We have another PSN game up on the chopping block today, Funky Lab Rat. This platform puzzler by developer Hydravision blends time control with twitch platforming and for flavour adds a dash of environmental control. Intended to be played with the Playstation Move controller it controls equally well with the standard Dual shock controller ,which is how I played it, but it’s easy to see how the Move would improve it. Beyond it’s gameplay concepts FLR looks to impress with its jazzy animated presentation, which eschews 3D models in favour of beautifully animated 2D environments and sprites. It brings another recent downloadable title to mind, Super Meat Boy, in fact I would almost be willing to say that this game is intended to be Sony’s direct competitor to that title. The question is can a rat in a lab coat stand up to a blood dripping square meat boy (wow there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to type).
Skipping over the writing of FLR all together as there really isn’t much to FLR’s story beyond its premise (lab rat gets powers and escapes) we’re going to move right into the presentation. The whole game is presented in a very stylized 1950′s art deco fashion with soft colours and a great balance of sharp lines and round curves and corners. I mentioned earlier that the game is done entirely in 2D and that does the game a great service, everything is absolutely beautiful and crisp and looks great done in the HD visuals the PS3 is known for. That said as much as I enjoy the style of visuals there simply isn’t enough of it and I often found myself wanting more variation. The backgrounds don’t change up enough between levels and worlds to keep from becoming boring even the basic style begins to wear after a while.
The sound design shares a similar fate to the visuals, unique, clever, but reused ad nauseam. Smooth jazz goes perfectly with the art deco style creating what is at least at first a very relaxing experience (kind of like Bioshock but with less disturbing imagery). Unfortunately just like the visuals there isn’t a lot of variation here and it tends to wear thin rather quickly. It’s good quality music and one can definitely enjoy the awesome degree of funk presented within but the quantity is just not there.
The most important aspect of this (and really any) game is the gameplay which is thankfully really good here. The gameplay in this title is composed of two major aspects, puzzles and platforming, both of which it does fairly well. Starting off with the gameplay most quizzical, the puzzles in the game are easily it’s best part. They’re composed of a mix stopping time and arranging platforms (which is where the Move controls come in). Each level allows you to pause time a certain number of times and once you do you can manipulate certain objects in the level, moving and rotating them as you see fit which from my experience with the Move controller would work extremely well with it. The proper manipulation of the various pieces and management of your pauses creates some great mind-bending puzzle gameplay. However should you screw up your placement and end up with all the pieces you needed for finishing the level fallen down a cliff you can rewind back to your last pause with the hold of a button. The rewind feature works like a VHS tape allowing you to rewind however small an amount you would like meaning it can also be used to fix any platforming mistake you may make and trust me you’ll need that little advantage.
On that note let’s move onto the platforming which is fun but it has its problems, primarily the slidiness of the engine. While I did find that the actual controls were fairly precise I felt the majority of my failed landings weren’t due to a lack of skill but more due to the game engine moving me weird as I landed. While I could ignore this in a lot of other games because this particular title relies so much on precision platforming it sticks out like a sore thumb. This feeling increases even more considering that even without that slidiness the game is already very difficult in its later levels.
The difficulty is the major reason why I compare this game to Super Meat Boy. While in its earlier levels it’s fairly easy as time goes on it becomes much tougher requiring more precision and having it’s puzzles become even more mind-boggling. It’s this same reason I never managed to finish this title (I haven’t finished SMB either) but I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the challenge that this game presented. Just like SMB there is plenty of content for the platforming masochist in every gamer who hails from the NES/SNES era of the beating your head against a wall game philosophy that trained us all to hate life.
All in all Funky Lab Rat is good and challenging title that I think really makes good use of its gameplay mechanics. However I think when directly compared to Super Meat Boy it is the lesser title. That said it’s not that far in quality from everyone’s favorite indie darling and as SMB won’t be showing up on the PSN anytime soon and not everyone likes to play games on the PC, FLR is a good substitute for those of the Sony only persuasion. I think it’s also a good choice for anyone who has finished (or finished as much as they can take) of SMB but still needs a good platforming fix. For a great execution of its gameplay concepts but a serious lack of variety in its presentation Funky Lab Rat gets a 3.5 out of 5 stars. While a lot of people might not be able to take the difficulty of a game like this for platforming enthusiasts this game is a must buy.