Chuchel is a tour de force of animation, every scene so vibrant and hilarious, colourful and manic, the slightest tweaks in character facial expressions eliciting guffaws. Every new scene is a glorious delight just to look at, before you even start playing with it. And then, as you click on every element on the screen, delightful, silly and gorgeous things happen. This is a game where I find myself trying to work out what is the correct solution to any given puzzle, just so I can avoid clicking on it before I've clicked on everything else. I exhaust every repeated joke until it loops, don't mind when they do, and call people in from other rooms to see the funniest moments. Chuchel is, beyond belief, wonderful.
From Amanita, who have previously brought us utterly beautiful games like Machinarium, Samorost and Botanicula, this is in some ways a diversion, in others true to their wondrously animated form. Whereas their games are usually better described as organic adventure puzzles, Chuchel is a much more straightforward puzzle game. It still plays in the familiar manner of just clicking on things on the screen to see what they do, and then delighting when they do it, and here it's all about a little fuzzy black creature desperately trying to get his hands on a cherry.
The game plays out in a number of mini-chapters, almost like episodes of a mad cartoon, where a sequence of screens or challenges or puzzles will end with the game's name crashing into screen, invariably squishing our hero, then launching off in another lunatic direction. The persistent theme is that little Chuchel wants that damned cherry, and is constantly being thwarted by a little pink bug creature, and a giant omnipotent brown hairy hand that descends from the top of the screen. One scene you'll be trying to arrange bizarre amphibious creatures such that they provide a crude Rube Goldberg means of reaching a high-up space, in another you'll just be laughing your face off as you try to crack the head of a poor egg-like monstrosity through a series of sequences. There are mini arcade games, there are extended animated sequences to just sit and thoroughly enjoy, there are incredibly bizarre action sequences in which you must punch away an army of invading sentient teeth.
This is daft happiness at its purest, titrated into gaming. And it's always with the slightest edge of mania, ensuring it never feels cutesy or saccharine. Chuchel himself has what might politely be described as anger issues, and the universe's peculiar obsession with preventing his reaching the food he so desperately wants to eat seems to increasingly drive him towards the world's most adorable breakdown. The violence is squarely in the Tom & Jerry variety, giant hammers blatting creatures into daft shapes, everything reset to normal at the start of a new scene.
It's so long since I've laughed so often, and so loudly, at a game. And joyously, my three year old son has joined in with the giggling. I'm very aware, from the experience of the first 37 years of my life, how unhelpful it can be for reviews to fixate on what a game offers to a parent and child playing together, so I'm going to write about that specifically and separately in another article, but for now let me just make the aside that no other game has had me and my boy both laughing out loud at the same jokes, turning to each other and telling each other how much we're loving it.
Frustratingly, it makes one - one - mistake, in a run otherwise close to perfection. There are two arcade sequences in there that go on for too long. A slightly imaginative take on Space Invaders just overstays its welcome, but worse is a dreary section in which you dodge obstacles in a side-scrolling obstacle course for far, far too long. Neither is difficult, but especially the latter feels jarringly incongruous within the rest of the game.
And that's it. That's my list of criticisms. Chuchel really is that good. It's over-stuffed with wonderful ideas, ludicrous imagination, and hilarious nonsense. Its bright cheerfulness is an oasis in the world of gaming, and its humour, all delivered through the gibberish-speak of its extraordinary coterie of imaginary creatures, is incessantly funny.
Oh, and the music! The music. Goodness me, it's incredible stuff, vocal excellence by DVA, that perfectly accompanies the mad jibber-jabber from the game's characters.
Chuchel is a creation of pure joy, an absolute masterclass in silliness, with pleasingly involved puzzles to boot. It's a giant cuddle of a game, interesting to all ages, and with a manic edge that never slows down.