I like to imagine there’s a generation of psychology students writing their dissertations on what it is about twits like me that love playing games they’re utterly hopeless at. I am stupendously terrible at Gutwhale. I fail in the most ludicrous ways, over and over again, like a gnat with short-term memory loss. And I love it. I want to keep on playing it forever.
The completely arbitrary unfairness of the gaming business means that in any other timeline, Gutwhale would be THE game that everyone was talking about, while any other super-tough pixelly action game success story went completely unnoticed. Quite how the dice are rolled on these things I shall never understand, but I’m certain that on Earth-458 three-person team Stuffed Wombat are rolling around in all that sudden fame and money.
Created in about a month, this was built after developer Wombat (I’ve been unable to find his real name) was fired due to the C-word crisis, and good heavens he’s put together something incredible in such a short time. This is a three-chapter rogue-lite action-platformer, in which your character can only carry one bullet at a time.
This is such a fantastic conceit on its own, but it’s made all the more fun by the requirement to pick up that bullet after you’ve fired it, so you can fire again. In big chunky graphics, you’re working your way down through a series of single-screen levels, trying to clear them of their manic collection of enemy types, all without ever getting hit yourself. Catch the bullet you just fired before it hits the ground and you’ll string together combos for more points, clearly the room and the floor falls through and you land in the next.
You begin with three respawns, and every time your character is touched or hit by any enemy or their projectiles, it instantly dies. Respawn and your old bullet remains in the room, while you bring in a new one. You can still only hold one at a time, but now there’s a second (or third, or fourth) bullet on screen to pick up to fire. Which leads to what I could never straight-faced call “tactics” of “deliberately” dying to have more ammunition for the later trickier levels. The truth is I’m just so terrible at this that it’s inevitable.
I believe there are three chapters to it. I’ve reached the third chapter! I’ve reached the third room of the third chapter! That was once. I felt god-like. It seems vanishingly unlikely I’ll ever finish it, despite probably having been two screens from the end. I’m OK with that. I’m OK with failing to reach it a lot more times for the foreseeable future.
Gutwhale captures that Enter The Gungeon/Nuclear Throne vibe with finesse, despite putting it into a much shorter game. Although they all might as well be infinitely long for my chances of finishing them. It looks great, there’s a big variety of enemies, each with unique attacks and different tactics required for taking them out, and even more thought when different combinations of them are in any screen.
The levels are randomly built each time, so you may have more fortunate runs where you encounter fewer of the spinny star bastards in the second chapter, and therefore stand a better chance if you’re me. The art is great throughout, and it’s presented in the widest widescreen you’ve ever seen a game. Oh, and when you lose a campervan crashes through the ceiling.
There are ways to mix things up, too, with different hats to unlock. You can then go in with, say, a more powerful attack but far fewer lives. Or there’s one that makes all the enemies into chapter 3’s frogs. That sort of thing.
It’s £4! This is such an obvious buy. If you’re super-great at this sort of game, you can make it harder for yourself with the tougher hats. If you’re terrible at them like I am, you’ll have a great time laughing at your own ineptitude. It’s a huge bundle of fun, and just extraordinary for something made so quickly by so few.
I wish I had the capability to adjust the timelines and see this get the attention and success it deserves. Not least because, hey, the dev lost his job, and then responded by making something excellent! Buy this!