Indie Game of the Week 132: Chuchel

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And so continues my torrid love affair with Amanita Design and its output. A mainstay staple of my Indie peregrinations from way back, Czech studio Amanita are behind the Samorost trilogy, Machinarium, and Botanicula, a series of adventure games with a few recurring aspects: chiefly, an infectious sense of fun as the player explores their worlds with a simple point and click interface and very little in the way of dialogue outside a few ideographs, necessitating a lot of trial and error that nonetheless inspires joy with its unexpected outcomes. At this point, Amanita can design a game like Chuchel in their sleep, but it's a testament to the mastery of their craft that it doesn't feel like a sleepwalk.

What little plot Chuchel has involves a fuzzy orange creature and a delicious cherry they hope to eat: instead, the cherry is taken away by a giant hand, and Chuchel is often forced to fight over it with a recurring pink blob-rat named Kekel as well as the many strange denizens of his world. Split into thirty vignettes, Chuchel variously feels like an avant garde adventure game where the gameplay rules frequently change, or a puzzle situation the player has to complete a number of steps in the correct order, or a Looney Tunes/Pixar short where you simply watch small, amusing animations play out before the scene changes and Chuchel is faced with yet another obstacle to overcome between him and his lunch. Kekel, who frequently serves as the antagonist in these vignettes, will also be Chuchel's accomplice on occasion; he/she then serves as an additional variable in the puzzles.

Hairy Pac-Man. Not sure if that's something I ever wanted to see.
Hairy Pac-Man. Not sure if that's something I ever wanted to see.

What I appreciate about Chuchel's structure is that it allows the designers to explore many different ideas that wouldn't work in a single persistent environment. Chuchel feels less like the worlds with rules and limitations like the ones in Botanicula and Machinarium, and more like a realm of chaos in which anything is possible if it serves for a compelling challenge or a moment of levity. The only point of consistency is that Chuchel is an angry little ball of frustrated rage - though still prone to fits of giggles at times - who really, really wants that cherry and can't ever seem to hang onto it. He changes shapes, plays arcade games, sets up Goldbergian combinations of bouncy creatures to reach a high aperture, shoots aerial targets with a blowdart, creates music, negotiates with aliens, cracks egg monsters, and much more, and yet the vignette invariably ends the same way: Kekel, or some other foe, runs off with the precious cherry and Chuchel gives chase.

Suffice it to say, it's not a complicated game nor a difficult one. In fact, I'd probably say Chuchel is their most accessible game yet, and Amanita aren't really known for their diabolical brainteasers at the best of times. I was heartened to hear on the Beastcast about how Jeff Bakalar and Vinny Caravella would play this game with their kids with its simple mouse interface, lack of text to read, and broad physical humor being a hit with little ones, and even though I'm some several decades removed from GBEast's rugrats I can still appreciate the carefree and unconditional fun of Amanita's output. Their next game, Creaks, looks to buck this trend of theirs - it's a horror game, and from the sound of things a pretty dark one too - so I'm curious to see how their wordless flights of fancy translate to an atmosphere of dread. It wouldn't take much to shift some of Chuchel's skits into the realm of nightmare fantasy, honestly (it's a good thing Chuchel and Kekel are so cute).

Sometimes, Chuchel doesn't know how to end a skit so everything just dances instead. It's like a modern day The Simpsons episode.
Sometimes, Chuchel doesn't know how to end a skit so everything just dances instead. It's like a modern day The Simpsons episode.

The games of Amanita Design are definitely an acquired taste and if you've bounced off previous games of theirs because they seemed too aimless or twee this one's not going to win you over. Equally, if the games they've published have been right on your relaxed silly wavelength then Chuchel's an easy recommend. Personally, I can't get enough of these cheerful point-and-clickers and I'm happy that Amanita seem like extremely cool people, going out of their way to switch the orange/black color palette of Chuchel to ensure everyone enjoys their game equally. With the upper echelons of the game industry being the predatory and cruel business it is these days, I'm glad there's plenty of Indie studios prioritizing games that are upbeat, chill, and inclusive above all else.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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