First impressions are important, and The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup wastes no time in underlining how refreshingly unique it is. This mechanical puzzle-platform game – which was originally slated for the Wii U and 3DS but is now on the way to the Switch – has been developed over the past four years by UK studio Gory Detail, which is comprised of Chris Seavor and Shawn Pile, two former Rare staffers best known for their work on the 2001 Nintendo 64 title Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Once you’re done entertaining yourself in the game’s main menu - where you can repeatedly open and shut various mechanical components to reveal additional submenus and options - you move onto the game itself.
The opening scene is oddly but unsurprisingly reminiscent of Conker’s Bad Fur Day because of the voice over, which sounds like a combination of Conker and the character Birdy. This narrator – reliant on storytelling through rhyme – subtly directs you, as you indirectly guide Rusty (the titular robotic pup) through a series of hazardous environments. The aim is to keep this pooch out of harm’s way and help him find his way back home – moving from one level to the next – after he’s flushed down a drain. Like any good dog, he craves scratches behind the ears and appreciates it when you help him out by lighting the way or laying down pathways so he can cross dangerous gaps. You do all of this by interacting with the surrounding environment to encourage him to follow specific pathways. Light sources, in particular, are a helpful way of prompting him to move in the direction you desire.
As grim and gloomy as the environments can be, quite often there is a colourful canvas on display courtesy of some astoundingly effective lighting effects. There are also plenty of intricate details and an ambient soundtrack filled with interesting and atmospheric mechanical noises. If you don’t keep an eye on your pup in these detailed environments, he’ll likely be turned into scrap metal by an exposed gear or the fatal impact of a high fall.
Fortunately, when this does happen, he’ll reset back at the start. In each level, you might be required to obtain special material to build a bridge while flicking on lights simultaneously and then flush a brain down a toilet. It’s a bit weird at times, but also rewarding in the way each level has you carefully solving one small task after another in order to safely guide Rusty from start to finish. As you progress, more mechanics are introduced to further increase the challenge. Each level might be a little daunting at first, but the solution becomes more evident over time. Adding to this is the timer, which is reduced whenever Rusty has an accident – this encourages you to solve puzzles in a timely manner.
The controls are probably the most concerning aspect when it comes to this game eventually making a transition across to the Switch. In the PC version, which uses the mouse, clicks didn’t always register and triggers failed to activate at crucial moments, resulting in levels having to be restarted from time to time. The design of the menu and in-game UI is novel as it is frustrating. It’s also problematic when you’ve got no direct control over the pace of Rusty and you’re frantically trying to sort out the path ahead of him – but you could argue that's all part of the challenge, just as it was in Lemmings all those years ago. Whether these problems will transfer across to the Nintendo release is hard to say, but games requiring a cursor can always be a challenge to replicate on console and it will be interesting to see how Gory Detail adapt Rusty Pup for the Switch's touchscreen and Joy-Con interface.
Apart from the occasionally skittish controls, based on what we played, the rest of the game is very enjoyable indeed. It does a great job encouraging you to learn from your mistakes and is a nice change of pace from games that are often too fast for their own in this fast-paced industry; while some might struggle with the lack of agency over Rusty's actions, others will delight in unearthing the solutions to the many mind-bending puzzles contained within each glourishly-rendered level, and there's enough of Seavor's trademark humour to keep a smile on your face at all times.
Keep your eyes out for The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup when it launches sometime in the near future on the Switch eShop.