There will be blood
One aspect of platform games that has always perplexed me is just how benign most of them are. Rather than embracing dark themes and violence, the majority of platformers are instead bright and colorful. There’s nothing wrong with a light-hearted game, but it certainly is refreshing when a mean-spirited platform title such as Butcher comes blasting along.
Butcher is a 2D run-and-gun game with relatively small levels, a first-person shooter mindset, and buckets of gore to its name. And while the influence from shooters such as Doom are apparent, it additionally bears a striking similarity to an oldie titled Abuse. There’s also a definite arena shooter vibe going on, of which Soldat is perhaps the most fitting analogy. The feeling is completed with the implementation of a mouse and keyboard control scheme, featuring movement keys mapped to W, A, S, and D.
The game places players in the role of a murderous cyborg from space who arrives on Earth to exterminate humanity. However, the humans who inhabit this drab, near-future dystopia are hardly pushovers. They’re armed to the teeth with devastating weapons that can easily put a dent in even the most determined of genocidal, semi-organic automatons. Naturally, the cyborg in question is hardly a stranger to guns himself, meaning that it won’t be long before death becomes omnipresent on all sides.
Gameplay is divided into a series of small arenas where legions of enemies spawn with reckless abandon. Spawn points are fixed, allowing players to memorize enemy positions and gain a considerable advantage. And you’ll need every leverage you can get, as the game is rather brutal with its difficulty. It’s not uncommon to die dozens of times in a single level as you’re constantly ambushed from every direction. Enemies are quick, their attacks dish out a ton of damage, and you’ll need to be mindful of their positions if you hope to last more than a few seconds. This is further compounded by the fact that the environment itself turns against you, with multitudes of lava pools and crushing walls ready to turn you into a pile of steaming giblets in the blink of an eye.
Occasionally, you’ll find yourself locked in a confined space while enemies spawn in relentlessly, much like a 2D version of the original Serious Sam or Painkiller. These encounters are often the most difficult in the game, leaving players with no place to hide and often pitting them against environmental hazards as well. A few levels are even devoted to this idea exclusively, representing tricky choke points in the campaign’s progression. Nonetheless, for all its relentless punishment, I found myself eagerly coming back for more once the mild frustration wore off. It’s especially endearing because the violence is so over-the-top and the guns are so satisfying to use. Players are also afforded the fun of sadistically using the environment to their advantage, such as luring enemies into jets of flame or kicking them into hanging meat hooks.
Perhaps the biggest oversight is the lack of any multiplayer. While the single-player campaign provides tons of psychotic escapism, one can not help but think of how much more fun the experience would be if it were possible to rope in some friends for a free-for-all deathmatch or even co-op play. It’s not a game-breaker but it certainly feels like a missed opportunity.
Of note is the graphical style. It features extremely blocky pixel art that is vaguely reminiscent of the earliest consoles, albeit with a far richer palette. The world is awash with brown, grey, red, and rust tones, adding to the morbid mood. The blood effects in particular are fantastic, as each kill showers the area with deep crimson tones that spread and drip with alarming realism. The sprites themselves are extremely small and lowly detailed, which is a mixed bag. I enjoy the look, but it can definitely be off-putting. Also, enemies are often not distinct enough from their backgrounds, making them hard to spot in some circumstances.
The audio is one of the strongest points, with weapons making powerful, impacting sounds that add to their enjoyment. The ambiance is accompanied by the droning of machinery and the revolting cries and wretches of the injured. It’s all wrapped up in a fantastic Industrial soundtrack that has a surprisingly good beat.
Butcher is a fun, challenging, and extremely violent platformer that relishes its bloodlust. The extreme difficultly and the tiny sprites won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but those looking for a gory, good time with pixel graphics won’t be disappointed. Grab it at its Steam page and get ready to annihilate!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Transhuman Design ; Developer: Transhuman Design ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 5 October, 2016.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review copy of Butcher given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.