PUSS! is a strange duck. Developer teamCOIL and publisher Samustai have delivered an “avoid ‘em up” game, which ultimately means it plays similarly to those computer browser games where you guide your cursor through a maze without touching walls. However, its avant-garde approach to visual and sound design — incorporating heaping helpings of surrealism, glitch art, and vaporwave, among other things — transforms simple game mechanics into a maddening rush of sights and sounds. People who appreciate the madness will likely enjoy this game in short doses. It might be a harder sell for others.
What a cool cat
In PUSS!, the only controls are for your left and right thumbsticks, which both can be used to guide your cat dude across the single-screen mazes. If you use both sticks at the same time, it significantly increases your movement, which is necessary for getting across some sections that demand blistering speed. It’s a pretty bizarre control scheme that almost certainly could have been handled more elegantly, but there is at least an option to adjust control sensitivity. (I actually set it to maximum to go a little faster.) There are also touch controls, but it’s virtually impossible to play that way since your finger gets in the way of seeing the screen.
PUSS! has six main worlds, and you must complete 10 levels to finish each world. Nine of the levels are randomly sequenced and selected, out of a total 150 playable levels, and the tenth level is a preset boss fight. Every standard level involves a maze to traverse to reach an exit, and you will have to deal with various obstacles. These include projectiles, moving walls, and the ground itself moving. Touching a wall won’t instantly kill you, and the game offers some decent leeway in allowing you to bump into things before you die. Getting hit by a projectile or crushed by a wall is always death though.
You have a set number of “hearts” that represent your remaining lives for a world, and doing well in a level will boost your score (There are leaderboards too.) and grant you more hearts. You will need those hearts for the boss fights, which still involve dodging obstacles but also will incorporate some kind of element that allows you to fight back. Often, that means collecting a bunch of a “POW” icon, which eventually activates a dramatic event that allows you to do some damage. Each boss fight is distinct, like a giant slot machine or a fight that riffs on Space Invaders, but half of them can really veer into “cheap” territory with the ridiculous amount of obstacles thrown at you. The final battle of PUSS! in particular just feels exhausting.
Fortunately, defeating each of the earlier bosses unlocks a quirky friend that will grant you some sort of small boon for the rest of the game, such as giving you a shield or summoning Icarus to pummel bosses for you. These boons serve to make the game less agonizing, which is nice, since playing PUSS! feels like just throwing your head up against a wall over and over until the bricks break. Mileage will vary, but one playthrough of the game takes between four and five hours.
A few things hold PUSS! back from being a more accessible game. Firstly, yes, its challenge can be brutal. Many times it’s because of consciously challenging level design, which is great, but sometimes it’s for less commendable reasons. For instance, sometimes my speed would suddenly double for no reason and I would go careening to my death; I wondered if it could somehow be related to Joy-Con drift, but I don’t see how that could be the case. Another issue is that sometimes PUSS! goes so far into its strange visuals that it’s hard to understand what you’re looking at, artificially increasing the difficulty. A related problem is that a few levels are just too dark, again making it harder than necessary to see what you’re doing.
There’s also a bug where one of the boss levels has a visual prompt in the middle of the screen to press the A button, and it’s erroneously there for the entire level, getting in the way. Plus, the option to “Restart” a world from the beginning doesn’t always work.
One last quirk that bothered me is, ironically, PUSS! feels too slow sometimes. The wait between levels feels too long, and you can’t skip the frivolous scenes that occur before a boss fight begins. Sitting and waiting for things to happen is dull, as the mildly similar WarioWare games so critically understand.
Ultimately, PUSS! is an exercise in frustration. Some people will appreciate the zaniness of the design and/or enjoy having a brutal challenge to push through in a blast of 10-20 minutes at a time. Other people will just be annoyed by the entire experience from start to finish, and the small bugs and quirks don’t help that. PUSS! is not for everyone, but it’s also not trying to be.
A review code was provided by the publisher.