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Monday, February 15, 2021

Review: PUSS! (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Harvard L.

A cat jumps into a CRT television to save a vaporwave world from an invasion of satanic abominations. In this surreal game by teamcoil, style rules supreme over substance, with flashing lights, bizarre enemies and atmospheric noises all trying their best to distract the player from the fact that they’re just playing The Impossible Game. For all its weirdness, this game’s mechanics are as pedestrian as they come. It’s a spectacle to watch, and the sprite work is incredible, but it should be noted before purchase that this is more of a visual treat than something that will be remembered as a great game.

For what its worth, PUSS! seems aware of its design lineage. The simple gameplay is reminiscent of 00’s era Newgrounds fare, where burgeoning Flash developers would offset basic arrow-key movement and top-down-maze-gameplay with eye-catching or shocking imagery to leave a lasting impression on the player. You can’t jump, you can’t shoot – you simply navigate through a gauntlet of walls which kill you on contact, and try to make it to the exit of a level. PUSS! even makes a direct level reference to Scary Maze, an infamous game which ended in a narrow segment that jumpscared the player when they let their guard down. When I saw those telltale zigzag corridors, I held my Switch a few more centimetres away from my face on instinct.

PUSS! isn’t overtly scary; but the surreal atmosphere does leave players unsettled. The vaporwave inspired cyan-and-magenta colour palette gels well with the VCR-glitchiness to form a cohesive visual identity. It’s sometimes hard to see which spaces are safe and which are dangerous, but overall it was the inventive graphical style which kept me playing long after the gameplay seemed to have exhausted its bag of tricks.


I’m dismayed that PUSS! has only one difficulty mode, and progression is handled via arcade-style checkpoints rather than an individualised level select screen. Players can choose a world to tackle, and they’ll face nine maze levels randomised from a pool before facing the boss they’ve decided to challenge. You get nine lives (because you’re a cat) and can earn more by performing well in levels, but once they hit zero you’re back to the beginning. I found that levels varied in difficulty, so that on some runs I’d arrive at the boss without enough lives to defeat it. It’s frustrating to slog through long yet easy maze levels just for another crack at the boss, but there’s no real way around this.

PUSS’s bosses are by far the highlight of the game. Their sprites are lovingly designed, with various animations and transformations to leave a memorable, nightmarish impression. Bosses are of the bullet-hell variety, where players will need to survive long enough to get a chance to counterattack. They even come with surreal intro cutscenes, which aren’t particularly important in the scope of the game’s narrative, but do set the tone for an epic, stressful fight. I remember on many occasions I saw my cat’s lives run low and I’d find myself on the edge of my seat, trying my best to dodge an onslaught of flashing lights.

Whereas for its 2018 PC release, PUSS! played with the mouse to deliver an experience akin to a digitalised version of Operation!, the Switch port is best played with the joysticks, similarly to a bullet hell shmup. The left stick handles small movement and pressing the right accelerates the player drastically. Alternatively, the game can be played with the Switch’s touch screen, but this method felt much more unwieldy and I often found myself careening into walls. No matter which control style you choose, the game is hard. Victories feel earned, and it’s a credit to the developers that they’ve managed to craft such consistently fair challenge out of these simple game mechanics.


teamcoil’s PUSS! is memorable for its visual style and bizarre aesthetics, but the gameplay sadly doesn’t match the creativity of its graphics. For any player excited by the surreal dialogue and fearsome bosses, there will be another player who won’t be engaged in navigating simple mazes. I anticipate the difficulty will also be prohibitive for some players, and it does feel like the challenge and repetition are the only things stopping the game from being overly short (and there’s only so much that can be done to spice up this style of gameplay, too.) I love that the Switch’s eShop is a home for strange games like this one, and I appreciate the nod to Newgrounds culture, but this one left me wanting a lot more.



- Harvard L.
Contributor

Review: PUSS! (Nintendo Switch)
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