Games like Marble Madness and the Super Monkey Ball series have had their share of devoted followers throughout the years, but they exist in a genre that isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with new entries. To those unfamiliar, these are games where the player controls a ball through a series of narrow pathways and obstacles, while trying their hardest not to topple into the abyss below. Percy’s Predicament is that type of affair, though it actually shares more similarities with one of Xbox 360’s first downloadable titles, Marble Blast Ultra, than those aforementioned titles.
You play as an adorable little penguin named Percy. Well, at least Percy appears adorable in the hand-drawn image presented on the main menu — his polygonal likeness is whole different case. There’s a story here to kick things off, delivered in about three sentences of text, and it’s as unnecessary as you may imagine. To summarize, Percy has been captured inside of an orb and must collect many, many clownfish to escape — that’s it. So with the agenda clearly laid out for you it’s time to roll forth and get fishy.
Each level is about surviving from the start to the finish while gobbling up fish and beating the clock. If you collide with a harmful object or fall from the platforms, it's back to the beginning of the stage. Once you've collected the number of fish indicated on the screen, it's time to find the portal and move onto the next challenge. Along the way power-ups will be encountered, each granting you with a single-use ability: a high jump, a blast to propel Percy forward at great speed, etc. It’s all pretty simple to understand.
The left analogue stick is for moving Percy around in his ball, while the right stick adjusts the camera, which can also affect your speed of movement depending on the angle. The ZL and ZR buttons (or B and A, your choice) are used for a standard jump and deploying power-ups, respectively. It’s easy to pick up and play, it’s just too bad another coat of spit and polish wasn’t applied to the controls, as meeting the demand of the trials ahead can be icy.
What it comes down to is that movement sensitivity feels too high, and there’s no option to alter it to your liking. Just wait until you’re trying to navigate narrow pathways and the slightest, almost non-existent deviation from pushing the joystick precisely forward sends Percy careening to his doom. If you swing the camera to an overhead view, the swiftness of movements will be drastically reduced, allowing much better control – but manipulating your view in this fashion during tight platforming leads to its own set of complications. This is by-no-means a broken control scheme, it's just a frustrating one that's often the cause of many heart-crushing deaths.
The level design can be interesting at times, although it should be noted that it can also be equally repetitious. Not only may a feeling of déjà vu frequently set in, but you’ll often swear that you’re playing a level you’ve already encountered. That’s because, on occasion, entire sections of previous levels have been reused and mixed into the layout of new ones. This isn’t so frequent that it drains too much enjoyment, but it is noticeable and feels lazy.
What really accentuates the gameplay flaws further is the overall poor presentation, even for a low-budget title. None of the artwork outside of the actual gameplay shares any real resemblance to what the game actually looks like. It’s all hand-drawn and of extremely low resolutions, yet expanded to fill an entire big-screen TV — just wait until you encounter the hideous level-introduction screens. These still images don’t mesh with anything before it, nor do they feel properly reflective of the world you’re exploring. To say these feel like placeholder images that were accidentally left in the final version of the game would be an understatement.
The actual 3D, polygonal game worlds aren’t much better either. Painfully low-resolution textures not seen since the days of the Nintendo 64, accompanied by chunky polygons and jagged edges, make Percy’s Predicament pretty painful on the eyes. Although they aren’t commonplace, there are also drops in framerate that can be jarring. From time to time we even encountered a bug or odd glitch that would allow us to exist in out-of-bounds areas of the environment from where we ended up stuck, and had to manually restart the level or travel around until we found water to drop into — which resets Percy to the level start.
Even with all of those criticisms we’d be remiss if we didn’t admit to having a deal of fun with Percy on occasion. If you have patience with the controls there comes a point when you can dull the annoyances. That won’t stop you from struggling to cope with the swift movements, but you should be better able to avoid disaster. Sticking with and finally completing a particularly troublesome stage will instil a great feeling of accomplishment, and it's a nice one. There are a solid amount of levels here for the price — around 80 — and the developer is even promising an additional 170 for free at some point after launch, so value isn’t so much a concern as is quality.
In the end, Percy’s Predicament feels like an unfinished build of a game that could’ve released for PC back in the late 90’s. Its appearance is dated and unpleasant on the eyes, the controls don’t feel as tuned as they should be, and the overall production is just rough. With that said, there is still a degree of enjoyment to be found here, but you would have to come to terms with and find your way around the many shortcomings. Fans of this underpopulated genre should stick to the classics, as this is one predicament you likely won't want to find yourself submerged in.