By Josh Speer / July 11th, 2019
Somehow it’s fitting that I’m the one that ended up tackling Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. After all, I reviewed Nihilumbra on the oprainfall site, which is another game by the folks at BeautiFun Games, and rather enjoyed it. Admittedly, Nihilumbra was a platformer with puzzle elements, whereas Professor Lupo is a pure puzzle game. Nevertheless, I spent some time playing through it, and here’s my takeaways.
First off, the visual style in Professor Lupo is fantastic. It’s like some sort of cartoon with a dark and twisted sense of humor. Despite the name, you don’t actually play the titular professor. Instead, you play his long suffering Intern, a balding, slow walking man in a lab coat. The game takes place on the Aurora Space Station with Professor Lupo demonstrating to an audience the dangerous capabilities of his alien “pets”. His goal is to find the highest bidders, since they are all eager warlords from Earth. Things quickly go awry, and missiles start exploding all around the station. People go running, the escape protocol activates and shit hits the fan. Most dangerous of all, many of the aliens get accidentally set loose. Like any self respecting Intern, your job it to escape with your life, but that’s much easier said than done.
For one thing, there’s a good variety of aliens, and they all have different behaviors. Take for example the Vermis, a giant caterpillar made of teeth. It only detects humans, so you can usually trick it into eating other creatures or getting trapped in narrow alcoves. Or the Sagitta, a giant rolling sphere with an eyeball that plots a path before squishing you. There’s a lot of them, and you need to quickly learn their quirks to have a chance of survival. Thankfully, I eventually discovered that there’s a handy Archive on the pause screen which details all their capabilities. There’s a lot of complexity, but it’s definitely manageable.
Your goal in each of the 100 story levels, which are separated into 5 chapters, is to make your way safely to the exit. At first all you have at your disposal is the ability to manually and remotely operate doors, either via buttons or stylus control. Later on, you’ll come across dangerous devices that can slow or outright kill the beasts, such as a poisonous gas machine or a flamethrower. Of course, those same items can also easily end your life, so you’ll need to get good at timing when to open and close doors while they’re active. Later on, they’ll introduce new features, such as finding another survivor who can help you operate the doors. I made it through the first two chapters, and found Professor Lupo was good at introducing new elements at a constant rate without it being entirely overwhelming. In fact, I had more trouble with the first chapter than I did the second.
Besides escaping, there are optional collectibles you can find in each stage. Some are things like music CDs, others have questionable utility. I strongly suspect collecting them all probably unlocks additional stages. Unfortunately, I had a hard enough time beating some stages without having to worry about also doubling back to get these. Case in point, there were a few stages in chapter 1 that gave me so much trouble I barely beat them even after the game held my hand and gave me giant clues. I would keep dying and dying even knowing exactly what I was supposed to do, which isn’t a great feeling.
Part of the reason I had issues with the game is how slowly the Intern walks. Calling his pace glacial would be a kindness. In fact, the game even jokes about how slow he walks at one point in a cutscene. The other reason is no fault of Professor Lupo, but rather my own lack of ability at puzzle games. Some I rather enjoy, but the really tricky and cerebral ones sometimes give me a harder time. Having said that, I found it worthwhile to keep pushing on for one key reason – the story.
You normally don’t play puzzle games for the story or character, but Professor Lupo has impressed me with both. All the text in the game is voice acted, and while it’s not all uniformly transcendent, none of it is horrible either. More importantly, there’s a lot of weird things going on that have me captivated. Take Plato for example, the AI running the station. It becomes very apparent his sense of morality is skewed, and things get much worse quickly when he gets infected by a virus. He goes from halfheartedly helping to outright trying to murder you. Then take the Intern you play. For some reason he can’t remember his name. He’s affable and seems normal enough, but I sense there’s something shifty afoot, and I want to find out what that is. And then take the terrorist group that attacked the station, Blue Ragnarok. They are strange at best, incompetent at worst and seem deeply conflicted about their goals. There’s a lot of different ingredients in this heady stew of a story, and I really respect that.
The art is another strong point for Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. I touched on the cartoony yet dark aspect earlier, and there’s no better example for that than the pets themselves. Each and every one of them alternates between two different forms, depending on whether they are calm or hunting. Once they detect you, they go from adorable to downright terrifying. The vermis goes from lazy caterpillar to rolling log of teeth. There’s also something called a Furax, which initially looks like a cute blue dinosaur. In reality, it’s a devious little bastard that uses air ducts to try and corner you. I haven’t even seen all the pets yet, but I’m really impressed with what I’ve encountered. Sure they’re irritating when they devour you, and they will, but you can’t help but respect all the work that went into their design.
All in all, I’m glad I got to spend some time with Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. My lack of skill playing it doesn’t change the fondness I have for the game. It just means I’ll be playing it for a very long time before I beat it. But if you enjoy quirky puzzle games that don’t pull any punches, then BeautiFun’s latest will be perfect for you.
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