First released on PC back in 2018 PUSS! is a hardcore challenge that tasks the player with moving their little cat head across the screen to the goal, on P.C I found mouse controls, even with a high-end gaming mouse, incredibly difficult, but now released on Xbox, the transition to a gamepad is a blessing in disguise for this unique and whacky game.
Botting up PUSS! for the first time, you’ll be greeted with a retro fest of VHS inspired clips, as an innocent-looking cat it absorbed into the gaming world to help kitten-kind the world over.
Your first level is a pretty straight forward task of carefully moving our beloved PUSS within the track to the goal, unlike mouse input, the Xbox analogue stick provides plenty of control and you should find these first few levels pretty straightforward.
Progressing on a little, you’ll find moving bridges, shrinking walkways and obstacles to help hinder your progression before you eventually reach the 10th level to end world one with a boss battle that can only be described as bullet-hell, or maybe shoot-em-up hell, as the bosses give a welcome variety with the similarity of being consistently tough.
The giant enemies will often fire flurries of orbs down the screen as well as frickin laser beams and it’s your job to avoid them all and collect power-ups before maxing out your power bar for a quick button bash to inflict damage, repeat this a few times and you’ll soon be on to the next world for an even greater challenge.
There’s no doubt that PUSS! likes to present a challenge, moving around with a single thumb-stick is simple enough, but occasionally, you’ll have to move quickly to stay alive, unlike super-fast mouse movement, we’re instead forced to use both analogue sticks together, with pushing both sticks simultaneously providing greater speed at the obvious loss of accuracy.
This mostly works pretty well, but as you reach later worlds, you’ll find moving at this speed around corners is a real challenge, and while the punishment never feels like the fault of the game, PUSS! makes you feel like you’ve failed, there’s no blaming the controls and the often brutal difficulty leaves you feeling worthless, while still coming back for more.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing PUSS! and can easily recommend it to sadists looking for a really hardcore challenge with a retro edge, the psychedelic presentation and whacky sound and animations are novel and certainly make the game feel unique, but it’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes.
Firstly the difficulty will be a hurdle for many, 20 years ago, this was the norm, but now, people are used to hand-holding and “skip” buttons, but PUSS! isn’t having any of it, fail too many times and you’re back to square one, make a stupid mistake early on and you’ll be short of lives when you need them most, and if you as much as think about readjusting your grip on the pad in the middle of a boss fight, you’re going to be losing those lives even quicker.
With the retro inspiration, glitch effects, and bright colourful presentation, PUSS! does its job well, it’s not the prettiest game to look at, and sometimes the colours can make the paths you need to stick to, a little touch to see against the background, but that’s really the only excuse you’re going to have when you die for the 100th time.
Audio fits the theme well, with nostalgic music and effects which are never distracting, and while presentation as a whole could be better, there’s nothing that detracts from the gameplay experience.
Sadly, it’s not perfect.. The difficulty is likely to be a real stumbling block for some people, if the path to progression was straight forward, you could try, try, try and try again until you eventually mastered each level, but with each world, you’re given a random selection of levels from an ever-increasing difficulty pool, and chances are you’re going to come across some that really sets you back.
Sure you might have mastered the art of dodging those pillars as you move across that tiny moving bridge, but if you’re not used to that bridge splitting open and giving you a millisecond to get off it, you’re going to struggle.
This means that besides the difficulty, you’ll have the repetition of replaying often tedious levels until you inevitably come across one of those that feels impossible for the first few hundred attempts, fail too many times, and you’re back to square one.
It sadly takes the fun out of the game when you’re sometimes left feeling like !PUSS is the evil ancestor of the comparatively tame Souls-like games.
Criticisms aside, I can still recommend PUSS!, You’ve got to be verging on masochistic to really enjoy the difficulty, and you’ll need the patience of a saint, but if you love a really tough challenge, the crazy presentation makes PUSS! an inviting prospect.