Rudy Hammon is on a killing spree, but it’s one of those justified killing sprees. He’s a breed of murder-pig who has been genetically modified to kill his own: he’s basically a walking, gun-toting butcher house. But the Technate who created him went too far, and he’s become self-aware. Now he’s on a one-pig mission to kill the Technate in Guts ‘n Grunts. Rudy can’t fail.
It’s all a meaty plot for a Contra or Turrican-like run and gunner. You play Rudy as he carves through level after level, only stopping to consider whether to snuffle out some sub-objectives. The levels are packaged up into worlds, and at the end of each world is a boss. It’s a reasonably no-nonsense take on the genre, and there’s always room for that.
We reviewed the previous game from Cascadia Games, M.A.D. Cows (Cascadia are clearly working through the farmyard), and noted that, while it was fun in a raw, tartare way, it was also too simplistic for its own good. We wondered whether their next game might build on it and do something more ambitious. The talent was clearly there, but it was stomping about in a small pen.
We’re not taking any credit for this (Guts ‘n Grunts came out barely a month after M.A.D. Cows), but boy does it feel like an answer to that criticism. This is a cracking shooter that takes a bazooka to the walls that hemmed M.A.D. Cows in, and finds itself free to have as much fun as a Metal Slug.
Guts ‘n Grunts knows that if you’ve not got the art budget to match the top-tier shooters, then you should go big, brash and colourful. It’s a chunky pixel cartoon and what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in showers of giblets, cute hostage pigs, and hulking bosses. There are some lovely touches: health is literally shot out of giant vending machines (cake not pork products, don’t worry) and almost everything is destructible, from the CCTV to fire extinguishers.
The shooting doesn’t quite match the quality of the world. Don’t get us wrong, it’s absolutely fine: this is classic twin-stick shootery, with no quibbles about the controls or the speed. You shoot and things explode in an extremely satisfying manner. But the level of strategy in the shooting stays at a relatively low level. Your weapon remains the same outside of some occasional (muted) power ups, and upgrades step up your ability to do damage, dodge through attacks and perform double jumps, but there’s not much more than that.
What this means is that your tactics stay roughly the same throughout. Enemies are either fodder, barely worth worrying about, or they’re dangerous and you need to attack them tentatively, waiting for a gap in their attacks before you leather them. Since the gun stays roughly the same, that means waiting til they’re looking the other way or shooting them from afar. Guts ‘n Grunts would have positively flourished with just a little more complexity in the shooting and upgrades.
But if you’re relying on a core of guns and shooting, then you’d want it to be as strong as Guts ‘n Grunts. This is as big and dumb as Rudy himself, and we were in the mood for big and dumb. On most occasions, you can feel safe to charge through corridors blasting (Guts ‘n Grunts’s health pool is generous), and we grew to love Leeroying into combat situations.
Best of all is the game loop. It’s not overly elaborate – this is a budget shooter after all – but we were a sucker for its rhythms. At first it seems simple, as you’re flipping levers to open gates, which eventually leads to a portal out of the level. But in the corners of the level are keycards, and these unlock secondary objectives. They’re not much more than ‘kill every X’, ‘destroy every destructible Y’ or ‘pick up every Z’, but they made us do a gameplay double-take. Do we reverse back and clear the level of everything that’s needed? When the reward is a huge chunk of currency and that currency unlocks substantial upgrades, it’s too tempting not to. We soon found ourselves anticipating the objectives, or blowing up every TV screen on the off-chance that it becomes a challenge.
If it sounds simple and checkboxy then you would be right, but when those checkboxes blow up as joyfully as they do here, then you begin to understand. That, plus Guts ‘n Grunts loves flooding secret areas with goodies and payoffs. It’s just rewarding to hunt for everything.
The bombastic fun does get interrupted on occasion. Health is persistent from one mission to the next, which feels unnecessary. It often means one of two things: either you spend the last moments of the level backtracking to a vending machine (not fun) or you progress to the next level where a vending machine might only appear after several dozen enemies. Suddenly, you’ve got one health pip that has to last through all those hazards (even less fun). Surely there was a better solution to this.
And we save particular curse words for the late-game inclusion of one-hitting obstacles. A meatgrinder slams to the floor, and there’s virtually no telegraphing in place. You can’t tell it’s coming. One meatgrinding, one fall off the platform, and you’re back to the start with all the sub-objectives reset. It does the courtesy of keeping switches switched and doors unlocked, but the sudden death is never less than frustrating.
But these are just bad bites in a more wholesome meal. For all its simplicity, for all its lowest denominator action, Guts ‘n Grunts is kickass. We ploughed through level after level with giblets on our face, and stopped only to tick off some objectives on our clipboard. If you want brainless Contra fun, accept no substitute.