And now for something completely different. No, not John Cleese doing a silly walk, but rather the release of the next in the long list of games brought to us by Ratalaika Games, developed by a Scottish studio that goes by the name of Lowtek Games Studio. And, just for a change, there is not just one game to take a look at in Parasite Pack, but two.
What I shall do, for the purposes of this review, is look at each game separately in order to bring you a flavour of each, and then draw it together with an overview of the pack at the end. So, lets go and be a parasite, shall we?
First out of the gate when you fire up Parasite Pack is Flea. Now, short of the old flea circuses that used to kick about when I was a kid (yes, I’m really old), I’m struggling to think of another game where a flea is the hero, as Henry is in this game. Now, old Henry isn’t just your regular bog standard flea, he is a hyperactive flea, which means he can never stop jumping. Normally this would be annoying but not life threatening, except that Henry has been charged with collecting blood for some “refu-fleas”, and the dogs that he has to harvest it from are full of thumb tacks, for some reason. There is no mention in the game about how the dogs lie down, for instance, but Henry has to deal with the world as he finds it. So, constant jumping plus flea killing spikes equals old skool platformer, where you can’t stop jumping.
The challenge with Flea is in trying to ensure Henry can fit through the gaps in the scenery, all while avoiding the other critters that have made the dogs their homes. Luckily, Henry is a manoeuvrable little fellow, and at any time in his jump he can be steered left and right in order to avoid danger. Whether that means you start moving as soon as he leaves the floor to get maximum horizontal distance, or whether you need to gently nudge him past spikes as he begins his descent, the reflexes you need will leave you sweating.
There are eighty levels of madness to explore in Flea, and there are also a number of bosses to take down, so this won’t be a quick completion, despite it being a Ratalaika title. Personally I am in favour of having to work for my achievements, so that’s actually a plus in my book.
The second game in Parasite Pack is called Tapeworm Disco Puzzle, and features, as its hero, not just any old tapeworm but a nightclub-owning tapeworm wearing headphones. Now, this begs a number of questions, such as why is he wearing headphones when tapeworms have no ears, and where exactly is this nightclub, given that tapeworms live in the digestive systems of other mammals?
But leaving these frankly disturbing questions aside, it’s probably best to look at what our tapeworm needs to do and as you’d expect with a nightclub to run, our hero is only interested in collecting musical notes and cassettes (it’s obviously an old skool nightclub), in addition to helping out various fleas that he finds on his travels. Although, again, fleas are an external parasite and so the two should never meet…
Anyway, what this translates into is a game where we have to guide our tapeworm through various obstacles to collect his notes, yet when that body is of a finite length, planning is required. Luckily, cassettes that you pick up increase the length of your body, so you can stretch a bit further.
Each screen, of which there are many, sees you start at one of a number of points at the bottom of the screen, before stretching your way upwards and grabbing your notes. Quite often you will have to backtrack in order to reach other notes, and with the appearance of various other objectives, like helping a flea singer reach a nightclub, and the need to navigate buttons and wormholes, it all gets pretty complex pretty quickly.
A change happens every twenty levels though, leaving you to defeat a boss stage. It’s here where Tapeworm Disco Puzzle forces you to play a version of the classic Snake, steering your worm through spikes and narrow corners, helping free fellow worms from whatever it was we were freeing them from (it’s not really clear, sadly). Add in a co-op mode for two players and there is a lot of content to go at here.
Now, the things that both Flea and Tapeworm Disco Puzzle have in common is the presentation, which is almost delightfully 8-bit in implementation. The screen is displayed in a 4:3 format, with colourful graphics around the sides, and it all looks like something you’d have played on your NES many years ago. The difficulty is also the same as it was back in the day; a one hit and you’re out approach ensures that both games require some planning.
Those vibes roll into the audio too and whilst it is okay, there is not a huge amount going on apart from a distressing “squelch” noise when you die. It fits the overall aesthetic though, so no real complaints here.
The only slight downside to Parasite Pack is something that is found in many Ratalaika Games titles – once you have beaten it, you are unlikely to return to try again. This is very much a “one playthrough and done” experience, even if the number of levels will mean that one playthrough will take a while.
And really, that’s about all I can say about this Parasite Pack: if you fancy a retro puzzle experience, with two distinct flavours, then Parasite Pack will be right up your alley. It certainly appears to come from an era where gameplay is more important than graphics, and I for one am heartily behind that sentiment.
Parasite Pack is available at the Xbox Store
- Lots of content across both games
- Retro style works really well
- Later puzzles will test you
- Zero replayability
- Won’t appeal to everyone
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Ratalaika Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 1 July 2022
- Launch price from - £5.99