Cute Things Dying Violently: XBL Indie review


  • Format: 360 (version reviewed), PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: ApathyWorks
  • Developer: ApathyWorks
  • Players: 1-2
  • Site:

Cute Things Dying Violently is stuck quite firmly in the minority of Xbox Live indie games. Not (only) because all the spelling and grammar is correct, but because it’s not a shameless clone of somebody else’s work; because it’s not so concerned with disguising itself as art that it falls flat on its face; because it features neither zombies nor avatars; because the box art features neither big-boobed manga style girls nor the word ‘mine’; and most importantly of all, because the game design is consistently infused with the kind of skill and confidence that you’d usually only get from developers with years of professional experience.

The basic premise is simple. The Cute Things (identified as ‘Critters’) wander around each single-screen stage by themselves. It’s your job to get as many of them to the exit as possible by getting each one in the centre of your on-screen reticule, which allows you to ‘flick’ them. The direction and power of the flick is determined by the right thumbstick, which you pull back and let go as a sort of mini catapult. Adjustable thumbstick sensitivity has, sensibly, been included.

We’d like to introduce you to our friend at the top, Rick O’Shea.

As in Lemmings, the creatures will happily wander into any instadeath hazards in their way without your intervention – but that’s about as far as similarities between the two games goes. There are a few catches that come with what sounds like the overly easy task of flicking Critters around like sentient blue bogeys until they land in the exit doors. First and foremost, your reticule will only move along a strictly determined horizontal plane at the bottom of the screen. This means that you’d best be sure you’ve judged each flick correctly, thanks to the second major catch – the many, many ways for Critters to die. The little blue fellows – who will gladly swear at you in cute little voices unless you tone down the language in the options – are destined for hilarious deaths. By the end of the main game’s 60 stages you will have seen Critters sliced in half, set on fire, thrown down bottomless pits, blown up, impaled on spikes, and electrocuted – often with unnecessarily (and therefore amusingly) large amounts of blood which paint the environment. The more you fail, the more Cute Things Dying Violently lives up to its name.

Singleplayer will probably only take you 3-5 hours to beat, but there’s a surprising amount of variety packed into the relatively short play time. Switches, springs, bubbles (which alter and extend trajectory slightly by slowing a Critter mid-flight), bombs and more are introduced and expertly implemented throughout. Nothing outstays its welcome. You can’t just hurriedly save one Critter per level to rush through either (not that you’d want to). Each new set of levels requires a minimum number of cumulatively saved Critters to unlock, which will probably mean revisiting earlier levels once or twice before the end; which you’ll do with steely determination and a new-found sense of experience. There are even six bosses which somehow work, and six “Achieve Mints” to earn for meeting certain conditions – each one of which unlocks a Special Stage for high score chasing.

There’s more! Four offline multiplayer levels to drag a friend round for, and a level editor. Though you can create your own carefully crafted stages for either singleplayer or multiplayer larks, there’s currently no way to share them with other players. This is something that Alex Jordan (who did virtually everything by himself) plans to include in a future update however. If and when this happens, you can almost certainly add an extra mark to the final score.

What could possibly go wrong?

Complaints are pleasingly few. It’s certainly sad that there’s no level sharing at time of writing; nor, at the moment, are there leaderboards or online multiplayer. More seriously, there are two or three stages that walk a very fine line between challenge and frustration. An unflatteringly bright light is, on rare occasions, shone on the imperfect nature of the flicking system. 95% of the time you’re given ample time to line up your shots, and it works brilliantly; but when super-quick reactions are required, and especially when you need to ‘catch’ a Critter in mid-air, the discrepancy between the huge reticule (dominated by a large directional arrow whilst aiming) and tiny area in the centre that acknowledges the presence of a Critter can cause problems.

The bottom line is this: Cute Things Dying Violently is wonderful, addictive, and criminally cheap at just 80 Microsoft Points (or £1.99 on PC). The whole thing is squished together with sharp humour (reload a level, and the message accompanying the progress bar reads “Confirming admission of failure”) that starts at the very first info point and persists even throughout the end game credits. When you come up against a stage so devious you’ll furiously curse the developer and hurl the controller at the cat, you won’t be able to stop playing until you taste the unbeatable satisfaction of besting a game that hates you. What greater recommendation do you need?

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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