BRONWYN JAMES reviews a unique and very slimy game that will appeal to all those who would like to be a monster.
* Published with permission from our friends at 8-Bit Island.
Carrion is a Metroidvania game that, while not reinventing the genre, does turn it on its head. Instead of playing the muscle-bound, scantily clad hunk, you play as the amorphous, fleshy blob of a monster. You know, the sort of monster you get three or four levels into a Metroid game that you try to kill as quickly as possible because it makes you slightly uncomfortable just by existing.
Carrion is about as slimy as it sounds, and twice as much fun. Humans, prepare to get wrecked.
You take control of the monster trying to escape an underground science laboratory. An appropriate setting, and one that is done very well. Carrion manages to capture that creeping horror feeling with a well-managed combination of sound effects, violence and tense atmosphere. That’s not even touching on the music, which is one of the best things about the whole game. Eerie, screechy string instruments make up the soundtrack, and it’s delightful to rampage to.
Part of this is down to the delightful pixel art style. The game looks stunning, and more often than not your red, fleshy monster contrasts starkly with the level, making you both noticeable and very clearly an outsider. This design lets the monster look visceral and leave gross bits everywhere without looking horrendous and gory.
It’s less about being gross, and more about being fun, which is a definite plus because it’s no fun thinking about morality when you’re the monster.
There is a plot, a deeper narrative of some sort, but it’s up to you to piece it together. There are a few flashbacks to help, but most of your clues are environmental, such as the LED banners warning the human lab workers that you’ve escaped. It’s easy to miss, but that’s okay, because the real fun doesn’t come from plot, but from being an unholy menace to the humans who captured you. Really, if scientists didn’t want to be dripped on, flung around and eaten, they shouldn’t have combined gooey flesh, tentacles and teeth into one creature. Until you play Carrion, you will never truly know how many mouths one creature can have.
Carrion doesn’t need an in-depth story though, it’s a game where you play a murderous 1980s horror movie monster on a rampage. What you need is a satisfying rampage. Your fleshy blob of teeth and tentacles moves fluidly around the screen, wreaking havoc with the flick of both joysticks. It’s chaotic, messy and incredibly satisfying, which is exactly what you’d hope for. Once again the pixel art is a huge bonus here because it allows for a smooth frame rate. Even in handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch.
Carrion doesn’t just settle for satisfying though. Flinging yourself and enemies around is great, but if you want a little more finesse, you can also roar, shoot webs and possess enemies. If you want to try playing through with a bit of a stealthier approach, you can take out lights, fling the environment around, or creep around in water or on the ceiling. Levels are often designed to allow you to do horror movie-level rampages. Like hiding in a pool of water, hijacking a mech to gun everyone down, and finishing off by rising out of the water to consume the lone survivor. Hollywood pay attention.
There is always a downside though. Apparently, monsters don’t read maps, because Carrion doesn’t have one at all. With a windy series of tunnels as your main play area, one is very much needed. It is so easy to get lost or to miss something because you can’t easily backtrack to where you saw a previously locked door.
Suddenly, the fact that the monsters in horror movies never seem to win makes a lot more sense. If you watched Alien from the xenomorph’s perspective it’s probably mostly backtracking and squinting at signs in the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s going the right way.
This is made all the harder by the lack of clear mission objectives. While it’s easy to say you always know you’re trying to escape the facility and generally wreak havoc, the specifics of what you’re doing in each area are pretty loosely explained. It’s easy to forget where you’ve been, hard to tell where you need to go, and if you do die and revert to an older save point, good luck getting back to where you died. At least getting around is still a lot of fun.
Carrion is a wonderfully unique game that creates both a lovely (the term is used loosely) horror universe, and a satisfying to play game. Fling yourself through life, and eat humans to your (and their) heart’s content. Just don’t get lost, because no one takes a tentacle monster seriously if he has to stop and ask for directions.