Platypus (PSP) review
"Each world is divided into several stages. These typically are somewhere close to the length of a stage in any other shooter you might chare to mention, and there are typically around six of them strung one right after the next with only a status update screen to divide them. The background doesnít change significantly the whole time youíre playing through a given world."
Platypus is a shooter with a premise that could easily have made it one of the best recent entries in the genre, even if it is developed by inexperienced programmers (as I suspect it is). Itís a horizontally-scrolling game and the backgrounds and ships are all fashioned out of clay. Seriously, how cool is that?
Unfortunately, it isnít cool enough. Thatís partly because the people that developed Platypus seem to have abandoned the best parts of the premise almost as soon as it was conceived. Where are the visual effects that really make use of the clay? Sure, you can see your opponents slowly crack as shots hit them, if theyíre not one of the many ships that go down with just one hit. As you fly along behind a supply train and pelt it with bullets, the familiar, spidery spread over its surface. But then itís gone, the victim of one shot too many, and thereís nothing particularly impressive to mark its passing. It just. . . disappears.
Speaking of boss encounters, they arenít really much different from any other except that the ships you destroy are bigger and they can take more damage. Sometimes they throw special attacks at you, like when the boss of the second stage fires beams you must stay between while you counter with rocket blasts. Itís different, but by now itís just not interesting.
A good shooter amazes you with the awesome sense of atmosphere. Even generic titles have memorable moments. The clouds and water in the first stage of Darius Twin live with me years after I last played the game. The squirming corridors in Abadox haunt my nightmares and the gelatinous blobs from Gradius V still make me shudder whenever I consider their oppressive bulk.
Platypus has none of that. It just chugs along, a completely proficient but very dull shooter made worse by two factors: the special weapons suck and the stages just donít know when theyíve stopped being fun and itís time to advance to the next area.
Each world is divided into several stages. These typically are somewhere close to the length of a stage in any other shooter you might chare to mention, and there are typically around six of them strung one right after the next with only a status update screen to divide them. The background doesnít change significantly the whole time youíre playing through a given world. You might see hills that are a different shape, and sometimes a series of castles or a stand of trees that doesnít look exactly like the ones that came before it. Thatís the extent of the variety.
So youíre left with the shooting action, only that also isnít particularly impressive. By default, your ship fires a straight-forward shot like any vessel youíve controlled before. If you destroy all of the enemies in a formation, theyíll often leave a power-up icon in their wake. This you can shoot for a weapon upgrade. Every shot or two causes it to cycle through your available options, like the ĎPOWí blocks in 1943: The Battle of Midway.
The difference here is that the power-up icon is too easily struck by your shots as you rid the screen of a few ships that would destroy you if you simply made a quick dash to grab the goodies. So you have to carefully place each shot and hope you donít accidentally select the wrong power-up. Amazingly, some of the power-ups in this game are actually worse than your standard firepower!
One option is a spread shot. Itís actually pretty good. You keep firing straight ahead, but peripheral shots take out the ships that swoop in from above and below to ruin your day. Another is a rapid fire bullet. It lets you pelt enemies at a rate slightly faster than you could before, for its brief duration (yes, they operate on a timer; boo!). Either of those options will serve you just fine, but you might get the rockets instead. They decrease the frequency with which you can fire shots. Theyíre good for bosses, bad everywhere else. An astonishingly useless alternative--and the one most likely to appear if you accidentally shoot the power-up icon--is a wave. It has a short range, canít fire very often, and barely damages your enemies at all. Think youíll succeed with that useless upgrade? Youíd be better off asking an elephant to walk across a field of bubble wrap without making noise.
Throw the long stages and the frustrating power-up system together and it doesnít matter what the game does right; itís still going to feel rather disappointing. With shorter stages, better power-ups and a little more variety in the environments, Platypus definitely could have been special. As it sits, the game is one that is difficult to recommend even for genre junkies. Theyíve already played somewhere around 100 games theyíll like better, while those who donít have a history with shooters probably wouldnít care even if the game were exceptional. Itís a shame. Maybe someday a game will come along and truly revive the genre. Just donít expect salvation from Platypus.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 05, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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