Professor Lupo and His Horrible Pets is a new top-down puzzle game from Beautifun Games, developers of the Lovecraftian side-scroller Nihilumbra. Professor Lupo is inspired by many of the greats in Sci-Fi, and it wears those influences on its sleeves. Unfortunately, while the monsters and puzzles offer some interesting designs, the game never quite reaches the heights to which it aspires.
In Professor Lupo, players control a nameless Intern as he attempts to escape a space station overrun with monsters. Throughout 100 levels, players navigate through winding corridors, interacting with terminals, and dodging Professor Lupo's horrible pets. Moving on a grid system, you can use either use the touch screen or Joy-Cons to toggle doors and airlocks and make your way to the exit before being eaten.
Professor Lupo is a mad scientist living and working on his own private space station. One day, while giving a demonstration to potential buyers for his horrible pets (a collection of genetically modified killer monsters), the space station is struck by a barrage of missiles launched by a military organization, called Blue Ragnarok, who wishes to stop Professor Lupo once and for all. Working solo and with a companion named Fire, the Intern must make his way through the station to the escape pods before the station is completely destroyed.
Get To Know Professor Lupo's Pets
Each of seven different monsters players will encounter during the campaign want to kill and eat them, badly. Luckily, each one has a unique movement pattern and set of behaviors that, once learned, will give an edge against them. The game does a good job of introducing each monster and slowly ramping up the level of interaction required to best them. The first monster, the Vermis, is a worm-like alien that will always move in the direction of its prey, regardless of walls and obstacles. Avoiding Vermis usually involves leading them into dead ends and closing doors in their path, but later you'll need to use the Vermis' predictable movement to block other monsters or even cause them to eat each other, opening a path to the exit.
Forcing enemies to fight is, more often than not, the solution to most puzzles, and learning how each one moves is the key to success. Unfortunately, several of the creatures have movement patterns that are inconsistent and incredibly challenging to gauge. Even once you know what to do, you will probably die a handful of times just trying to get the timing right. I encountered a number of situations in my playthrough where I was sure the game was bugged, only for a strategy I had attempted several times already to finally work.
The Osculum, for example, are cute rabbit-like creatures that can shoot out their long tongue, latch onto the Intern's head, and eat him whole. You can, and will need to, bait out their tongues and dodge at the last second to get them to latch onto the wall behind you, forcing a momentary stun. Sometimes, this is a lot easier said than done, and you may need to lure the Osculum towards you in ways that surely look like they should mean your death, but for some reason don't.
Late in the game, players will encounter the intelligent Furax, and then all bets are off. These intelligent creatures will follow you relentlessly through the ship, even using terminals to open doors. These are some of the most infuriating levels in the game. One particular level, which I'll spoil here (because no one should spend an hour stuck on this god has forsaken challenge like I did), involves a pair of Furax that expertly split up to pursue you through an 8-shaped corridor.
No matter which way you try to escape, the creatures will always corner you. It seems like it's a matter of timing, as most puzzles in Professor Lupo are, but in fact, it has a very frustrating and counter-intuitive solution. There is a small room in the center you can trap yourself in, and if you do so, the Furax will cover both exits and wait for you to open the door or restart, unless you've managed to lead them both to the same side. Then, rather than splitting up again to cover both doors, one of the creatures will open the far door, allowing you to escape as they run around trying to catch up. It's a baffling sequence that goes against everything the game has taught you about the creatures behavior, and it isn't the only frustrating puzzle like this in the game.
Timing Is More Important Than Solving
While it looks like a puzzle game, 80% of the puzzles are about moving from point A to point B with the right timing. The switches, terminals, motion detectors, and airlocks never really build into the kind of complex puzzle that requires intricate planning that the game seems to be building towards. Instead, you'll mostly be trying to outrun monsters to get to doors before they catch you, or closing doors at just the right time to re-route monsters somewhere else.
There are a lot of mechanics introduced throughout the game, and it's a genuine treat to discover how they work and interact with each other. Unfortunately, the pieces never really come together to form the Rube Goldberg Machine of traps and passages I was hoping for. There are a lot of missed opportunities, as more and more ideas are introduced rather than combining the things we've already learned in interesting ways.
The Hardest Challenge In The Game Is Actually Controlling It
Players can use either the touch screen or the joy-cons to control the Intern, and both have major downsides. The Intern moves on a grid system, so it is very easy to overshoot where you are trying to walk using the control stick. Once an input is registered, the Intern will move into the next space on the grid and can't be turned around. This will cause you to walk past the terminal you want to interact with constantly, and losing even one second of time in this game will get you killed almost every time. The shoulder buttons can also be used to cycle through available interactions, but it's difficult to tell which door is selected, and activating one will move the target to another door, even if you intended to close and open the same door quickly.
The touch screen, on the other hand, is similarly frustrating. You can drag your finger across the screen to move the camera or pinch to zoom out, but the camera will force its way back to center on the Intern, causing you to be unable to press buttons when you need to. It's also incredibly easy to misclick and send the Intern somewhere you absolutely did not mean to.
Go Back To School, Professor
I never got comfortable playing Professor Lupo. Eventually, I adopted a half-control/half-touch screen technique, which helped with precision, but was pretty awkward to hold. The puzzles range from linear walks-in-the-park to infuriating, unbeatable hellscapes. The game tries to invoke the clever meta-humor of Portal, but drawing comparisons only accentuates how short it falls in terms of complexity and satisfying puzzle solving.
2 Out Of 5 Stars
A review code of Professor Lupo and his Horrible Pets was provided to TheGamer. Professor Lupo is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC.