Contact: hi (at) gamermalaya.my
Professor Lupo And His Horrible Pets- Review
A big desert, neon future cities, feudal Japan: some settings just never go out of style. So much so, you could have all sorts of games come up from them.
Professor Lupo and His Horrible Pets is a game by the developers of Nihilumbra, BeautiFun Games. The game is a puzzle set in another of these timeless settings, the Space-Station-Where-Something’s-Gone-Horribly-Wrong.
It’s a cute little game, and fun enough. But that’s not much of a review, is it? So let’s take a look at how this game does what it does.
Some stuff you just have to accept- The ship’s AI says it’s their job to help you evacuate, but it never really does anything, yknow?
Professor Lupo has a very clean art style, almost like many early mobile games on the app store. The creature design is really effective- at a glance you can tell every individual creature apart, and can infer their mechanics from it.
That being said, the game’s artistic questions leave some glaring nitpicks. While I totally get that studio size and resources are a thing, It’s hard to not be turned off by the game’s voice acting. Many characters sound like poorly aped derivative archetypes from its genre, from the “ooh-ra” commander to the cold yet dark A.I. character. Some grunt soldiers you encounter in the game really just sound like someone playing with his GI Joes in the sound lab.
There are two ways you could look at this: one, it’s a puzzle game, whatever. Not every game’s going to have Portal-level voice acting. It doesn’t affect the gameplay, ergo it shouldn’t matter.
However, the game does seem to be pushing its narrative as a selling point, and you hear these voices a lot throughout your run. Which leads us to point two: If the game’s going to use this feature so much, you have to start assigning it some value and unfortunately, it’s probably the weakest part of the game. Given the scale of the game and its resources, I think the game would have been fine if they just did away with any voice acting and used sound effects instead.
The creatures in this game are all mechanically unique, each having their own rules and controlling them leads to some genuinely clever puzzles.
When all’s said and done, Professor Lupo plays really well. I’m not a fan of the walk speed, but it does kind of help break in some rules about the puzzles you’ll be solving. They’re methodical puzzles, usually involving shepherding a bunch of alien horrors until you can open up a path to the exit. There are no epic gambits to be had, just keep your head on and think of the next step.
When the game does this, its great. Many of the early levels feel genuinely clever. One of the aliens turns into a ball and barrels towards the last spot it saw you at. You can hold it in an area by just moving in turn every time it rolls, essentially slowing it down.
The game also constantly introduces plenty of interesting new mechanics without overplaying them, such as one segment where you guide another passenger of the space station and you essentially have to work in tandem to solve the level. There’s also a pretty genius bossfight segment involving remote access and a space mechanic that requires you to be mindful of doors you’ve left opened or closed.
A dramatic shift in tone
So remember that bit about no epic gambits an a nice, slow and methodical playstyle? Yeah, you can kiss that goodbye in the last 20% or so of the game. For plot reasons, many of the game’s levels suddenly feel very samey with each other. They all start becoming long corridors where you have to somehow lure the aliens and pit them against another enemy and then figure out how to double back down the corridor without bumping into whoever won.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the game didn’t seem to constantly break its own rules here. For one, it’s very hard to communicate that run timing is now important when your character hobbles with all the speed of Usain Bolt’s recliner. The other problem is that the outcomes are not scripted. I’ve run the aliens and the enemy into each other the same way and ended with multiple results.
Accessibility is Good No Matter The Genre
The game can be played with either the face buttons of the switch or the touch screen. For PC players, you can also alternate between PC and keyboard. For those on Switch, I have to advise against playing it on TV mode, because there are some puzzles that seem almost designed for touch screen/ point and click use. The game lets you remotely access some terminals, and the system of selecting them when there are many is so poorly telegraphed and programmed that I constantly found myself preferring to just press them with my fingers.
Aside from my gripe about poorly showing which buttons are active, the fact I could just reach for the buttons myself without having to toggle Touch Mode is a huge plus for this game. Some things are simply easier with the touch pad and some are easier with the face buttons, and for that reason I can’t recommend plugging it in to your TV.
The game has a focus camera and a kind of “general overview” mode, which you can toggle between to check if you’re going in the right direction, though controlling your player always sets it back into the focused mode.
The game itself has a level select, with multiple solutions for every puzzle and achievements in the game itself. Most of them are just simple collectibles in the level, yet sometimes they can be challenges like “don’t let this alien get killed”. That’s a really cool feature since, as I said, the level design of the game is really fun.
Tips for all the creatures are also stored in a neat ecology-style series of dossiers, with cool mini-cinematics introducing new ones. As a Monster Hunter fan this kind of stuff pleases me, and I’m glad they chose to go the flavored path with their tips.
Outside of completing the challenges, there’s no real reason to come back to this game. But I won’t hold that against it, because Professor Lupo is pretty great at what it does, and wanting anything more would seem greedy.
Colored doors, space stations, scary monsters, you sure this isn’t Doom?
There’s a lot of good things Professor Lupo has going for it. The atmosphere feels good, mostly tight level design and solid creatures, too. On all the fundamental aspects, this game gets a great grade.
But the game also gets a little indulgent, especially with its story. I’m happy the developers tried to go crazy with their game, but at the same time I’m not exactly thrilled with the results. Professor Lupo goes to many lengths to make sure you’re consuming the story with cutscenes and attempts at humor, but they all do more harm than good.
It then gets piled on by the poor voice direction, and you end up with me gnashing my teeth any time I have to listen to the main character try to make a joke. It seems to be clawing at the Portal formula of the dark-yet-funny universe but so much of the attempts to do so just end up falling flat.
On top of that, the game feels approximately 20% longer than it needs to be. There’s a whole segment of the story that could be cut entirely, and the game would be intact. Doing so would also probably compare it to Portal less, which only helps the game.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
If you really want a good puzzle game to play on the switch, I can’t recommend Professor Lupo enough. It’s clever, there’s a lot of it and it’s at a reasonable 15 USD. It has its flaws, but the fundamentals of its genre are solid enough that they can be looked past.
Suffice to say, it’s a game that gets the good parts right.
Review copy provided by BeautiFun games, played on the Nintendo Switch