Posted by Marcel van Duyn
Super Sonic Puzzle Galaxy
There's been a lot of great eShop content as of late, but not many examples have been in the works for as long as Armillo, which was first announced way back in 2011. Now that it's finally here, were those years in development well spent?
In Armillo, you take the role of the titular character, a space armadillo, who is living life carefree on his home planet when it's suddenly attacked by the evil Darkbots. It's the tried-and-tested video game story — your friends get kidnapped, the bad guys try to take over the world, and you've got to set things right.
The game comes quite close to resembling other games, but in the end feels quite unique. During gameplay, you get to roll and jump around small, spherical planets, similar to Super Mario Galaxy, but there are rails and walled off paths all around meaning that you can't just go wherever you please. Some levels have ramps, boost pads and tracks suspended above the planet that almost make you feel like Sonic the Hedgehog when speeding through, in addition to Armillo himself having a Sonic-esque rolling dash attack.
Mostly, though, it's not a super fast-paced game, as there are plenty of puzzles and challenges that need to be figured out; you will only encounter the occasional section of platforming. Your main goal in most of the levels is to rescue the trapped Critters, who will in turn open paths for you and eventually lead you to the exit. Many other elements also come into play, including the usual locked doors and matching keys, but also an alternate dimension in which you can only survive for a limited time, machines which change the weather, and many more.
Once you get the hang of things, and especially when replaying stages, the game really starts to shine — the slightly linear layouts work in its favour, preventing aimless wandering and just presenting you with challenge after challenge. Of course, at the start of the game these tend to be similar, but as you progress and keep encountering new features they'll get more and more varied and fun to figure out. Eventually, almost every single level will introduce something new, keeping things fresh all the way through.
While it's not particularly hard at first, with the first world mostly serving as a tutorial, the game gradually ramps up the difficulty; by the end it gets quite challenging, especially if you're the type not to leave anything behind. Luckily, you'll quickly have access to a shop where you can spend your collectibles on upgrades such as increased max health, more time in timed sections, and more. This even leads to some optional backtracking, as you can buy abilities that let you access entirely new areas that you couldn't reach before in previous levels.
In addition to the many collectibles, it's possible to find and unlock a bonus stage in every single non-boss level, which can then be accessed from the level select screen, with a fourth unlocking if you beat the first three in a world. These feature completely different 2D gameplay, with an added double jump and a fairly strict timer, meaning you'll have to speed through them if you want to make it to the end in time. The aforementioned boss battle stages are, when compared to both the normal and bonus levels, pretty simple and short, and tend to just have you moving around a level while dodging the boss's attacks before finding and retaliating with a particular weapon.
This experience is quite long, meanwhile, with five worlds featuring four stages each, and an equal number of bonus stages. If you decide to go for 100%, the later normal levels can take upwards of 10 minutes to complete, as they have a lot of collectibles and secrets to find. All of the levels, bosses and bonus stages included will also award you with medals based on your score, which can also result in many replays to attain that coveted gold. Overall, there's a lot of content here.
In terms of technical prowess this has to be one of the most impressive eShop-exclusive titles yet, with beautiful levels and a rocking soundtrack, which turns into somewhat Commodore 64-like chiptune metal when playing one of the bonus stages. One odd thing, however, is the framerate, which seems to take dips in places where you wouldn't expect it. In one particular level where you change the weather and make the entire planet look different within a second, nothing happens at all, but then in another which just has a small group of enemies on-screen at the same time, it takes a nosedive until you've eliminated the lot of them. It's not game-breaking, but it is a little surprising.
It's been a long time coming, but Armillo has absolutely been worth the wait. A large amount of content, regular new gameplay additions that ensure the game doesn't get stale, a full second set of levels with completely different gameplay, and high replayability have all come together to create the newest must-have eShop title. The occasional framerate hiccups are a downer, but don't detract from the overall experience.