Playing with others is hard. Sure, you’re meant to do it: it’s all the teacher at nursery school really cares about is if you can share and take turns and interact with other kids your age. But just because you get a ton of practice doesn’t make it easy or even fun. Sometimes you wanna be alone and just do things yourself. Hell, that was most of gaming throughout the 90s, no matter what extreme Nintendo and Sega commercials would tell you otherwise. That’s why online co-op was such a boon, because now you can use other people’s skills without needing, you know, to see other people. Still, couch co-op is making a big comeback, and Putty Pals is certainly no exception.
Putty Pals is the adorable tale of two little blobs who come from a land that’s entirely filled with putty people, who are balls with eyes who can sometimes grow appendages. One night, a terrific storm carries our two heroes far, far from their home, and the only way back is to work together. The land is peppered with puzzles, traps, pitfalls and more to make the journey far from easy. Thankfully, with your friend by your side, you can jump, bounce, swing and splat your way back to where you once belonged.
Far from being a tough-as-nails puzzle platformer disguised as something cute (a la Ibb and Obb), Putty Pals is generally a fun and relaxing experience when done correctly. The land is by no means straightforward, but you’ll be able to figure out what you and your friend need to do with a bit of communication and trial and error. If one of you dies, it’s ok: you’ll simply respawn a slight bit back and then hurry to go rejoin your friend. There are times when it’ll be beneficial to simply also jump into the lava if one Putty slips in, because a chain of puzzles may develop that needs BOTH of your attention, not just one, and a single death means starting over.
You’ll notice that I’ve dropped the word “friend” quite a few times in a relatively short amount of words. That’s because, and I can’t stress this enough, you NEED to play with someone else. Is the game possible as a single player? Absolutely. Should you do it by yourself? Not if you want to stay sane. Sure, there’s gonna be some people out there who simply “don’t play well with others,” but some puzzles require a ton of timing and teamwork in order to accomplish, and I was never good at the piano because my left hand needed to copy the right hand. As a single player with a single mind, I found myself flinging the Putty Pals into spikes, pits and general death over and over because I couldn’t disassociate the tandem motions, and so a second player was needed to get much further than the first level. Once a second player was in place, we kicked butt and zipped along, having some great moments of hilarity and outtake trying to accomplish something.
I need to drop in the name Snipperclips for a moment, not because the games are similar at all, but because of the evocative nature of both. Snipperclips is a hometown hero on the Switch, having launched with the console, been exclusive and having made for a convincing argument to the return of couch co-op. By the same token, Putty Pals has some of that nature in hand. It’s really cute, to be sure, but it encourages people to come together to play without creating strife or angst about failing to do the right thing. One reason I shied away from a lot of multiplayer games is that people get passionate and frankly angry when their team loses or progress is shot to hell. Putty Pals, despite being pretty rough to get through points, bleeds away that frustration and creates low stakes, enjoyable cooperation that can result in yells and laughter instead of broken controllers.
From an artistic standpoint, Putty Pals also succeeds wildly on multiple fronts. You can see from the screenshots (and I can attest) that this soft, child-like aesthetic carries throughout, helping to give the players and the game a better feeling of enjoyment and simplicity (without actually being simple). The fact that the “merge” option is literally the two putties holding hands is just so wholesome that we often were “merged” even when the game didn’t call for it. The soundtrack also adds to this, with some upbeat, melodic tunes that feel like we’re on an adventure, but not the swords and sorcery type. Like I’ve packed a backpack with two peanut butter sandwiches and a compass and me and a friend are off to go find Antarctica before dinner time. If anyone’s ever seen the 90s cartoon Recess, the music reminds me a lot of the opening theme, and I say that in the absolute best way.
Lastly, it needs to be stressed how fair and supportive of the Switch the developers are. Harmonious Games did put out Putty Pals onto Steam several months back, so this is hardly a Switch exclusive, but they’ve baked in a lot of stuff to bring incentive to Switch owners. For one, they’ve added a whole additional world that takes place after you beat the main game, and follows the adventures of two additional putties. The new world feels very inline with the first half of the game, so, had I not been aware, I wouldn’t have known it was something made after the fact. This new content basically doubles the size and length of the game, to speak nothing of the time trials and mini-levels that are accessible throughout. But what’s really spectacular is that Putty Pals is the same price on Switch as it is on Steam. There’s been a lot of (reasonable) debate about pricing on Nintendo’s baby being a more “premium” entry point and thus the price being higher, and I agree to some extent. So for Harmonious Games to take the plunge and do a price match while doubling the game and also eating any costs that came from development and porting is really big of them, and I think speaks volumes to the gamer community at large.
All in all, Putty Pals is a delightful game to be shared with a friend, loved one or even an errant person at the airport while your flight continues to get delayed thanks to typhoon season. It’s well executed, has a lot of meat to it and makes it’s own replay value with time attacks and working on cooperation with new people. If you’re strictly a single gamer, you may need to give it a pass, because it’s hard as hell alone. But, if you’ve got a buddy on hand, you’re gonna have a good time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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