We hold our hands up: we had never heard of artist Enzo Cucchi, or seen any of his work. But having completed Cuccchi and chased after its achievements, we came to a realisation: we were at the point where we could recall his paintings from memory, could do a decent job of appraising one of his pieces, and we’ve even gone to the lengths of pinning a few of his paintings on Pinterest. The makers of Cuccchi would probably call that a success.
Cuccchi is the first game-meets-art-installation that we’ve come across. It’s a collaboration between the Italian neo-expressionist Enzo Cucchi and developers Fantastico Studio, who recently brought us Landflix Odyssey. It’s a self-proclaimed ‘official playable archive’, a deliberate attempt to expose the artist’s works to a new generation by hunting them down on PC and console.
Fantastico could have just replicated a gallery, chucked you a controller and let you have at it. But that would be doing a disservice to Enzo Cucchi who, and we’re laymen art-enthusiasts here, is by turns playful, unsettling and vibrant. His work suits something more approximating a game, and Fantastico have duly provided.
Cuccchi is not particularly easy to categorise. There are seven levels, and Fantastico have proclaimed that they are ‘dioramas’, which doesn’t quite cut it as an explanation. You stand in the middle of what feels like an expressionist painting, wrapped around your view like someone has taped a lampshade on your head. Then you’re moving in a direction and exploring, with the painting moving around and behind you, like you’re on a faked car journey with the scenery being cranked by a couple of grips. It’s a disorienting and distorted experience, as the 3D space doesn’t quite play by conventional rules, and the game often progresses linearly regardless of which direction you move in. Thank god it wasn’t in VR, as we’d be throwing up everywhere.
You’re scooting past sketches and scraps of Enzo Cucchi’s paintings, and they warp, walk and loom in various different ways. Pigs fly above you, skyscrapers twerk, and half-sketched Vincent Van Goghs lie prostrate on the floor. For the most part, this is an ‘experience’, as you’re watching paintings pass you by and enjoying the imagination of this obviously talented painter.
They’re not the only talented artists on display. Cuccchi is soundtracked by Skinless Lizard, who contribute much of their album, Heart Propeller. The music is as brilliant as the artwork; it’s a pulsing synth soundtrack that matches the abstract nature of the visuals, and it’s great. We don’t often come away from a game with an artist and a musician noted down to check out later.
Occasionally, there’s a sliver of additional gameplay. There are ‘eyes’ that float above characters, or are tucked into secret parts of the game, and you can collect them. Finding them all on a diorama triggers an achievement. Some levels feel more open than others, including the two bookending highlights on level one and seven: the first has you floating through space towards circus tents, bridges and houses that act like planets; the seventh has you moving through a series of carousels painted in a Van Gogh style (Cucchi clearly had a fascination with the painter), and with the Dutchman manning them all. These levels push you to explore rather than follow some rail tracks, and they’re better as a result.
Cuccchi even resembles a conventional game in a few maze levels. In the vein of dungeon crawlers like Operencia: The Stolen Sun, you are moving first-person through labyrinths, avoiding floating skulls that nick an eye from you (and any chance of unlocking that achievement), while you occasionally spot and nab an eye for your collection. It’s credit to Cuccchi that these sections felt the least enjoyable: their simple gamey-ness was disappointing when compared to the more surreal exploration levels, there’s little in the way of Cucchi’s work being shown, and they add a tension that’s at odds with the feelings of awe that come from wandering around abstract paintings.
Cuccchi is over and done in half an hour. Any more than that and Cuccchi would be spread too thin, as the levels are a barrage of artwork. But it’s worth keeping in mind if you have an eye to £-per-hour of gameplay. Even with the chasing of achievements, you are looking at an hour, and that’ll be too stingy for some.
For us, it was well worth the time, but we’re a pretentious sort. A walk through a gallery is more inconvenient, more expensive and doesn’t steep you in the ideology of the artist anywhere near as much as Cuccchi does. You are wandering through a world that’s been curated by Cucchi himself, and you feel more than you do in a stuffy gallery. In a dark forest diorama, it feels oppressive. In a desert that tumbles like waves, it feels disorienting. As an experiment, Cuccchi has moments where it truly works.
There are concessions, though. If you look at Cucchi’s work side-by-side with Cuccchi’s, the game pixelates and smudges so much of it. It doesn’t feel as crisp and loses a lot of its vibrancy. There are good reasons for that, considering that the characters here have to flex and bend to dance around you, but it’s a shame that you can’t stop and look at the artwork in its high-fidelity glory. If you are interested in Cucchi, it’s probably best to consider this as a trailer for his true work.
There’s also no getting around the limpness of some of the gameplay. As we’ve mentioned, the mazes are a dip in quality, while plodding through the environment can feel slow and without any real agency. In many cases, as was the case with a visually impressive level that took us through a town, factory and railway, it’s a slow roller coaster without the ability to take a branching path.
Set your expectations so they are more aligned with a trip to a gallery than a video game, though, and Cuccchi will often dazzle. This is an exhibition as a magical mystery tour, with Enzo Cucchi’s work whirling and dancing round you. It won’t satisfy anyone who’s looking for a challenge, it doesn’t offer particularly stimulating gameplay, and it’s shorter than a National Geographic special on the artist, but it’s many times more enthralling. Quality soundtrack, too.
You can buy Cuccchi for £6.69 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S