Cute Things Dying Violently

Flick hapless Critters around to get them safely out of each level! Dodge all sorts of lethal goodies like spikes, buzzsaws, and fire, and use a variety of wacky items to pull it off. Play through 60 mind-bending, reflex-testing singleplayer levels, 6 bloodthirsty challenge levels, and 1 murderous bucket-headed robot! Want more? Try out the local multiplayer and the built-in level editor.

Everyone is telling Alex "AlejandroDaJ" Jordan that he needs to port Cute Things Dying Violently to smartphones, but he's just not listening. The Xbox Indie hit that has players flicking blue balls into elevators seems a natural fit for those devices which have made Angry Birds and other slingshot artillery style games as success. Jordan's lack of interest in spreading the love may be a poor business decision, but it only gives Xbox owners even more of a reason to purchase and enjoy Cute Things Dying Violently, an action puzzle game that offers large amounts of fun and frustration for the paltry sum of 80 Microsoft points.

Cute Things Dying Violently begins innocently enough, taking players through a series of easy tutorial levels to allow them to become accustomed to the gameplay mechanics. It'll take a few levels to become accustommed to the cursor, which can only be moved horizontally and then only if there is nothing obstructing it's movement. It's pretty weird as one would naturally think the cursor has free range over a screen as in, well, pretty much every other game with a cursor invented, but, no, here it's locked into an invisible track for some bizarre reason. It's an odd design choice, but it works in the game's favor as later puzzles incorporate the restrictive movement into their challenges. Ideally, players will learn to deal with it, and the early, easier levels make it tolerable.

Then the player advances, and the hell begins. Flicking the blue critters with the right stick works but never quite feels natural. Much of that is due to the left trigger shortcut, which allows the player to select and move (re: slide) a critter or object, holding them down to be fluck as needed. This gives players all the time in the world to get into position to take the best shot, even when the game has the critters being sent into an abyss to strike switches in 3-7's "Dead Drop" or while weaving them through a gauntlet of buzzsaws to hit a spring just so in 5-3's "Get Sprung." Puzzles can be challenging, but the general leisurely pace (there's no time limit) ensures that the player never has to master the unique control scheme. Then the player advances to level 6-2, "Juggling," where the evil developer has pulled the rug from under the player, forcing advanced cursor and flicking skills without any ground to stand on. It's an entirely expected change, and I and I'd imagine other players were waiting for it to happen, but when it does, it's a real hammer in the head.

Of course, better players persevere, and no matter how tough the latter stages are, they're beatable with some elbow grease and patience. Cute Things Dying Violently allows players infinite lives and a level select which greatly reduces chances of rage quitting, and players only have to save just one critter to pass a stage. Advancement is tied into the amount of critters rescued, but since this is a cumulative total, it pays to ace the early levels if one just wants to move along pass the tougher challenges. The only exception here is that the Hate Bot boss of each world (six worlds of ten stages a piece) must be defeated before moving on regardless of how many balls were saved. I actually found the first Hate Bot to be the toughest, a challenge in keeping a critter alive while tossing multiple boss away from him while also attacking the robot, whereas other boss challenges revolved around some easier to manage or more predictable gimmick.

Cute Things Dying Violently is an excellent game selling itself on the gimmick of gore and more R-rated elements embedded into its Disney pastiche. When the critters meet their untimely demise, the carnage is viciously illustrated, the resulting gore painting entire sections of levels in blood. The critters find new ways to die as more elements are introduced, from being burned alive to getting caught in a fan. They also like to curse a lot, too, though owners can adjust how "salty" the language is in the options screen. These are all fine, attention grabbing elements, but the meat of the game is the real reason to play, and with 60 levels plus an off-line level editor, there are hours of gameplay to be enjoyed that'll last well after seeing yet another critter annihilated.

Awkward controls aside -- they do work, but they're not intuitive -- real gripes with the game are few. I wish the tutorial Info Points, signs which convey information on a given level, stayed deleted instead of respawning with each attempt as they needlessly get in the way. Restarting requires pausing and pressing both shoulder buttons which feels a bit more complex than needed and can become a slight added nuisance when chasing perfection and the constant resets which follow such insanity. The soundtrack is well arranged but did grate on my ears after some time, far too upbeat and ska-happy for me to absorb hours of listening, especially as the desire to kill rose with some of the tougher challenges. Finally, it's great to see the game include a level editor, but I don't see much use for it when the game doesn't allow for Live sharing. It can be fun to play around with multiple Hate Bots and whatnot, but it doesn't do much to extend the life of the game if people don't have other local players to design new puzzles for them.

With oodles of challenges spanning six to eight hours, nicely animated and expressive critters, and a fair amount of bastard humor, Cute Things Dying Violently is an excellent game and a steal at its listed price. Even players who throw in the towel during the tougher stages will get their money's worth, and those who see the game through the end will have the pleasure of enjoying -- or mostly enjoying when not wanting to kill the developer -- one of Xbox Live Indie Games' better offerings available.

★★★★☆
November 13, 2011
August 24, 2011 | 80 points
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