Tuesday, 23 July 2019

PSP Games #2

Platypus (2006)
By: Anthony Flack / MumboJumbo Genre: Shooting  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Sony PSP  First Day Score: 107,745
Also Available For: PC, Mac, XBox 360, Many mobile phones (all downloads)

It has been a while since I looked at a PSP game here (seven years, apparently - jeepers!), so to mark my return I thought I'd take a look at this eye-catching (and rather strangely-named) title by Anthony Flack, an indie game designer from New Zealand. One might assume from its name that it's a curious platformer or maybe a puzzle game or something like that, but no, it's actually a horizontal shmup set in a lovely peaceful land known as Mungola. Sadly, the loveliness of this country is being threatened by those pesky oafs from the neighbouring Colossatropolis which has become so overcrowded that its people have begun taking over Mungola, destroying the peace, using up precious resources, and probably leaving their rubbish all over the place too.

So naturally it's down to you to lay the smack down on their roody-poo candy asses. This, for some reason, is to be done by using an antiquated spacecraft - the last of the possibly-fabled F27 Platypus fleet - which is flown across thirty stages in pursuit of truth and glory. These stages are divided into six worlds, each consisting of five areas, the last of which features a boss fight. The Platypus craft is rather unremarkable in all ways - speed and manoeuvrability are average and its only armament is a basic forward-firing twin shot - so players will have their work cut out for them defeating Colossatropolis and their heinous contraptions which come in many shapes and sizes.

These of course include millions of pesky small ships which travel solo or in formations. Take out a whole formation and a coloured star will appear which bestows upon your spluttering craft new and exciting weapons. These include a spread shot (yellow), rapid-fire forward shot (blue), curvy wide-beam shot (green), missiles (red), and a lightning cannon (different green). Naturally they make the going significantly easier so it's saddened me to learn that each lasts only for a limited time. Fortunately, the required formations of popcorn enemies appear often and aren't too difficult to eliminate so increased firepower should be a regular companion through most of the game. If you're lucky you might even find some rotating pod things too, which duplicate your firepower.

There are also regular visits from larger enemies. These obviously take considerably more punishment before they go down, but when they do it's in an explosion of fruit which can be collected for bonus points, and that will be important if you're a hi-score enthusiast. This is a good game for score-chasing too - there are bonuses of course, and after each stage you're also given a percentage of both primary and secondary targets that you took out, giving you something else to strive for, although OCD gamers will be frustrated that it's impossible to get 100%. There are also two game modes: story and survival. The former features little in the way of narrative beyond a between-stage map screen but is the 'main' game mode, while the survival mode gives you just one life and simply times how long you manage to survive for.

There's not really too much here that will surprise you though. Well, gameplay-wise anyway, but as you may already know, Platypus was most famous for its use of 'claymation' graphics. Indeed, in what must've been a painstaking process, Mr. Flack has modelled everything from lumps of clay, coloured them in Photoshop, and then snapped them for use in the game. It creates an interesting look for a shmup, that's for sure, and the effect is really nice for the most post. Some of the ship designs aren't especially great - most are basic and lacking in detail - but the explosions and effects are nice, particularly the way the larger ships sustain visible damage as they're under fire.

The backgrounds are something of a mixed bag too - some are really nice, others are a bit plain, but there isn't much variety between some areas either. It's a pretty nice and very distinctive looking game overall though, and it sounds great thanks to a splendid OST consisting of twelve tracks which are actually 'arranged' versions of classic old C64 tunes! You might not hear them too well over the loud shooty/explodey effects but it's a very cool idea for a soundtrack all the same. Unfortunately, it does seem as though more effort was put into the audio/visuals than the gameplay. It's seems great to start with but neither the enemies nor their attacks vary much and it can even be a bit boring in places - I'm pretty sure that's a definite no-no for a shmup!

I also had a bit of an issue with the difficulty. It's fine at first but it does get really tough later, albeit rather inconsistently, and you'll often find yourself not knowing what killed you due to the small enemy bullets when things are busy. I guess that kind of stuff is fairly common in the shmup world though, and at least here you won't be losing millions of power-ups when you bite the big one. The question is: will the game hold your attention long enough to keep you plugging away? Well, it's definitely an interesting release, particularly for the PSP, but I'm pretty sure hardcore shmuppers won't be fulfilled by Platypus, and I suspect it will be too difficult/repetitive for casual fans too. It's worth picking up if you find it cheap somewhere but there are better alternatives.

RKS Score: 6/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the first stage of the game being played by a talented fellow called Orandza. Check out his channel here if you want to see the other stages.


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