20181020171131_1

In The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, death is never too far away. Developed by Gory Detail – a studio formed by Conker’s Bad Fur Day creator Chris Seavor – the dark Lemmings-like tasks you with leading a small, windup dog named Rusty through a dank and dangerous sewer. Something that’s far easier said than done.

 

Along the way, you’ll have to place and destroy platforms, and switch on different light sources because Rusty will get frightened in the dark. You’ll also need to time your movements perfectly to the second to avoid stomping machines and other treacherous apparatus blocking your way. It’s a difficult balancing act to nail down and you’ll constantly find yourself dying to some breakable pathway or some drop you missed while focusing on something else. But these deaths never appear overly gratuitous, with every fall, crash, and splat having a specific purpose, teaching you to pay better attention to your surroundings and nudging you closer to the exit.

 

The game’s structure is fairly simple to get your head around. Its map is divided into different puzzle rooms, with each needing to be completed before Rusty Pup’s windup key stops turning. This is indicated by the timer on the top right of the screen, which you can extend temporarily by dropping mechanical helpers.

 

Rusty Pup

 

At the start of each stage, Rusty Pup will take a quick nap, allowing you to scan your eyes over your surroundings and prepare for the obstacles ahead. Although, no matter how closely you study a stage, you’ll rarely be able to finish it in a single swoop. Especially if you want to collect all the cube-shaped brains scattered across the levels — semi-optional pickups that Rusty can gather and flush down toilets to access harder areas.

 

It’s this cycle of trial and error which makes the game so compelling. Rusty Pup’s clockwork world is a tactile treat. And fiddling with the different switches and devices is satisfying, regardless of whether you’re successful or not in your attempts to reach the exit. The game also does a fantastic job of telling you why you’ve failed, ensuring that when you do eventually try again you can overcome the obstacle and progress, rather than repeatedly bashing your head against it with the same results.

 

For instance, sometimes Rusty will drop down into a hole if you’re not paying close enough attention, where a collection of gears will crush the toy into pieces. If this happens, the camera will zoom in on Rusty showing their death in all its gory detail (pun intended), while a cryptic voiceover gives hints on how to get around it. This ensures that you know where you went wrong and gives you that little bit of additional motivation to go back and try again.

 

RustyPupSplat

 

The stages also seem to be designed with the character’s movement speed and timer in mind. So, if you try to perform an action that takes too long, you’ll tend to die in the same place every time. This lets you know that it is impossible to carry out and encourages you to find another route around. It also means  you won’t spend longer than you have to repeating the same mistakes when you could easily be trying out other possible solutions.

 

Just in case you’ve forgotten where you’ve died too, the game throws down a morbid reminder in the form of a dead, decaying Rusty. So you can always look ahead in the level and immediately know which pathways you’ve already tried.

 

Some of the levels are also cleverly designed to allow players to skip certain steps and test out theories before committing to a full run, which encourages experimentation. In my playthrough, I came across a crossroads, for example, in stage I-IX where I could choose to go either left or right, with both sides eventually looping back to the centre. To finish the stage, I would have to complete a full circuit of the level, but it had to be done in a specific order and there were numerous obstacles that I had to overcome first, including hazardous machines and pitfalls.

 

Rather ingeniously, the game allows you take both paths from the very start of the level, giving you the opportunity to rush ahead to the obstacle that’s preventing you from finishing the level, as opposed to having to work through it all again to reach the problem at hand. It’s an excellent bit of stage design, which respects the player’s time, preventing the experience from becoming tedious to complete.

 

20181020171736_1

The best way to describe playing The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup is its like Groundhog Day without the existential dread. Just like that film’s protagonist Phil Connors, you, too, possess the benefits of immortality and hindsight and so whenever it comes time to employ the knowledge you’ve gathered over your many failed attempts, it comes together in an amazing sequence of events that makes the player appear immensely talented for pulling it all off.

 

The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup is a solid puzzle game. And though it isn’t surprising it has received very little attention from the gaming press, it’s still a shame to see it buried under other more popular releases. The game features some excellent puzzle design and you can really see the thought that went into every decision. If you want a game to settle down with at the end of a long day, Rusty Pup should be right at the top of your list.