From the title, Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets, you know this is most likely a Nintendo Switch game. Well, it isn’t an exclusive as it’s also available on Steam, but this review will be looking at the Switch version. Brought to you by BeautiFun Games, creators of Nihilumbra, I’ll be honest – from the screenshots alone, I wasn’t sold, but the trailer won me over. It was witty and had a certain charm to it that warranted a look. Professor Lupo is essentially a puzzle game that is story-driven and has a slight adventure feel to it due to the running narrative. Spanning over five chapters that consist of 20 levels each, Professor Lupo is a relatively big game for an indie title. The developers list this as 12+ hours of gameplay, and I think it easily meets that.
Attack on Aurora
You play as the intern, a guinea pig, of sorts, on the Aurora Space Station that conducts experiments on aliens using the interns as bait. The space station is heading back to Earth as the titular professor is going to sell these aliens to the highest bidder for weaponisation.
En route, the Aurora is attacked by the Blue Ragnarok, led by General Khan, who are opposed to the experiments, and their goal is to ground the space station, wiping out everything on board. The intern has had enough and intends to get on one of the remaining escape pods and head home.
The intern is alone, however, save for the ship’s AI named Pluto and the occasional interjection by the Professor and General Khan over their communications network. Our hero later meets a stranger who has boarded the ship, and this paves the way for a little more development and for the player to find out who the intern is/was.
We don’t only see the intern develop as the story progresses, but we find out more about Pluto as well. While Pluto doesn’t have the aspirations to be the next HAL, its dialogue frequently breaks the fourth wall. Think of some of the Codec conversations in the Metal Gear Solid games.
Escape from Professor Lupo
Each level has the same goal: reach the endpoint that brings you closer to the escape pods. At first, the intern will need to open a door here and close one there to navigate the stage but also to prevent the aliens from following him. There are no weapons, and there is no health bar. If the aliens catch you, they will eat you and turn you into a big pile of turquoise goo. Stages have a checkpoint, however, so you don’t have to go back to the start each time.
Aliens have individual behaviours to learn, and some are weaker to certain elements found in the game. There are introductions to each new alien in-game, but you can retrieve their specifics at any time from the pause menu via the archive pages.
Later in the game, we are introduced to alien traps, poisonous gas and fire that you can toggle to your advantage. The introduction of these is gradual, and as a result, the game never feels stale as there is always something new brought into the mix.
Solving the puzzles in each area is pretty rewarding and makes you feel clever, but at the same time, there are no loading screens worth mentioning, so you spend less time gloating on your latest achievement. Speaking of achievements, as this is the Switch version, there isn’t the same system as the PS4 or Xbox One, but there are trophies/achievements to obtain. Whether it’s collecting an item during a level or ensuring one of the aliens doesn’t die, the trophies/achievements give some extra replay value and something for the completionists. I have to say though, some of the items to collect require almost impeccable timing.
In Space, There’s No Need to Scream
In fear of the game getting tiresome, the difficulty continues to increase, and new puzzle elements are introduced to test your grey matter. Like The Gardens Between, it’s rare to have a frustrating moment, but everyone has their weakness.
One level had me so irritated that I lost count of the number of times I attempted to complete it. There were only two remote door switches and one computer terminal, with an alien waiting on the other side of the door I needed to pass. The challenge is to open an airlock that will suck the alien into space along with the floor panels, but it will do the same to you. I couldn’t fathom how to get through this until I realized that the airlock could be closed, and the floor panels regenerate. It didn’t seem so obvious, but I felt like a goon when I realized how easy it was.
With so many levels and an advancing storyline, there was bound to be a boss or two in the game. I won’t give too much away, but one particular scene with a Vermis reminded me a lot of the game Snake on the Nokia back in the day. It took me about four or five attempts to complete, and each time was surprisingly fun and not frustrating in the slightest.
Curse the Controls!
You can control the intern directly with either the D-pad or left analogue stick. Prior to the title sequence, if playing with the Pro Controller, the game advises you to calibrate it so you can use the controller as a pointer – similar to the Wii remote. I wasn’t a fan of this at all, and after my first playthrough, I took a break and decided to try to play in handheld mode using the touchscreen. Without realising the time, I had played solidly for a good couple of hours – and I seldom play portable for that long.
Of course, there is the option to play in docked mode without using the controller as a pointer. If the cursor appears, you can press the – button, and it switches to focus mode, thus removing the onscreen cursor.
As some doors are opened remotely, a mouse would be much easier. You can point the controller or use the touchscreen, but I eventually found that I could scroll through switches using the L or R buttons. This works fine, but sometimes the highlighted button would switch automatically to another door, and I would inadvertently free an alien.
Considering the intern is trying to escape a sinking ship, so to speak, and has various species trying to eat him, he could do with a run button. Almost all of the aliens can outrun you. This is fine, but after you’ve died for the umpteenth time and have to redo a sequence of switches while avoiding incoming Sagittas, it could do with him being able to sprint – even if in small bursts. The speed in which he moves would probably be one of my biggest gripes, and that’s not really a big deal, in all honesty.
I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That
The voice acting and dialogue is amusing. There’s always a moment in games when you tire of reading the text or the voice actors take too long. In Professor Lupo, it’s spot on. In the beginning, when in tutorial mode, there is the odd conversation that gives a bit of exposition, and you sometimes want it to speed up, but this is dialogue from the AI Pluto. It all becomes apparent on why he is verbose at times as the story progresses, so again, not a real issue.
Professor Lupo is well presented overall, and I liked the graphics. They’re pretty, relatively simple and serve the gameplay well. The dialogue scenes are well animated, and the general character designs are interesting. The intern, in particular, reminds me of a rugged Larry Laffer – the older titles, that is – not the remakes.
Genres are overcrowded these days, and I don’t see that many puzzle games – at least none that catch my attention. Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets did catch my attention and has done a good job at retaining it. It has just the right level of difficulty to appeal to a broad audience, and the story is fun and not a simple afterthought. There aren’t any irrelevant cutscenes or inane plot devices added for the sake of it. The dialogue, as I’ve mentioned a few times, is a lot of fun and well-acted.
Developer: BeautiFun Games
Publisher: BeautiFun Games
Platforms: PC, Switch
Release Date: 11th July 2019