Review: Wuppo

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This game was selected as our November 2018 Reader’s Choice Review. Learn more on our Patreon page.

There are a vast array of approaches taken to platformer design, but in general you pretty much know what you’re getting. With few exceptions you run, you jump, you collect powerups, you deal with enemies and traps, and you head for your goal. What exceptions there are can be eye-opening, and Wuppo is a prime example of just such a curveball. Presented as a platformer, edging dangerously close to a metroidvania, this charming little adventure is really just a day in the life of a simple little creature in their strange, fantastic world. And it just happens to be a day that could change everything forever.

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You are a wum, a tiny, spherical creature on four stubby legs. You reside in the Wumhouse, a grand edifice in which you spend your days eating ice cream and watching TV. Unfortunately you’re a bit too slovenly about it for the management, which has you booted out into the wilderness to find a more accepting home. This sets you little wum on a grand odyssey, meeting other sentients like the rowdy blions and serene blussers, learning about the long and storied history of the world, and uncovering existential threats to the wum’s way of life. There are items to find, friends to help, credit to earn, and bosses to defeat on your journey, and what starts as a search for a new pad ends with the fate of the world resting on your adorable little dome.

Now, when I talk about a “grand odyssey”, you might be envisioning something like Hollow Knight or Ori where you’re exploring a vast, untamed land. That’s really not the case in Wuppo for a couple reasons. For one, the map is mostly concentrated around the actual settlements of the wums and their peers. When you get chucked from the Wumhouse you’ll do a little hiking through the forest and some caves, but after that it’s back to civilization and the towns and cities of the world for pretty much the rest of the game. Instead of spelunking and mountain climbing, you’ll be navigating the busy streets of Popo City, and exploring the villages of other species on the edges of wum society.

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The other thing about Wuppo is that it’s more of an adventure game than anything. Combat tends to be the least of your concerns here, relegated to occasional enemy appearances and the isolated boss fights. There are plenty of those, mind you, but they’re spaced out between long sections of exploring, talking, and problem-solving. Your wum has a robust inventory of items they can wear on their tiny head and huck at other creatures for whatever reason, like returning lost hats or sharing food. You’ll get some clever hat-based devices like a cleaner that spreads suds for you to scrub and eat, and a newspaper launcher that delivers papers straight to willing heads. Most items are found or received but a few can be bought and sold, exchanging smurt or wondersplenk for goods like hats and food.

You may have noticed by now that there are some colorful names floating around in this one. Perhaps Wuppo’s greatest strength is in the world it has built for you to putter around in, full of rich histories and lore for its weirdly precious inhabitants. The optional filmstrip collectibles scattered throughout the game will teach you all about the shared history of the wums, blussers, splenkhakkers, and fnakers, as well as how Popo City and the Wumhouse came to be, where kneft come from, why the city runs on credit instead of smurt, and far more eclectic secrets than this. It’s all told with a familiar charm and hilarious writing, from the tall tales of Burt Smulder to the intense drive of Uberhenk. It’s adorable through and through, and encourages loads of exploration just to see more of the charm tucked away here.

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The rich presentation helps a lot, because Wuppo can feel like a rather aimless game at times. Like I said, it’s not really an epic quest or a series of challenges, it’s just your little wum trying to find their place in the world. You’ll have objectives at any given time but they’re things like “find a new place to live” and “earn some credit”. It’ll take some effort to figure out what you should be doing next and how to do it, and in the early parts of the game before the full scope of events becomes clear, this can make it hard to stick with. My first attempt at playing Wuppo ended about two hours in, when I got stumped trying to get to Popo City and lost interest in the game. I needed a few clues to point me in the right direction the second time I played, but once I actually GOT to Popo City the game picked up significantly and kept me engaged all the way through the mind-bending conclusion.

You may also run afoul of technical issues on this one, owing to its GameMaker roots. Wuppo can be extremely temperamental about refresh rates, slowing down or speeding up to uncomfortable degrees. A few of the events can break as well, particularly the lines in Wondersplenk when you’re waiting to get on a ride. And that’s another thing, in the game’s quest to simulate an actual little society, there are things you need to wait in line for. The train between the Wumhouse and Popo City actually runs on a five-minute rotation, meaning you might be sitting at the station whistling (there’s a dedicated whistle button) as you arbitrarily wait to get on with the game.

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These issues make Wuppo a bit more of a challenge to get into than more conventional platformers, but that’s also the beauty of it. Wuppo is a very different kind of platformer, one that’s not afraid to confuse you with its strange histories or unexpected conventions. It’s a game where you’re not a hero, you’re really just some little jerk who ends up making more of a difference than you’d ever expect, in ways you won’t be expecting either. It’s unique, which is rare for a platformer, but still manages to be unrelentingly fun. And that’s the thing, if you can get over the initial weirdness and hurdles, Wuppo rewards you with some of the happiest, most charming gameplay around.

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