A short, trippy, shallow romp with fun puzzles and music
Let me start out by disclosing my utter lack of objectivity when reviewing a game from Amanita Design: I am an utter fanboy. Their wondrous 2009 game Machinarium is one of my all-time favorite adventure games.
I enjoyed the Samorost trilogy as well, though not quite as much. It had a similar level of whimsy and charm, but felt more like a collection of charming puzzles with singing aliens than a coherent adventure. It was entertaining and pleasant, but it didn’t grab me or make me care the way I cared about the imperiled robot romance of Machinarium.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on over at Amanita, but the devolution seems to be continuing. Their latest game, Chuchel, is all whimsy and no story or character. It’s charming, funny, even clever. But if Machinarium was a hearty meal and Samorost was a quick sandwich, Chuchel is a small serving of cotton candy.
The game starts in a room with a bunch of bizarre low-res creatures sleeping, or at least waking up after sleeping. You can click around the large room, but nearly everything you do makes noise that seems to irritate the alpha creature sleeping on a box near the middle of the room. The game’s first task seems to be getting that grumpy sleepyhead to wake up.
Next a giant hand plucks our alpha creature to a blank screen and places a large cherry opposite him. Clearly, the creature’s goal is to get to the cherry. BUT: Another creature blocks the way. The game was gently teaching me how to play, as I had to figure out how to outwit the guardian of the cherry to get to my prize.
Oh, and for those keeping score, Alpha Creature Chasing Cherry = The Entire Game.
The characters speak in gibberish and communicate with the player via thought bubbles. Variations on this technique have been employed in every Amanita game I’ve played, and it’s a design decision that consistently helps create simplicity, whimsy and character. I’ve got no problem with it.
So. It’s a game about a fuzzball chasing a cherry. He1 struggles to overcome obstacles and puzzles to catch up the elusive fruit, and each time he thinks he’s finally about to possess it, a bad guy intervenes and snatches the cherry from his grasp. Which, when you think about it, is also the exact same plot as every Uncharted and Tomb Raider game, every Indiana Jones movie, and many other games and movies.
It’s possible I would have enjoyed this game more without any prior experience playing better games from Amanita Design. But I have, and I cannot get the memory of those games out of my head, or out of this review.
But I will endeavor to look at the bright side as much as possible.
Music. As with every Amanita game, the music is terrific. It’s created by the Czech band DVA (who provided music for another Amanita game, Botanicula). It’s whimsical and catchy.
Some Clever Puzzles. The game is all puzzles. Some of them seem simply arbitrary, but some of them are clever and fun to work out.
Fun references. The game almost seems to channel certain comedic tropes from other media. I noticed moments that were pure Wile E. Coyote. Chuck Jones’s classic surrealist Daffy Duck adventure “Duck Amuck” came to mind repeatedly. I even found myself thinking about Gollum and his Precious.
Puzzle variety channels a variety of game genres. The designers have a lot of fun with puzzle variety. They borrow from adventure games (a maze), fighting games (a puzzle brawl), platformers (you guessed it) and other types of games. This kept the puzzle-solving from feeling repetitive or tedious.
No Story. Again, see Machinarium.
Shallow and Short. It’s wispy appetizer, not a meal.
How trippy is this game? Well, there’s one short section in which Chuchel is extremely amused by a small, ladybug-type creature. Even when it bites off his arm. He keeps giggling uncontrollably even as a swarm of the creatures scurries in and literally devours him.
Perhaps there’s a gas leak over at the Amanita offices? Or maybe they’re all tripping balls on magical edibles? Because Chuchel is as close to Acid Gaming as anything I have played in quite awhile.
The game is only a couple of hours long. If you want a giddy, colorful, creative diversion, you could certainly do worse. But I sure hope the clever folks over at Amanita are cooking up something more substantial for their next offering. LIKE A SEQUEL TO MACHINARIUM?!?
1She? It? Pronouns fail me here.
+ Spiffy music from CVA
+ Some clever puzzles
+ Good puzzle variety
– Short and shallow
– No story
Graphics: Intel HD 4000
Additional Notes: Mouse recommended
Processor: 2.3 GHz Dual Core
Storage: 1 GB available space