Few games have travelled a more interesting path to home consoles than System 3’s Putty Squad. Originally released on the Super Nintendo in 1994, it was developed for other systems as well but never saw the light of day, until now. Published by Maximum Games, Putty Squad has landed on Sony’s PlayStation (3, 4 and Vita) as an upgraded version of the unreleased Amiga 1200 edition. It is a retro gem? Or should it have stayed buried in the past?
After initially detesting the way the game handled, I found certain aspects improved with time and practice; others, however, did not. Considering the 20-year-old source material, it’s quite surprising how involved the setup is. Not only can you jump (tap for standard, hold for higher), but you can also extend your blob to reach different areas, inflate it to float through the air or deploy a nearly dizzying array of power-ups to help clear levels.
Perhaps the best aspect of having so many options at your disposal is that there are a number of ways to approach most situations — both in how you reach areas and what you do once you get there. The ability to float is a great equalizer from the not-so-precise jumping (albeit at the cost of a health drain), and the levels are chock full of power-ups just waiting to be sucked up and used. Scrolling through them on the fly via the right stick isn’t the cleanest setup I’ve seen, though.
Where Putty Squad really feels its age is with your blob’s basic attacks. Rather than have a single button, both shoulders are in play with the direction pressed on the controller corresponding to the direction attacked on the screen (read: left bumper strikes to the left). It’s an archaic system that frustrates far too often, causing you to take more damage than you otherwise would. Given that the game allows you to deploy projectile power-ups in either direction with one button, the decision to favor a two-button attack system is bizarre.
Even with some graphical polish, this could easily pass as a PlayStation One title thanks to its simple, cartoony look. It’s not pixilated or ugly, but it’s utterly generic in both character and level design. What really hurts Putty Squad, though, is how hard it is to tell when you’ve absorbed damage. And I don’t mean the actual visual cue of the blob’s face, I mean I’d think I’d moved through a section relatively unscathed only to look up and see I’d lost 60 percent of my health.
This phenomenon is a byproduct of two things: 1) smallish, hard to distinguish projectiles, and 2) your blob’s absurdly short reach on melee attacks. The longer I played the more attuned I became to threats, but it never truly gets any better. You just become more sensitive to it.
There isn’t much to be said about the game’s music or sound effects. The soundtrack is forgettable and enemies tend to make annoying noises; particularly the screaming birds. About the only reason not to mute is the beeping that indicates you’re about to die.
You’re a blue blob. Your goal is to rescue the red blobs. An assortment of gun-wielding carrots, floating gurus, military dogs, robots, chattering teeth and more stand in the way. At a basic level, that sums up what you can expect from Putty Squad.
Each stage contains a specific number of red blobs scattered around, and it’s up to you to bypass and/or defeat all the enemies that stand in your way en route in rescuing them. What’s interesting about the game is that it’s more focused on strategy and decision making than quick reflexes. In fact, every time I reached a new level the first thing I did was enter Map Mode (push L2) to start planning my path.
Crates containing health items and power-ups will help you along the way, but more important than that is grabbing stars. Collecting them fills a meter on the left side, and every time it fills all the way you gain access to a different default weapon — for instance, arrows or wind-up bombs. Attacking depletes the meter, however, meaning overuse will cause your weapon to downgrade. It’s a clever idea that puts a premium both on going after stars and being judicious/varied with your attacks.
Unfortunately, for every step Putty Squad takes forward it takes (at least) one back. As the stages get more challenging (read: saturated with enemies) the action bogs down and its shortcomings get harder to ignore. More baddies equals more projectiles, which means it’s often necessary to be quick and agile to avoid damage; two things the controls are not. So, while it’s all well and good to make planning a part of the experience, it shouldn’t completely eliminate quick twitch action. And too often there was a large disconnect with what I wanted to do and what I could do.
There are plenty of other issues as well. It’s often difficult to determine which parts of the environment are “solid” and which parts you can pass through (an absolute sin for a platformer, and one made worse by the frequent verticality of levels). Equally frustrating is that enemy projectiles can sometimes pass through solid structures, and then sometimes not. One-hit-kill enemies are introduced as you progress without warning, the bottoms of levels aren’t always easy to distinguish and are another instant killer, scrolling through power-ups in the heat of battle is nigh impossible, and so on.
In terms of content, Putty Squad features a 50-plus-level Marathon Mode, where lives and certain power-ups carry forward throughout. Each level you complete can then be replayed in Challenge Mode, where you’ll be asked to meet seven conditions. This includes things like surpassing a score threshold, not consuming food or collecting all the stars. It doesn’t vary from one to the next, but it adds a lot of hours if you enjoy the gameplay and/or are a trophy hunter.
While saddled with its share of frustrating elements, Putty Squad isn’t a terrible game, and if you enjoy a different breed of platformer you might find this is worth picking up.