It took us a while to realise what Kamikaze Veggies was trying to do. It was certainly composed of a lot of ingredients, like opening a bag at the start of Ready Steady Cook!. It seemed to have some stealth, combat, puzzles, big explorable islands and – ultimately – the ability to toss yourself at enemies and explode in a shower of carrot chunks. Oh yes, and it had vegetables. Lots of them.
After three levels, we understood what Kamikaze Veggies was. It’s Metal Gear Solid with vegetables. Metal Gear Broccoli? These were Solid Snake-style missions, but with the last-resort capability to pull the rings out of your grenades and run at the enemy screaming “Leroy Jenkins!”. Which is clearly, obviously, fabulous.
Kamikaze Veggies takes fewer of its initial cues from Metal Gear, and instead themes itself around British war movies. There’s a lot of “chin up sol-jah!”s and corn-cob corporals with bushy moustaches. Your mission is to bring down Pommodoro, a dictator-tomato who has brought war to the world. That means stealthing into his various encampments and blowing up his tools of war.
Each mission starts with you choosing your squad. Like creating a Warhammer army, you have a total number of points that you can spend on units, so you’re picking a mix that will get the mission done. Troops tend to come in two different flavours: the short-term disposable, and the long-termers who you might want to keep alive for longer. The latter are more expensive by quite the factor.
Then it’s into the mission area, dropped out of a plane like a game of Fortnite that’s high on vitamin A. It would have been nice to choose your starting location, much like Fortnite, as the radius of the drop zone is quite small. But then you’re inching your way across an island, heading towards your objective.
Before long, you will cross paths with tomatoes in Russian ushanka hats (last year’s events may have had an effect here). So, it’s the age-old Metal Gear conundrum: do you try to sneak past, risking your life, or do you kill them, risking the awareness of other tomatoes? A lot will depend on your skill, and the tools you have in your inventory.
Tap Y and you can pick grenades and mines from a radial menu. Most of these you will find, rather than be given, as tomatoes are remarkably careless about leaving them behind. Biological grenades pulp your enemies into passata, mines await a wayward foot, but the real MVP is the smoke grenade, which attracts all of your enemies into one place so that you can roll an explosive grenade in and effectively clear a level.
Kamikaze Veggies wants you to use your environment. Blocks precariously balance on cliff sides, demanding that you give them a nudge. Explosive barrels cuddle up next to tomato squads. Girders dangle above enemies’ heads, right next to a lever, and you can probably guess what the lever does.
Stealth isn’t quite as fully featured (no boxes to hide in, we’re afraid), but works pretty well. Short and long grass gives you possible angles of approach, and holding LB puts you in a sneaking state that makes you harder to spot. Keep out of eyeline – by waiting for patrols behind walls, perhaps – and you can clear a level without a kill. There’s always a Dishonored-like duality to the level, where you can choose fight or flight and both will get you over the line.
There is, of course, the kamikaze of the title. Should you want, you can use your veggie’s unique self-destruction move. Fling yourself and explode, charge and explode, or explode in a shower of mines. This is hilarious, filmed in glorious slow motion so that you can see the smoothie being created, millisecond by millisecond. We’d advise that you use this liberally. It’s too fun not to, for starters, and while you might assume that it lessens your score, it in fact does the opposite. Death combos get more, rather than fewer points. So fall on your sword, soldier.
All of these features are plugged into a physics-heavy system. Rocks fall depending on what side of them you push. Grenades have to be carefully wanged in the right direction, with the correct trajectory. It’s well done for an indie game, but there’s so many things that could go wrong that, inevitably, it does. We’d say that – at least in the first half of the game – fifty percent of our deaths were down to our best laid plans going to pot. Grenades inexplicably blew up three out of four guards, even though they were in a cluster. A rolling rock stopped still, just before an enemy. You have to buy into the fact that you’re playing in a volatile little sandbox if you want to appreciate Kamikaze Veggies.
Less forgivable, to these subjective eyes, is the inclusion of puzzles. Every level has its quirky minigame to solve or fiddle with. Some are absolutely fine, particularly ones that fit snugly into the theme. Manoeuvring or feeding cannons, so that they can blow up a base, are fine, if a little time-consuming. But it’s sudden appearances of sliding puzzles and pipe puzzles that felt about as incongruous as a sausage in a salad bowl. When you’re trying to complete a mission stealthily, or in the minimum time possible, or even replaying it for a better score, the last thing you want to be doing is some Brain Training. We wanted Red Limb Studio to have the confidence to rely on its stealthing systems, rather than crowbar in yet another layer of stuff.
It’s the only rotten carrot in the bag, though. Once you embrace the slightly haphazard physics, there’s oodles of fun to be had. That comes mostly from the problem-solving, as you gain a vantage point, spot the tomatoes and wonder how a solitary mine is going to get you through it. The brilliant choice of making this squad based, so you can expend a couple of veggies with a kamikaze explosion, is unutterable genius. And there’s the levels themselves, encouraging replay with its numerous hidden treasures and death traps.
It’s easy to dismiss Kamikaze Veggies, as it isn’t abundantly understandable what it’s trying to do, nor is it the prettiest peach. So lettuce be clear: this is Metal Gear Solid but with the ability to strap yourself to a firework and fire yourself at an enemy, exploding in a fountain of vegetable chunks. Which, we think you’ll agree, puts it in contention for game of the year already.
You can buy Kamikaze Veggies from the Xbox Store