An Adorably Deadly Menagerie

HIGH The Arachnae boss fight.

LOW The lack of a hint system.

WTF Uh-oh, (SPOILER) has figured out he’s a videogame villain.

Professor Lupo and His Horrible Pets manages the rarest feat in the world of puzzle games — the puzzles are not only completely justified by the story, but are also an integral part of telling it.

Set on a spaceship orbiting Earth, Professor Lupo stars an intern who must fight for survival when a demonstration of bio-weapons is disrupted by a paramilitary force determined to prevent the horrifying creatures from being used against people.

This synopsis makes it sound like Lupo is bleaker than it actually is. There’s plenty of bloodshed and horrific creatures, of course, but there’s also a decent helping of black comedy and a handful characters that get far more development than one would expect from a puzzler about escaping from horrible beasts.

There are 100 puzzles over four chapters following the intern’s attempts to find a way off of the spaceship. Every level is built around getting to an exit while avoiding a wide variety of creatures and traps. This is accomplished by careful movement through grid-based levels and careful manipulation of remote doors, gas emitters, and flamethrowers — all of this technology is used to manipulate the various monsters into doing what the player needs them to.

There are seven different creatures in total, each with different behavior and biology. Some detect the slightest sound and will travel mindlessly towards it. Others lay traps in well-trafficked areas. Some detect body heat, and others fixate on scents. Figuring out how each creature operates and then manipulating them towards the intern’s purposes is key, and Lupo does a fantastic job of giving players a chance to experiment until they’re amateur beast wranglers.

Lupo also does a magnificent job of mixing up puzzle designs all the way through the campaign. The creatures are measured out gradually, so every time the player feels like they’ve grown comfortable with one, another will be added to complicate things — essentially it forces players to completely rethink how they move through levels and they’ll have to see how new organisms interact with old ones. One of the developers’ biggest accomplishments is that such design truly makes the player feel like they’re learning about the “pets” just as the intern is.

For example, I found myself trapped in one of the three ‘boss fight’ sequences, and after five minutes of frustration, I realized that nothing happening was random — if I was failing to escape a monster, it’s likely because I hadn’t taken the time to figure it out. (Although in fairness, it’s hard to understand things when one’s only interaction with them is to flee.)

A monster desperately wanted to tear its way into the room I was in, and the moment I started thinking about how to discourage it, the answer became obvious — the puzzles are universally intuitive when the time to examine them is taken. In the eight hours I spent with Professor Lupo, I never took more than a couple of minutes on any given puzzle, because the developers ensure that the world they created runs on solid, predictable rules.

I will criticize Professor Lupo for one thing, though — its lack of a hint system.

Finishing the game got me a 33% completion ranking — the rest can be earned by completing strange objectives in levels or finding collectibles, including a huge number of indie titles that the Lupo devs think people should check out.

These challenges are sadistically difficult, and after spending more time trying to grab a single film reel than I’d spent on the entire first chapter, I couldn’t help but wonder if the difficulty was set a little too high. According to one of the characters, there’s a secret ending for anyone willing to put in the work to get to 100%, and the rest of the story is so wonderful that it’s a bit of a tragedy that the vast majority of players will never see it due to the devs’ unwillingness to offer a helping hand.

Even without seeing the secret ending, I was fully satisfied with my experience playing Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets. It’s as clever and well-constructed a puzzle game as I’ve seen, and the fact that it manages to tell an interesting story through those puzzles elevates it to a whole new level. This is a great accomplishment, and deserves the attention of anyone who wants their brain teased.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Beautifun Games. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC and Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10 and contains Cartoon Violence. There’s plenty of implied gore but it’s handled in a cheeky, good-natured way, so even when human characters are being swallowed whole or skeletonized by beasts, I can’t imagine that it will be too traumatizing. However, parents might want be around to help younger kids with some of the harder puzzles, and also to walk them through some of the headier concepts brought up by the ending.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game does not offer remappable controls. There is no control diagram. On PC, it is played with a mouse, which is used to click on squares to move the intern to them, and operate remote buttons. On Switch, players have the option to use the touchscreen and tap with their fingers, or use a joycon as a mouse cursor. I found tapping to be more precise, although overall the mouse offered the best control of the three options.

Daniel Weissenberger
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