When creating a game, there’s a massive amount of aspects that a developer has to design. One that some of us on the gamer side may not thing much work goes in to is a game’s control scheme. “Oh, you just map certain actions to buttons, easy as that, right?”
Of course, it isn’t that easy. I’m sure everyone has played a game where the controls just feel “off” somehow. Movement feels a bit stiff or too slippery, a certain action that you’re used to being present on a certain button in other games is mapped to a different one for this game, etc.
With modern consoles and systems offering up so many alternate control schemes, too, things can get even more complicated. Do we want to integrate motion controls somehow? What about putting that expensive touch screen to use?
It’s a delicate balance…but it’s one that’s extremely noticeable when something goes wrong.
Developed and published by BeautiFun Games, Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets was released on July 11th, 2019, for Switch and PC via Steam. The Switch version was played for this review.
Just Trying to Survive
The eponymous Professor Lupo is part scientist and part weapons dealer. The “weapons” he deals in? Vicious and horrifying aliens he finds while travelling the galaxy. The game opens in Lupo’s space station, where he is auctioning off his latest lot of violent creatures, with the assistance of you, the professor’s Intern.
During the auction, though, the space station is attacked. A military force known as Blue Ragnarok attacks the space station, with the goal of stopping Lupo’s little business. Amidst the chaos, you have to find your way to an escape pod and get off the space station…but Lupo’s “pets” are now roaming the station thanks to the attack.
The story itself is a relatively straight-forward sci-fi tale, from the megalomaniac main villain in Lupo to an AI computer assistant slowly going insane. The most interesting thing here is the main character, the nameless Intern that you play as. He doesn’t care about the chaos, nor the several close calls with death he encounters during the game…he just calmly and cooly wanders his way to the escape pods.
It’s kind of strange to play as such a passive character. Hell, another character calls him out early in the game for not trying to play the hero, just being focused on calmly saving himself, which the intern acknowledges as he continues on his merry way.
While the Intern’s perspective on the story is certainly unique, it really doesn’t do much to keep things interesting. I can appreciate the effort that went into the plot (the dialogue is decent, even if the plot overall is fairly cliche), but it didn’t do all that well at holding my attention.
A Stumbling Path
While the premise may immediately bring to mind some shooty action, Professor Lupo is actually a slow-paced puzzle style of game. The Intern doesn’t have any way of defending himself, so he has to find ways to avoid the roaming monsters and use the environment to his advantage.
To do this, you have to use the mostly-predictable nature of your enemies to your advantage. There’s a few different kinds of creatures you’ll be up against, and most have predictable patterns. For example, there’s a worm-like creature who will always attempt to take the shortest path to you, but it’s not especially bright, and it doesn’t take into consideration the fact walls exist. Another monster will roll toward you as soon as there’s a clear path between you and it, but its path is determined by what tile you’re standing on when a clear path is presented, making it relatively easy to dodge.
Most puzzles involve using the flawed logic in each creature to your advantage, usually by opening and closing doors in each stage to divert or trap creatures. The mechanics are simple, but later stages can get surprisingly complex.
However, there’s one huge thing that makes navigating these puzzle rooms much more difficult: the control scheme. If you’re playing in docked mode, the game is controlled by using the right Joycon to point and click where you want the Intern to go and to activate doors. Using the Joycon as a pointer is nothing near the most accurate thing in the world, and I had a lot of issues with my pointer drifting as well. Some puzzles demand quick pinpoint precision in your movements, which I found frustrating with this control scheme.
Professor Lupo fares much better in handheld mode, where you can control the game with the touch screen. I was able to get much more comfortable with the game and start making progress once I undocked my Switch. However, as someone who uses the Switch almost exclusively docked, being forced to use it handheld mode for a better game experience really isn’t all that appealing.
Cute and Vicious
Professor Lupo bears a colorful and cartoony art style, in stark contrast to its premise. The environments are actually quite attractive. I mean, sure, you’re spending most of your time navigating through the hallways of a space station, but there’s enough variance to the lighting and color palette between stages that things don’t get too dull.
The game also has full voice acting, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the performances sound like amateurs trying really hard, and honestly, it comes out more charming than flat-out bad. None of the performances are really great, but I can’t say they’re straight-up bombs either.
More Hands, Less Pointers
Overall, Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets is an interesting little puzzle game that is massively held back by its control scheme. As I mentioned, I much prefer to play my Switch in docked mode rather than handheld, but the controls on offer in the former were just too unwieldy to use.
The game is slow-paced and can get repetitive in some stretches of puzzles, but the creative use of relatively limited mechanics is of note.
For people looking for a relaxing slow-paced puzzle game where aliens are constantly trying to murder you, this game is worth a look. Or, if you’re not part of that specific niche, Professor Lupo is a solid puzzler, if you don’t mind playing in the Switch’s handheld mode.
Review copy provided by BeautiFun Games for Switch. Screenshots courtesy of BeautiFun Games.