A tiny spaceship, the last hope of (insert something you’re cheering for here), flies towards the top or the right of the screen, spraying a hail of destruction in front of it. Powerups are collected, enemies shot down, boss spaceships blown apart. We’ve seen it all so many times we’ve lost count … but we’ve never seen it like this!
Platypus, available from Reflexive Games for PC and Mac and published by Astraware on nearly all smartphone platforms, is a shooter game done in claymation. Not CGI masquerading as claymation; actual photographed clay. But is it just a gimmick, or does it accentuate and enhance a solid game? Let’s find out!
Best. Graphics. Ever.
As the name suggests, Platypus is a lively and colorful game, with vivid multiple scrolling backgrounds and bright-colored enemy spacecraft. Or aircraft, as the case may be … the entire game takes place in the skies of a claymation planet, which is good because we get to see all kinds of 3d landscapes. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re not interactive, or you may crash into the power lines like I did!
Not only is Platypus beautiful, its graphics are used to good effect! Enemy ships become riddled with bullet holes, then finally blow apart in an explosion of gray and red clay as a tiny pilot parachutes out. And epic boss battles have you blasting at ships much larger than the screen itself, tearing them to pieces one chunk at a time.
Perhaps my only complaint about Platypus’ graphics is that they’re not squishy enough! For all that you blow things apart in a shower of clay, they still play an explosion sound effect that could be found in any other game. A “Play-Doh” mode with splattier sound effects would’ve been nice, and would’ve emphasized the theme. As it is, though, Platypus stands up to the best shooters to be found on any platform, which isn’t bad for a casual game.
So how does it play?
While its graphics are innovative, Platypus doesn’t break the mold when it comes to gameplay. It’s very easy to play, though, even on a device with a tiny screen. On my touchscreen Palm Centro, I just guided the ship around with either my stylus or the 5-way navigator, as it automatically shot at whatever was in front of me. A button could be used to start or stop firing, and it came in handy in levels where I was flying through minefields.
Unlike in many other games, there aren’t any smart bombs, and you don’t get to power up weapons in quite the same way. Instead, certain formations of enemy ships will drop items that you can use to gain optional weapons, which last for a certain amount of time. The more items you collect, the longer the weapon will last. Sometimes you can shoot the items to flip them over and change what kind of weapon you get.
These optional items are dispensed frequently, and just when you think you’ve seen them all, they toss something new at you — in one level I was throwing out volleys of rockets, and towards the end they gave me a lightning gun that cut a clean line through the screen. Sometimes I found rotating weapon pods that would circle my ship and put out extra firepower, and they were a lot of fun to combine with the rockets and lightning gun!
Spit and polish
Platypus benefits from an obsessive attention to detail, and all the little details add up. Like the bunches of fruit which come out of exploding ships … you can actually shoot them apart and collect individual pieces, which give differing point values! And I already mentioned the little pilots who parachute out of the larger ships. It’s things like this that make the game feel like a labor of love.
The sound effects are basic, and get the job done. But the music, while none too sophisticated, is incredibly catchy at times! Inspired by Commodore 64 game soundtracks, it’ll have you hooked from the very first classically 8-bit riff.
The one place where they could’ve added more detail is in the storyline. There isn’t any! The website says something about “The vast continent-spanning city of Collosatropolis” invading a peaceful country, but that’s the only place where I’ve seen it. Fortunately, the graphics pretty much tell the story by themselves.
I’ve been playing shooter games for a very long time, and Platypus can stand with the best of them. It doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t rely on its graphics, either … it uses them to enhance an already-solid game.
Probably the best comparison I can make is to the original Star Fox, called Star Wing in Europe. This Super Nintendo shooter was done in 3d polygon graphics, which was novel at the time. But it also had superb gameplay, and a memorable atmosphere and soundtrack.
Platypus is neither as epic nor as memorable as Star Fox. But it’s a fun shooter that’ll keep you playing for hours, and coming back to it after you’ve beaten it. And while the demo mode for its smartphone version is draconian (3 games … and leaving the game and coming back to it counts), the full version is worth picking up.