A Glance at the Past: Super Putty (SNES)

Super Putty is the type of game where you play as a blue goo ball that punches gun-wielding carrots to turn them into a human infant you can dissolve to earn 1000 points or else a cat will make fun of you. It’s the kind of game where you can use a power-up to make a man called Uncle Ted play his organ to make the living light-bulb enemies dance. Super Putty is a game that completely indulges every outlandish enemy or power-up idea it has, and while this guarantees the game will constantly deliver on giving you unusual sights, playing through it will reveal the game didn’t have quite as many crazy ideas for what you actually get to do in it.

 

It’s not too much of a surprise to find out that a game that throws so many odd ideas at the wall to see what sticks doesn’t go out of its way to present its story, but from what outside sources say, an evil wizard has taken over the Putty Moon where the protagonist Putty lived and now he must collect some spring-jumping robots across different worlds to help take it back. Across the levels of Super Putty, getting the robots to the goal is your main focus, Putty needing to navigate tall vertical levels to find them and ferry them one at a time to the proper location. To navigate a stage, Putty’s got two main tricks in his bag, those being a standard jump and a stretch ability that allows him to safely move across gaps or reach platforms above the character that are too high to be jumped to. Levels have many moving platforms, ladders, and slopes to help or hinder the repeated climbs through the stage, but while this gameplay approach starts off rather promising, creativity, at least when it comes to level design, runs dry a decent way in. At first, the robots you need to save are spread across the level, frozen or otherwise kept apart so that when you retrieve them, you are exploring different segments of the stage and facing different foes and obstacles. Later levels lazily lump all the robots together though, often setting a singular spawn point where you will inevitably have to wait for the robots to slowly spawn in to take the same route back and forth for their delivery. Finding the best route is rarely a huge issue, so the later stages just come down to surviving the repeated executions.

The game does try to reward you for poking around a stage more than potentially necessary, points, health, timer additions, and power-ups hidden about. Most of the trouble you face in Super Putty comes from the kooky foes that are packed into the levels, and the way you deal with the myriad of strange foes differs constantly. Your main attacks to deal with them are a basic punch attack and a dissolving ability where Putty can press himself into the ground, making himself completely unable to take damage and causing certain items and enemies to dissolve into his body for points, health, or other effects. As the game progresses, less and less foes are vulnerable to these methods, but Putty’s got an inflation ability that can sacrifice some of your health to clear most foes from the screen. The more interesting ability used to deal with late game enemies though is something the game refers to as Magic. Absorbing certain objects or characters can give Putty special skills to overcome foes, the earlier mentioned Uncle Ted an extreme example but you can mostly expect enemy mimicry like turning into an orange that spits killer projectiles. Power-ups like invincibility fall under this category as well, the game surprisingly generous with the duration of invincibility but that still not making the game all too easy. In fact, one of the biggest things holding Super Putty back is its high difficulty level.

 

Every stage in Super Putty has a few limiters put on the player. The first is the most expected, that being a health bar called Pliability that, if depleted, will lead to Putty dying and the level resetting, although any rescued robots will remain rescued in that stage so long as you have extra lives. Lives are your second limiter, you only getting three to start and extra ones being mostly hard to come by. The game does allow you to start from the world of your choice when you start playing though to let you at least skip ahead to avoid some repetition. However, you do have a series of levels to play in each world, so losing your lives can mean missing out on properly completing it, especially since the third and final limiter on your play is a time limit. At first it is almost negligible, but when you have to rescue greater quantities of robots in the later stages, it’s a foe almost as dangerous as the strange monsters you face in the stage.

When the game gets rolling, all three factors end up being concerns that weigh down the experience. For example, your health is a precious commodity, levels teeming with enemies who respawn quickly after death to ensure the back-and-forth routes are never too easy and your inflate skill isn’t too overpowered for being a screen wipe. This comes with the side effect of your inflation burst being a poor use of your health, as you only get a small reprieve and will likely be taking damage on follow up robot fetching trips. There is no clear visual indicator which enemies are vulnerable to which skills or powers, so experimentation is sometimes a must, again leading to health sacrifices that aren’t truly worth it. Your lives can also be taken by falling down instant death pits or running out of time, and while Putty has a few ways to navigate stages and even some power-ups that teleport him about, his controls are never precise enough that you can guarantee being able to avoid dangerous drops, so blitzing through a stage to beat the timer can be both risky and difficult.

 

While the simplification of level structure makes Super Putty less exciting, it’s the relationship between the three limiting factors that drag down the experience. If any one of them was made more permissive it could potentially fix the others, and complete removal of some could let the game’s gameplay determine its value instead of it being held back by odd artificial difficulty. While accessing the worlds as you please is no doubt a step to mend these issues, something like enemies dealing less damage or Putty having more health could improve the health issues, removal of a life system entirely and just causing a level restart would make continuing less annoying, and either significantly lengthening or removing the timer could remove a factor that just seems to be here to encourage less thoughtful movement with added pressure. Implementing changes to all three would be a bit too much, but some adjustment feels necessary to avoid the hectic and overly risky hopping and stretching that makes up most of the game’s play.

THE VERDICT: Super Putty’s presentation is absolutely batty, with all kinds of odd enemy and power-up concepts cropping up as you jump and stretch your way through the game worlds. Your robot rescuing mission does lose some of its engaging design as you progress, growing to favor straight back-and-forth vertical trips, but it’s difficult to parse how enjoyable Super Putty’s platforming and strange skills are when they’re held back by the trio of health problems, limited lives, and level timers. Health and lives are at too much of a premium to risk their loss but the timer forces it under threat of death, with the levels often packed enough already to kill you on their own. Lacking the expected precision and power to deal with such limitations, Super Putty feels like it had its difficulty level cranked up for no good reason, hurting whatever promise the concept and kooky visual design could have had.

 

And so, I give Super Putty for the Super Nintendo…

A BAD rating. Hidden beneath the threats of death and time expiring is what seems like a potentially average platformer with a cavalcade of crazy creatures and silly sets and skills. Turning the dials to make any of the three factors holding this game back to be more forgiving could allow it to show its strengths more, but it’s still got a few underlying issues like the sanding down of level design concepts and hard to read skill usefulness, meaning it would need a bit more polishing to earn a real recommendation.

 

The craziness of Super Putty can still be fun to gawk at, but it needs more than running hot dog men and Uncle Ted to be worth playing as well.

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