Platypus Powered

Review of Platypus on XBLIG: Buy
A solid side scrolling shooter in the TwinBee mold, Platypus is quite possibly the best looking game on XBLIG.

Platypus is a game with a history.  

In early 2000, Anthony Flack posted a game demo to a forum using Blitz Basic (think XNA only with Basic instead of C#).   The publishers of Blitz Basic, now known as Idigicon, liked what they saw and wanted to pay Anthony $2,000 USD plus a $1000 USD completion bonus for what would become Platypus.  While Anthony didn’t keep any rights to the game, getting a published, boxed game is still a big deal and even today I think many hobby game devs would accept a flat $3000 USD.  Platypus initially flopped, but developer Mike Boeh took the game and turned it into a downloadable title as well as polishing up some of the gameplay.  Platypus then became a hit.  Idigicon has been licensing out Platypus for all platforms (including a PSP port that didn’t include Anthony’s name in the credits), and Escapist Games has licensed Platypus for Xbox 360 (with Anthony’s name prominently on the home screen).

Platypus’ gameplay doesn’t add anything new to the scrolling shooter genre established by TwinBee 25 years ago.  In fact, Platypus leaves out my favorite feature of the TwinBee descendants: combined attacks.  Platypus allows for one or two players in coop mode, but the players cannot align their ships to perform more powerful attacks.  (Side note: I’m not so hard core as to claim I was playing Japan-only arcade games in 1985.  I came to this genre first via Stinger for the NES in 1987 which was an American version of TwinBee’s sequel: The Rescue of Dr. Cinnamon).

Even though Platypus isn’t adding new gameplay elements and lacks combined attacks, the graphics alone are enough to set it apart from the pack.  All of the ships, levels, explosions, power up, and even text appears to be made out of clay.  The effect is so compelling it would not seem out of place to have the California Raisins pilot the ship.  I found myself playing though the game mostly to find out what the next level would look like. 

The power ups in Platypus keep to one of the worst traits I’ve seen in this genre.  When an enemy or series of enemies are destroyed, a star appears.  The star changes color when shot, and each color represents a different power up.  The problem is only a few power ups are worth while and some are worse than the starting weapon.  Platypus does deviate some from the standard formula, you keep power ups across lives, but all power ups are on a very short limited timer.

Each level is divided into 4 areas plus one boss fight.  The boss fights involve destroying multiple parts of an enemy too large to fit on the screen at once.  So large in fact, the boss fight can last as long or longer than a regular area.   Continuing is allow from where the last life was lost, but there are only two continues allowed per game.  A new game can start from any level, but progress along areas is not saved.

I played most of the game on Easy and still found it too hard to get past the 3rd level solo.  The game appears to be balanced for two players coop and doesn’t make concessions for a solo player.  The second player can join at any time and has their own supply of ships, but game continues are shared between both players.  Additional continues and lives can be earn though score milestones, but there is no indication of how many points are needed to reach the next milestone.

As a last ditch effort to complete the game for review, I went searching for cheat codes and tips.  The PC version of Platypus has a few cheat codes, but these do not appears to have been ported over to the Xbox version.  I did learn that holding down the fire button shoots at a slower rate than mashing the button repeatedly.  I made one final effort to play though the game using this method, but found the process too taxing and tiring.

I know my review may not read as such, but I rate Platypus a Buy.  If we used a larger scale at GameMarx I would rate this game a Try.5.  The graphics are very good, the length and polish put this game on par with an XBLA release, and in the end out weight the issues I had with difficulty and gameplay.

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