App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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PUSS! is an avoidance game about a cat that journeys into a tv world of intense visuals and occult surrealism. It's a game where you'll find yourself weaving a pixelated feline through levels that are heavily inspired by glitch art, vaporwave, and other subversive digital art styles in an effort to defeat a series of bosses that all have their own unique gimmicks. At first blush, I was enamored with PUSS!'s off-beat style, but that quickly gave way to a feeling of frustration that comes from the game's lack of direction.
Cat and mouse
In PUSS!, you pilot a digitized cat face much in the same way you might control a mouse cursor on a very sensitive touchpad. Your goal is to guide this cat through levels that largely consist of various corridors and obstacles. What makes this difficult is the fact that you need to control your cat such that it doesn't touch anything. If it does, the screen starts to glitch out, and--if you don't recover quickly enough--you lose a life and have to start the level over again.
Most levels in PUSS! can be finished in under a minute, but you need to complete a series of them to reach any of the game's bosses. Your lives carry across these sets of levels, so you want to preserve them as much as possible for the boss fight at the end, lest you lose all your lives and have to start the progression all over again.
A litter of styles
The most striking thing about PUSS! is definitely its overall aesthetic. Shocking neon colors, flashing lights, digital noise, and crude 3D renderings are the primary tools for level creation and decoration here, making the game feel like you're in a digitized psychadelic fever dream. To further fuel the wild visuals, PUSS! also tells a strange narrative about an ancient prophecy that you must fulfill by rescuing prisoners like other cats and unicorns.
There are times where the over-the-top visuals in PUSS! can make it hard to play the game as well as you'd like, but that's not my main problem with its look. Rather, the game seems to be cobbling together a bunch of different digital pop art styles, to the point that the resulting tableau ends up feeling like an oddly generic mishmash of references (as opposed a specific kind of homage or fusion).
I realize I sound like I'm getting hung up on the visuals in PUSS!, but it's the thing about this game that makes it noteworthy. It's avoidance gameplay is not anything new, though there are some clever level design twists that are fun discoveries. It's also important to focus on the game's lack of commitment to any individual art style because a similar problem exists with the game's level structure.
With the exception of bosses, PUSS!'s levels are served up seemingly at random. This is to say that you can enter the same "world" of a boss numerous times and play different levels in that world each time. What it also means is that you'll also play and replay a lot of the same levels you've completed in other worlds when taking on subsequent bosses. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why the game is set up this way, and it makes for wild inconsistencies in the difficulty and variety during play.
The bottom line
In a lot of ways, PUSS! feels like a game made by an artificial intelligence that has been studying a raw feed of internet ephemera and cats. Sometimes it's rad, but at others it can feel pretty random and shallow. A bit more commitment to shaping and structuring PUSS! intentionally could really help it realize more of its potential, and make it more like the artistic showpiece and satisfying avoidance game it is trying to be.