A slice of dark humour, if not an entirely clean cut.
Whether it’s a hobo selling his meagre possessions for anime porn, a man given a life sentence for being morbidly obese or an alcohol dependent seven year old; the latest offering from Spanish studio “Mango Protocol” is certainly a dark space, albeit an amusing one in its delicious wickedness.
The second game in the “Psychotic Adventures” series after 2015’s “MechaNika”; “Agatha Knife” expands on the developers’ “Psychotic World”, offering another standalone tale of a unique little girl.
She runs the Knife family butchers with her mother and sleeps in the back room of the abattoir (her choice). This macabre arrangement could be the cause of her chronic insomnia, but allows her to pursue her great passions: Playing with her animals and dicing them into little pieces to be sold as meat (and I quote, “I like the smell of blood”).
Therein lies her conundrum. She adores her animals and wishes they weren’t so fearful when the knives come out. Even worse, bankruptcy threatens her business with barely any produce to sell and nary a customer in sight. The solution to Agatha’s problems may come in the form of religion; for the animals to believe in a Utopian afterlife achieved strictly through death at her hands. She sets out to found “Carnivorism”, a holy order of her own imagining, overseen by an agency specialising in the creation of new religions and a quirky mentor to aid in her journey.
This is classic “Point n’ Click” adventure fare (think Monkey Island or Duckman). Gather specific items to interact with the environment, solve puzzles, gradually open up the game world and talk to an array of NPCs dotted throughout the map. The formula remains throughout its roughly 6 hour run time (more if you explore every nook and cranny) and people will typically want something from Agatha in exchange for their help: a zookeeper in need of lion food or a comic store owner, desperately searching for the “book of books”. You’ll traverse the world, recalling where you may have heard of the solution to your current problem, the correct combination of person, place and item.
Alternatively, you can visit Agatha’s mentor; “Sandro, the awesome master of Divinations”, for a card reading. He’ll give you major hints as to your next course of action, a nice remedy to the frustration often found in the genre. It prevents potential “stonewalling” of your adventure and keeps the pace. I appreciated the option but never needed it.
There’s nothing particularly cerebral about Agatha Knife. The art style suggests a game for children, but the dark, mature content signifies anything but. With this in mind, the inclusion of more complex puzzles seems like a missed opportunity. Problems generally have obvious solutions and only one or two steps to their completion. More inquisitive players may already possess all parts to any given puzzle, just from fully exploring the world up to their current point in the story. The required backtracking of not having said parts only serves as an annoyance. You’ll know exactly where to go, it’s just a bother travelling through the entire map to get there.
One timing puzzle towards the games conclusion required a few attempts, but proved more trial and error than warranting genuine thought. That said, there are praiseworthy mentions. For a free ticket to the zoo, you’ll take a quiz requiring outside knowledge of a tale by The Brothers Grimm.
Agatha Knife is peppered with these cool little moments, tons of movie and game references (Who would win in a fight between Master Chief, Marcus Fenix and Commander Shepherd?), wholly unexpected in their randomness.
Point and Click games live and die by their writing and the majority of Agatha Knife is slick and amusing.
NPCs offer multiple dialogue options, and opportunities for extra information on your objectives, but many serve only to immerse yourself further in the world. I wanted to chat to everyone, exhaust every conversation option regardless of how relevant they were to the current goal, because they were often so entertaining. There’s a running joke in Agatha’s fervent defence of her sleeping arrangement at the abattoir, and her deep annoyance when anybody offers to call child services or suggests her mother’s parenting style may be lacking.
Agatha is the standout here. The further I progressed, the more I adored her. A wonderful mix of dry humour, lovable naivety, and blunt curiosity. Her general attitude of “You do you. You seem happy and that’s pretty cool” as she meets transexual prostitutes, cheese-worshipping pensioners etc. is so down to earth and carries a lovely message in its simplicity. You’ll buy into her one track mind struggle; her genuine love of animals set against her genuine love of cutting them up. Her sincerity prevents it from feeling absurd.
There are a smattering of heartfelt moments that work precisely because of how undramatic Agatha is as a person. It feels real and you sense the emotion in the subtext, impressive in a game with no voice acting, told through boxes of text.
Agatha Knife sometimes struggles with its more overt social commentary, when the game is clearly trying to make a point. These scant few instances can feel forced and jarring as a result. An eye rolling explanation of gender roles in the opening area was a little over simplified, only saved by Agatha and her very real interactions. The humour too, can feel a bit hit and miss. When questioned by the player, one NPC responds: “I hold my hands like this for sophistication, it makes some things difficult, like wiping my ass.” Come on Agatha Knife, you’re cleverer than a toilet joke.
From a presentation standpoint, AK revels in its side-scrolling, off-kilter “Adventure Time-ish” art style. The landscapes and characters are intentionally simple, straight out of a child’s sketchpad. The text too, is presented as if lifted from the pages of Agatha’s diary, but I highly recommend switching the font from “old school” to new. Whilst practically illegible handwriting might seem faithful from a seven year old protagonist, it doesn’t do much for a text based narrative.
There’s an overwhelming sense of whimsy and innocence, all bold colours and anime facial expressions in stark contrast to the horrifically grim subject matter. It adds to the comedy of gameplay scenarios in a way that realistic graphics might’ve made creepy and awkward. Eviscerated pigs lie with their guts strewn about, little crosses for eyes so you know they’re dead (well duh…).
It’s successful in its implementation but for a few rough edges: A texture here that could’ve benefited from ever so slightly more detail, a character model there, rendered with slightly less love than the rest. Agatha herself is fantastic, hair blowing in the wind as she runs, eyes shadowed from lack of sleep. She dominates most scenes (and rightly so) but ends up highlighting a handful of other rushed looking assets. With an art style so simple, bold statements are a must. Everyone can’t be Agatha, but occasional visuals teeter dangerously on amateur flash creator territory. A shame when the majority of the game boasts undeniable charm, in no small part due to how it looks.
Agatha Knife is a strange game. It is sometimes simple and a tad shallow, it’ll offend some and irritate others. It does nothing new for the Point and Click adventure game.
But the further I delved, the stronger my resolve to see its conclusion. I cared about Agatha and the struggles she faced. I can’t remember the last time I sniggered so much at a video game. Mango Protocol, a studio of less than 10 people have created a world and characters that I want to see more of. Agatha Knife shows a great deal of innovation over their debut project and I only hope they continue down this path.