Escape from Puppy Death Factory
Twenty years after nuclear confrontation wiped out the planet known as Earth, Cosmonaut Laika receives a distress bark from the ruined surface. Armed with your trusty swap-gun, a rainbow shooting device that lets you switch places with pieces of the world around you, you land upon the planet to locate your companions. Every dog has its day, and today is the day you must... Escape from Puppy Death Factory! Brought to you by Arthur Lee and the fine people at Adult Swim.
In theaters On your computer screen this summer.
Escape from Puppy Death Factory is a retro puzzle platformer based around exploration and the mechanic of the swapping gun. You move and jump around the landscape with the [arrow] keys, and fire your gun with [Z], [X], or the [spacebar]. Firing the gun shoots a laser which, upon contact with moveable item, switches it with your position when it hits; note emphasis... some puzzles very much rely on shooting then moving to the right place before it hits. Different elements are introduced over time, including reflecting mirrors, platforms that require a battery adjacent to them to function, android cats to avoid, and other pitfalls. There are 35 puppies to collect, and while you can leave the planet at any time... you know you're not going to get the BEST ending if you do that, right?
Analysis: Escape from Puppy Death Factory is a game that got me thinking about the term Metroidvania, and how, for me, it seems to be a designation applied from a certain "feeling" about a game, rather than an indicator of specific qualities. Escape from Puppy Death Factory lacks elements we usually find in such games: it has a fairly linear outline, no areas blocked off, and no power-ups to collect. Most striking is how few enemies there are to encounter and, when you do, how deviously you must use your "switcher" weapon to avoid a confrontation with them. Certainly we've seen quite a few Metroidvania platformers with puzzle elements, but its rare that I would characterize something as a puzzle game with Metroidvania platform elements. Still, with all its dissimilarities, Escape from Puppy Death Factory feels like it should be part of the genre, and I had to think about why that is.
I guess it comes down to setting. Escape from Puppy Death Factory is located on a beautifully eerie alien world. I loved charting every nook and cranny while I found each of my puppy companions. Indeed, the collecting seemed almost secondary to moving from screen to screen to gawp at more scenery. Exploration is, of course, standard for Metroidvanias, but it takes something more than that. It's hard to put into words, but perhaps I'm arguing that a Metroidvania is any platform game in which the setting is the most important character. The game could have easily been set up as a series of single-screen puzzle levels. Instead, a gorgeous world has been designed to justify the journey from captive dog to captive dog. I don't mind a little filler, as long as it looks as pretty as it does here.
This is not to suggest Escape from Puppy Death Factory is all surface and no substance. Escape from Puppy Death Factory has the other hallmark of the Metroidvania genre: killer difficulty. This game has devious, even harsh, puzzles that will push your platforming skills to the limit, but they never feel unfair. Just know going in that you'll probably have to send at least a hundred Laikas into the laser grid before you time your jumps exactly right... and have absolute blast doing so.
The main strike against Escape from Puppy Death Factory is conceptual. The game seems confused as to what it wants to be, making for a tone that is indecisive at best. It can't seem to decide whether its an ultra-cute platformer or a parody of ultra-cute platformers. Likewise, there are some elements that clearly reference Metroid and pop culture, but they don't really go anywhere. It's all set-up and no punchline. (The final boss is especially nonsensical in this regard). This confusion extends to the very title of the game; a title which promises a much darker comedy than you actually get. It just feels a little non-organic, as if the developers tried at the last minute to add some edginess to better fit in with its Adult Swim brethren.
Unevenness aside, I definitely recommend Escape from Puppy Death Factory. It's adorable, it's large, it's challenging, and there are robot kitties. What else do you need?