PUSS! Video Game Review
It’s not uncommon for gamers to stumble upon games that emphasize aesthetics as much or even more than gameplay itself. As much a visual experience as a challenging and bewildering one, PUSS! falls into this art game genre. Developed by teamCOIL, PUSS! is a game slated to release sometime later this year. The game offers players a unique puzzle experience that can initially seem overbearing but ultimately proves to be very enjoyable.
A self-proclaimed “avoid-‘em up puzzle game,” PUSS! challenges players to guide an 8-bit cat’s head from point A to point B as quickly as possible. If the user begins to go too far off course, the game will begin to glitch respective to how far out of bounds they are. If one ventures too far off course or comes in contact with one of the obstacles flying at them, the game will (visually) crash. The player will lose a life and restart at the beginning of the level. On the surface, the game sounds simple and relatively unimaginative. However, the game sets itself apart through innovative gameplay and visual presentation.
Point-A-to-point-B games are nothing new. I can recall growing up with multiple well-known online flash games of this variety (World’s Hardest Game anyone?). However, these games have almost exclusively been played via arrow key or WASD controls. The first way PUSS! sets itself apart is that the player does not control their character via these traditional controls. Instead, players must click then drag their mouse to guide their character. Click then move to the left and your cat’s head will go to the left and vice versa. If the player does not click and hold before moving their mouse, the head does not move. These unorthodox controls alone add an element of difficulty to the game as guiding via mouse or trackpad is much more difficult than the more straightforward arrow keys or WASD.
The second way that PUSS! sets itself apart from similar games is the emphasis teamCOIL has put on the visual experience for the player. It is very easy to tell how close your character is to losing a life and respawning at the beginning of the level. The screen will start to “glitch out” at an increasing level of “glitchiness” until you ultimately fail and must restart the level. Conveying player performance via a change in the presentation of the environment is a cool experience. It is almost desirable to die a few times throughout your run to experience how the level changes as you begin to veer off course.
Beyond incorporating glitch art, elements of vaporwave and early internet visuals are woven into the game’s various levels. Computer generated cat heads are scattered throughout the game. The “point-B” target is usually stylized as a Windows 98 desktop icon. A pixelated hourglass will even begin flipping over your character’s head if you sit dormant for more than a few seconds. While this emphasis on 1990s internet aesthetic was visually appealing to me, I could see it growing old for many who play this game.
The game is also structured similarly to a platformer in its level presentation. You begin on level 1-1 and progress up to 1-10 where you become the subject of a kitten sacrifice and must kill a multi-headed dog boss in order to move on to the second world. The boss battles utilize the mouse drag feature but also incorporate actual combat which is a nice change of pace from the regular puzzle theme.
What I Liked
PUSS! was very enjoyable for me to play, especially during the first few runs. It is challenging and even when you fail it is fun to see how your environment has been corrupted as a result. The game emphasizes an aesthetic that has grown in popularity since the early 2010s and they use this to their advantage. Each level temporarily mesmerized me with their carefully thought out presentation. Never before have I thought that these internet-centric visuals could be so appealing. The decision to use a unique control system was refreshing but sometimes frustrating as it allows much more room for player error. At the end of the day, I feel that the decision to use these controls was a good choice. Tt is what sets itself apart from so many other games in the same category.
What Can Be Improved
Although I listed the high difficulty of PUSS! as an aspect that I enjoyed, it could sometimes get to the point where the frustration derived outweighed the benefits that the challenge provides. Some levels feel as though no matter how long you tried, there is no way that you could have progressed to the next one. For the most part, the levels offered the perfect amount of difficulty: I may have died once or twice, but they didn’t present an immediate roadblock to the continuation of your current run. It is the few levels that feel like a roadblock that felt like they diminished the experience at first. Especially when stumbled upon in consecutive runs. After about a dozen runs I began to find ways to cope with the particularly difficult levels and they became less of an issue, some beginners may not persevere that far though.
There is also an apparent lack of save progression, meaning if you lose all of your lives, you begin at level one. Some players may prefer a single-run set up as opposed to progression, but it could be something to experiment with. These aspects show there is room for improvement, but not an immediate need for improvement.
Although there are areas where I feel PUSS! can improve, the experience I had with this game was very enjoyable. The game feels more like a trip through the matrix than just a mediocre indie game experience. While many players will find the game challenging, this challenge will prove to be a net-positive so long as players don’t allow their frustration to get the better of them. I am excited to see what changes teamCOIL make before the games release and what other games they have in store for us down the road.
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