The 90s was the decade of gore and violence in video games. As a somewhat morbid pubescent teenager, I would obsess with anything related to this dark side of creative media. From looking forward to what horror movie Dr. Walpurgis would introduce on BBC Two to drawing Jason Voorhees tearing the head off his victims, and yes, of course, mastering every death move on Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. I remember staying up late one evening to watch the gore special of GamesMaster where I got my first look at DOOM – a game that I would later experience on a mate’s Atari Jaguar. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the ultra-violent FPS would inspire many games that would follow it. BUTCHER is most certainly one of those titles.
The gang down at Transhuman Design and Crunching Koalas obviously cherished a similar memory, because BUTCHER is a love letter to fans of the 80s and 90s comic-violence. It is classic DOOM in 2D, seasoned with some Robocop and a bit of Terminator on the side. The introduction is brief yet wonderfully generic 80s B-movie science fiction with a cyborg protagonist as the cherry on top. It pretends to set up a story, but really, you’re just on a murder spree for the sake of it.
You get drawn into one of five blood-soaked portal areas with two simple objectives, reach the exit door and kill everything in sight. The well-crafted controls see you jumping around the levels using your left trigger as you’re constantly on the move blasting everything to pieces with your right. With the mess you leave behind you are always looting new weapons, ammo, armour and health. You use the right stick to angle your cursor towards your enemy until it locks on, assisting your aim as you force feed them lead. Auto aim? Pah, piece of cake! Nope, far from it. Although the easiest setting isn’t quite as hard as the title boasts. In fact, you will probably breeze through it in just over an hour on the casual setting. Sure, it’s still fun, just not as rewarding as punishing yourself with the higher difficulty setting, and you can bet your fur it will challenge you.
Each level is fairly short which helps the difficulty feel more tolerable due to the many times that death will come knocking at your door. If you do have the patience to study what’s ahead, you will eventually flow with an almost choreographed finesse as you quite literally paint the town red. Your enemies will attack you in different ways depending on their type; you have the standard shotgun toting henchman, the sprinting lunatic and the murderer with a jetpack among others.
Each shot of your weapon shakes the screen erratically, although it is unfortunate that you don’t feel the feedback pulsing through the Joy-Con to push that immersion further, as it worked so well in GoNNER. At certain points of the level, you will be contained within a single room where the words, “Extermination” will appear. Suddenly, enemies will fill the screen of which you have to destroy every last one of them to press on. I highly recommend banging your headphones on with the guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird on max at this point (you’ll know what I mean if you watch Kingsman. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.) When an enemy does catch you off guard, and they will, the screen will scramble as if you’re seeing it through the visor of a cyborg as it takes damage in the most perfectly retro way possible.
The visuals are designed with a low-res old-school style in mind. Your character is made up of nothing more than a few messy pixels that look like an insomniac lemming with a shotgun who’s sick of being told to dig. The clumpy sprites that glue everything together still manage to look very well detailed though, thanks to the silky smooth animations that flow like water. Even the backgrounds always have something going on to keep the eyes busy. It is the audio, however, that packs the parcel nicely. Every shot, scream, whimper and click echoes so cleanly in the ear it’s almost as if the sound man has recorded Mickey and Mallory Knox in the midst of a rampage. The soundtrack itself? Well, that’s most certainly is the lace that ties the knot, because that too is satisfyingly awesome.
Despite the collectable skulls that are so well hidden on each level, the gameplay is very straightforward and linear. There’s only a total of 20 stages with a sixth portal that conceals a final boss, making it a very short game overall, although its fair price point is well worth the content that it provides. It’s a game that can quite easily keep you satisfied for a weekend at least, or longer if you’re brave enough to face its highest difficulty. BUTCHER‘s Nintendo Switch release has arrived at a great time though, for it serves as a fine little appetiser to tide you over until the main course of DOOM is served.