his sleeves, too, even if he doesn't technically have real arms. Or clothes, for that matter. Pressing L1 or R1 lets you attack your enemies, with your attack being upgraded the more stars you collect throughout the levels. Whether you're zapping your enemies with an electric finger, or firing off a little, explosive version of yourself at enemies, figuring out how to pick each of the enemies off without ending up surrounded is key to your success, as you only have a limited number of lives, and can only take a few hits.
Much like the other, more famous blob, Kirby, your blob of putty can swallow and absorb certain enemies, before using their power against them. Sadly, there's only one enemy in the levels you can do this with - a red, rocket firing suit of armour, and it would have been nice to see this taken further, but if nothing else, it at least gives you some explosive ordnance to use. Which is handy, seeing as some of the putties you'll need to rescue have found themselves barricaded inside sandbag fortresses (which can only be destroyed using Nitro (another collectible), or the aforementioned rockets), while some enemy pups have also taken up their own defensive emplacements throughout the levels. Taking another page out of the Kirbsters book, your putty can even inflate himself to float across levels, which helps take a lot of the guess work out of platforming.
With plenty of levels on offer, each set in several differently themed worlds, there's certainly plenty to do, even if each level does take on a very similar pattern (at least, until the very end). All you really have to do is figure out how to get to each of the putties without being killed, and then figure out a route to the exit. Slowly but surely wins the race, and with no time limits, you're free to plan your route as much as you'd like (you can even zoom out and view the whole map using R2, which handily circles the putties in the level).
But sadly, while it's certainly a blast from the past, Putty Squad does have a few issues, many of which seemingly stem from its ancient heritage. While tutorials never used to be that great back in the day, Putty Squad does at least try, with an opening mission that's designed to double up as a tutorial that introduces you to the basics - the only problem is, it all moves a little bit too quickly. Throwing screen after screen of text at you, each of which explains a different feature, the game tells you how everything works within the space of a few minutes, leaving your head spinning. While a gradual introduction of features would have made things easier to swallow, the game instead takes the shotgun approach, as you learn everything, and simultaneously forget it all, before being left to figure things out on your own.
There's also a few weird glitches - on the level select menu, pressing circle to go back actually takes you into the level, while the menu itself is awkward to navigate, too, as the cursor doesn't always move in the direction you'd expect it to. The bonus levels are also awkward, as they're more than a little bit tricky to actually unlock. Only accessible by discovering a hidden, secret doors in certain stages, the twist here is that if you want the game to recognise you've unlocked the bonus level, you have to complete it without losing a life. Seeing as the health you have left carries over into the bonus stage, you could find yourself taking on a screen full of enemies with a single heart of health left. If you lose a life, even if you have several more left, you're thrown back to the main level, and the game acts as though you've never found the secret room. It's also worth mentioning that at the moment, the Platinum trophy is unachievable, as it's apparently linked to the post-launch downloadable levels, which the developers have promised to support the game with over the next 12 months. Every fortnight, a brand new level should be hitting the Playstation Store, with the first due any time now - so keep an eye out for your freebies!
In fact, it's these downloadable levels that provide the game with most of its replay value. Set to be available as paid extras on the store, you'll actually be able to earn the levels for free, if you've completed certain pages of the in-game sticker book. To do this, all you have to do is find the stickers that have been hidden in certain levels (which is pretty easy to do), and complete the challenge mode for each of the worlds (which is a lot harder). Challenge mode asks you to play through the levels again, but with six specific goals in mind - you have to complete the level without dying, without eating any food, while beating a certain score, in under a certain amount of time, and by defeating every pup (baddie) in the level, and collecting every star. Fortunately, you don't have to do all this in one run through, as you can complete it, say, without dying while eating lots of food (to give you health back), and then have another play through to complete the goals you missed, but it's still a nice addition that gives you that extra reason to push yourself. Complete the pages of the sticker book, and the downloadable levels will be yours for free when they become available, in a nice touch for the most dedicated players.
So, some twenty years later, Putty Squad is something of an oddball, but it's one that gets our rose tinted glasses misting up. It's a blast from the past, with loads of little touches that used to be so common place in games, that you never see nowadays, and more than a hint of cheese. If you're a fan of platformers, and fancy something a bit trickier than Kirby, while still being along the same lines, this is one to pick up. At an RRP of £20, this is one of the cheapest PS4 launch titles out there, and is well worth a look.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4