The gaming industry has seen a huge boom thanks to a large growth in the casual market over the last few years. A large part of this can be attributed to pick-up-and-play, quirky titles with a simple hook. Games like Angry Birds and Tiny Wings come immediately to mind with their short bursts of engaging entertainment. They have a simple mechanic that’s easy to understand for casual and hardcore gamers alike. Cute Things Dying Violently from ApathyWorks fits the same mold. It’s one part Angry Birds, one part The Incredible Machine, one part plain insanity, and it’s downloadable right now on the Xbox as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising event.
The game is broken up into individual stages each of which has a simple premise – you must save as many little critters as you can from the literal deathtrap of an environment. The critters themselves are happy-go-lucky circles with legs and faces that wander aimlessly back and forth through the stage. You must get as many of them as possible into an elevator located somewhere on each stage which you do by launching them slingshot style. Standing in your way are various obstacles like spiked pits, fire, bombs, and a variety of physical barriers. Helping you along the way are springs, bubble blowers, and other items that can be moved or launched just like the critters. As the game progresses, getting the critters to the elevator becomes more and more of puzzle. You might have to time button presses correctly to blow a fan or press buttons in a specific sequence to open up a previously-inaccessible area. There’s a great feeling of accomplishment that comes the moment you finally figure out the trick.
What CTDV really boils down to is that this is a game that rewards you in two ways. On the one hand you’re trying to successfully save as many of the critters as you can by solving a puzzle. On the other you’re experimenting with the different ways to get them killed whether it be accidental or not. Both goals provide a different sense of satisfaction and the great thing is you don’t have to necessarily pick one over the other.
While the controls are simple enough to understand, the execution can be a little difficult at times. When you attempt to slingshot a critter or item, both the direction and power are controlled by the left analog stick. It’s difficult to get a sense of how much power is too much power except through trial and error. It can get a little frustrating at times when you need a slight modification to the power or aim from one missed throw to the next attempt and you end up making the same mistake again.
Mechanics aside, the real draw of the game for me was the attitude. Your critters are flying around the screen getting sliced into bloody messes, being set on fire, being electrocuted, etc. It’s hilarious because the critters themselves are harmless, friendly, and squeak in high-pitched voices and here you are serving them up to some grisly end. The humor is also imbued within the tips spread throughout the game. Many of them have a mocking nature towards you the player. Some even have tongue-in-cheek social commentary. The game gets bonus points for a Flying Spaghetti Monster reference. Even the stage names themselves are parodies of famous movies, songs, etc. The sarcasm and satire that pervade the entire game really are the icing on the cake.
While the campaign is deservedly the focus of the game, the developer has seen fit to throw in a few extra modes to extend the longevity of the experience. There are secret bonus levels to unlock via the campaign. There’s also a level editor that you can use. The editor is a well put-together system, but for me it doesn’t have any lasting power unless you can trade the levels with friends. It’s nice, though, that the developer allows you to build both single-player and multiplayer levels. Multiplayer is unfortunately limited to local play. Like the level editing, multiplayer really needs an online component to it. This really isn’t the kind of game that people make specific plans to get together to play. I also don’t think local play works in a family situation because this certainly isn’t a title for the wee ones if you’re at all hesitant about blood in your cartoon violence.
The overall package of Cute Things Dying Violently is fantastic. This is the addictive puzzle game people have been searching for since Angry Birds started getting old. You have a solid, addictive hook in the mechanics of the game with a layer of wit on top. I think this game is definitely worth picking up and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it eventually end up on other platforms. Alex Jordan of ApathyWorks even states within the game that if enough people pick it up, he’ll be able to update it with a wish list of new features. So go try it for yourself.
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