You see it in the media all the time. Do video games cause violence? Do video games encourage and/or glorify antisocial behaviors? Despite mountains of scientific studies claiming that there is no discernable link between the violence of the real world and digital worlds, this idea has persisted for years. As one of the billions of people in the world that plays video games and does not kill people, this topic can get exhausting. The kind of exhausting that makes me want to just sit back, relax, and escape into a video game. Maybe a game like STAB STAB STAB!. Yes, that is its title. And yes, this game is about stabbing. Unfortunately it is not about much else.
STAB STAB STAB! is a couch-multiplayer game created by Sbug Games and Monster Couch. You and your friends play as fleshbirds. Fleshbirds have circular meaty bodies, long wonky legs, and large sharp beaks. The object of each match is to stick your beak or any other sharp, pointy thing into your friends without having any of those things shoved into you. You must keep your enemies impaled for a set amount of time in order for them to pop and perish. There are some different options to choose from for deciding the winner and adjusting the rules of the game, but for the most part I stuck to the default settings of causing five enemies to burst in order to win. It is pretty simple and easy to get a hold of as competitive multiplayer games go, but it gets old ludicrously fast.
Once you have played five matches of STAB STAB STAB!, you have played enough. This is due to a multitude of things. The fleshbirds are initially fun to control, and the challenge of stabbing your friends mostly comes from the game’s goofy physics engine. However, after those first five matches, the movement and controls lose all sense of charm because of a huge lack of variety. Each match plays out similarly with little variation besides some lacklustre power-ups. There are plenty of stages to battle on, sure, but they do not bolster the gameplay for more than a single match. There just is not nearly enough to do in the game.
The extremely repetitive parts of the game are magnified by the gameplay being pretty bland overall. It does not feel tremendously satisfying when you pop another player, and doing so is actually quite uncomfortable. To kill another fleshbird with your own beak, you must hold it inside them for an awkward number of seconds. The eye of the fleshbird that is being stabbed makes a pained expression that grows increasingly desperate the closer they are to death, and the eye of the fleshbird doing the stabbing becomes increasingly pleased with itself. I am no stranger to games that are much more violent than this, but something about the aesthetic choices just seems off. In fact, several of those are in the audio design for the game.
Most games with a similar couch-multiplayer experience such as Nidhogg and Stick Fight: The Game feature fun soundtracks to assist in keeping the game fresh, and set a tone and pace for the action happening on screen. STAB STAB STAB! has no music at all. Which is bizarre. It makes you focus only on the juicing sounds of dying fleshbirds and the somehow-always-too-loud pop of a dying one. Fleshbirds also make odd little noises themselves, but these sounds can be muted in the settings under the “Annoying Sounds” option. I am not a game designer, but if you think that one of the sounds in your game should be classified as ‘annoying’ then perhaps it should be altered. Or left out.
Despite the weird audio choices, and the fact that the gameplay gets stale quicker than a loaf of bread you swear you just bought yesterday, the game did entertain my friends and I for an afternoon. Though I am not sure if that is thanks to the game or because I enjoy my friends. A lack of variety or content to make a game continuously feel fresh is no big deal if the focus is on playing with others. But if you and others can feel the game quickly lose your interest when playing together, something is not working.
There is not much left to say about STAB STAB STAB! on Xbox One. If the game were a chicken, it would be one of the scrawniest fowls I have ever seen. After you have walked around and seen the goofy birds struggle with walking, (the fleshbirds, not chickens) what reason would a player have for sticking around? If you took the time to coordinate a fun get-together with friends and decide to play this for the evening’s activity, you would probably lose friends. The lack of variety, weird aesthetic choices and quickly monotonous gameplay is not enough to recommend STAB STAB STAB! to anyone. It also is not the best game to bring up the next time someone says your hobby creates murderers.