There aren’t enough games nowadays that play for laughs. Sure, some games trend more light-hearted or humorous in tone, but it’s usually in service to a more foregrounded hero’s journey narrative. For a medium that owes so much to animation, especially cartoons, I can hardly think of any contemporary games working in the spirit of, say, the Looney Tunes. Unless you count the Rabbids, who (despite their successful turn as cannon fodder in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) usually turn everything in their path into a Minions-esque wasteland of hijinks. CHUCHEL, a point-and-click game from Czech studio Amanita Design, however, answers the call confidently, blending a DIY punk aesthetic with the Rube Goldberg-infused gags of a Wile E. Coyote short.
Mechanically CHUCHEL isn’t much of a departure from the point-and-click adventure foundations of the studio’s beautifully illustrated past efforts, such as Machinarium and the Samorost series. You are given omniscient control over a scene, interacting with a variety of objects and creatures to progress to the next situation. Ostensibly, you also control Chuchel, a ball of fuzz or hair, in its quest to reclaim a stolen cherry. The cherry is each humorous scene’s MacGuffin—the Roadrunner to the aforementioned coyote. In each scene, the cherry is embroiled in increasingly ridiculous scenarios and Chuchel (joined later by a potato-shaped dog-like creature) is helpless to resist its allure.
CHUCHEL‘s foundations are that of a by-the-numbers Saturday-morning cartoon, but the game more than makes up for its stock narrative structure in style. A game like CHUCHEL runs the risk of being too precious, something like a Pixar short that lacks any of the emotional substance of a feature-length effort. Thankfully, the hand-drawn visual style of Amanita’s past titles returns in CHUCHEL, infusing the game with the independent ethos of a Don Hertzfeldt animation. Further turning the dial way down on preciousness is the fact some of the scenes and creatures in CHUCHEL are downright unsettling, recalling the body horror and startling scope transitions of The Ren and Stimpy Show—think extreme close-ups of hairy kneecaps. The idiosyncratic, freak folk score from Czech band DVA only rounds out the game’s absurd aesthetic.
Despite its peculiar flourishes, CHUCHEL positions itself as Amanita Design’s most welcoming game yet. While some sequences involve the impressionistic brand of puzzling found in the studio’s other games, it won’t take you as long to tease what is required to progress. Some scenes aren’t puzzles at all, but playful what-if riffs on games like Tetris or Pac-Man. Overall there is a great sense of variety for a game that takes roughly two hours to complete. Its length, too, is well-considered, as a much longer game comprised the same types of slapstick gags would wear out its welcome.
CHUCHEL‘s variety does expose occasional warts. Some sections, while manageable with a mouse, are screaming for the touch-based controls of a phone or tablet. The game is bound for those devices in the near future, and, like last year’s Gorogoa, they might be the better venue for this type of game. Shorter pick-up-and-play sessions on mobile devices might also lend to the episodic way CHUCHEL is segmented. During a single session playthrough, I couldn’t help but find it a bit strange that I was shown the game’s title card over and over again like I was binge-watching a Netflix show.
None of these complaints squander CHUCHEL‘s goodwill, however. Amanita Design’s attempt to make a comedy game using their point-and-click adventure formula succeeds. By blending singular hand-drawn illustration and animation styles with time-tested comedic tropes, CHUCHEL, while never quite reaching laugh out loud heights, made me smile in a way few games ever do.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided by Amanita Design.
CHUCHEL aims to be a mostly comedic turn for Amanita Design and succeeds due to a winning combination of idiosyncratic aesthetic choices and streamlined point-and-click mechanics.