Putty Pals is quite simply ridiculous. From the moment it starts to the moment it ends you’re assaulted with cheerful music so sweet it gives you diabetes and a riot of bright colours that dazzle your eyes.
Okay, it’s not THAT bad. The colours and music crash over you pretty hard at first but you very quickly get used to them. Visually, Putty Pals is cute, charming and quite simple. The art style gives the game a distinct childish appeal, something reinforced by my two nieces being immediately captivated by the game and taking the controllers from my girlfriend and myself shortly after arrival.
At this point the cute and light charm of the game was shattered. It suckers you in and then when you think it’s all sweetness and light, you get brutally smothered by one of your weird amorphous putty creatures. The stages become increasingly difficult, requiring a level of skill two adults barely possessed, what hope did an 11-year-old have? They were undeterred and continued to power on as best they could but being met with stiffening resistance they called us back to the controls to help out, and eventually take over all together.
The visual charm of the game goes a long way to helping you relax and encouraging you to keep going. The levels themselves are broken into distinct regions with characteristic challenges and trials throughout. Puttartica features brutal ice-fields that cause your putty pals to slip and slide all over the place, whereas Mt. Puttuvius takes place in a volcanic landscape, climaxing in a frantic climb away from the relentlessly rising lava. The design and colour schemes used do a great job of making each area feel unique, the icy tundra makes the room feel a good few degrees below freezing and the arid desert stages leave you a little parched.
As I’ve already said the levels are hard, but to really drive the point home, the levels are fucking hard! Single player is virtually impossible, requiring a level of co-ordination no-one person could ever hope to achieve. This is by no means a bad thing however, Putty Pals is doing something brilliant and really reinforcing something the Switch has set out to do since it’s conception; Revive couch co-op. Putty Pals is designed from the ground up to be a co-op experience, you’re supposed to bring a friend to help you along as the game is close to impossible without them. It’s in the freaking title, Putty PALS! I say the game it’s nearly impossible, well maybe that’s an over-exaggeration but I simply couldn’t play the game alone. Each Joy-Con controls a putty pal individually and to try and get them operating cohesively is more than a little taxing.
Operating separately however and bringing a friend along will not only expediate progress but it’s a whole helluvalot more fun to do. The game controls brilliantly with two players, after all that’s how it was designed to be played, but the controls really are great once you get used to them. The learning curve is subtle and short, you get the key mechanisms and movements down in the opening levels, the game really challenges you by making you apply them in ever more difficult tasks and obstacles. From simply swinging across a sticky cavern to having to time you and your partner’s swings across moving platforms, spinning each other around to bestow the correct momentum to grab the next handhold before flinging yourself towards your partner’s outstretched hand when they land. What makes the levels even harder is tracking down the 3 hidden colour orbs throughout these mind bending and infuriatingly complex sequences.
Putty Pals themselves have some cute little interactions, sending out a thumbs-up to your partner when they do something well or impressive. When the two pals link hands in order to successfully navigate a section they smile at each other before being cast into the unknown and the “Level Complete” sequence is possibly the most satisfying thing ever. You seat one putty pal on a slingshot/egg cup like seat, then link up with them and back the other one away to charge the jump, then release and send both of them flying into the next stage with huge smiles on their faces! It’s great!
Sure, Putty Pals is frustrating in places but its part of its beauty and charm. You don’t play a platformer for simple and easy levels. The artwork and sound design make the game inviting and encouraging. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you succeed in completing a tricky level or sequence that makes the jaw clenching frustration worth it in the long run.
Putty Pals is also doing something great in aiding the Nintendo Switch‘s efforts to revive couch co-op one puzzle-platformer at a time. Slowly it’s bringing people together in the living room to go on adventures together again!