PlatypusI remember one of the first games that I played on the NES was the excellent Konami shooter Gradius. Thus began my love for the side-scrolling shooter. I've played a number of them since then, from complex ones like R-Type and G-Darius to weird ones like Parodius.
When I came across Retro64's port of Platypus, I was, to say the least, skeptical. The side-scrolling shooter is not a big genre on the Macintosh platform, and the few that I have played have been mediocre at best. Platypus' big claim to fame is the fact that, instead of using hand-drawn graphics, pre-rendered 3D models, or real-time 3D graphics, it uses clay models. Yes, you read correctly. Just like the classic Will Vinton techniques, Platypus eschews realism for claymation. Seems like a gimmick to get people to check out an otherwise mediocre shooter. And I hope it works, because when people do check it out, they will find an entertaining game that will challenge your gaming skills.
The premise is simple: take out wave after wave of ships, interspersed with larger ships that take multiple hits to destroy. At the end of the level, throw in a really large ship that requires a great deal of fire to destroy. Mix in some different weapons for good taste, and you've got the basic formula.
Enemy waves come in a number of fairly predictable patterns, making it easier to dispatch of them in the early levels. Of course, as the game progresses, the waves come faster, and in multiples, making it much harder to catch all of the enemies, even with upgraded weapons. If you can take out an entire wave of red-flashing ships, you will be awarded with a weapons power-up. Getting multiple power-ups of the same type will make your weapon even more powerful.
The graphics in this game are absolutely amazing. Everything is made of clay, from the backgrounds to the weapon's fire to the explosions. As you shoot at the larger ships requiring multiple hits, clay parts fly off and the ships actually show damage. The backgrounds are made up of multiple scrolling layers, and are peppered with little details, like ships flying in the background and little dwellings. It is amazing what the developers have done with the concept of clay graphics, and I think it would be interesting to see other game genres done in clay.
The sound reminds me a lot of the games on my Commodore 64 which, with the name Retro64, I'm guessing was the point. The music sounds like the old MODs that we used to listen to before the advent of the MP3 encoder, and they really fit with the retro-style of the game.
The only real problem that I have with the game is something that often plagues shooters of this type. As you progress through the game, the enemies come hot and heavy, and in order to have a chance at dispatching them, you really need to have high-powered weapons. This is fine, as long as you stay alive with your powered-up weapons. But once you die, you go back to the beginning as far as weapons are concerned, and the enemies keep coming as before. This can make it very frustrating in later levels. But these kinds of games are not meant to be easy, so I guess it's par for the course.
All in all, this is an excellent retro shooter. The graphics are just too cool to pass up, and the gameplay is enough to keep you coming back for more. The $19.99 price tag may seem a little steep for a shooter of this type, but the production values are enough to warrant the premium.
We'll be back in April with four more shareware titles to take you into the spring months.