Here’s a riddle for you. What do grinning hairballs with orange hats, pink hedgehogs, and giant cherries have in common?
The answer is, of course, nothing. Embarrassed? You should be, for you have just fallen victim to the riddle king. Luckily, Amanita Design laugh in the face of basic object categories, and have thrown together all those things I just listed for Chuchel. The result? One of the most joyful, hilarious, and beautifully animated puzzle games of the year.
A Hairy Situation
You play as the titular Chuchel – a zany, excitable ball of scribbles. What he lacks in a delineated torso, he makes up for in ridiculous levels of adorable idiocy. Chuchel possesses the bravery of a hero, the hat of an acorn, and the wits of a slightly larger acorn. Also, he’s a top lad and I love him.
Every good protagonist needs a love interest to rescue. In Chuchel’s case – it’s a shiny red cherry. You’d think that a cherry – commonly considered the most docile of all fruits – would be easy to hang on to. Unfortunately, Chuchel’s rival Kekel has other plans. Is he a mouse? Is he a thumbprint? I’m really, really not sure. What is certain, though, is that Kekel wants that juicy cherry just as much as Chuchel. As you might imagine, the ensuing jinx are of the highest possible variety.
While Amanita’s previous offerings – Machinarium and the Samorost series – could be somber affairs at times, Chuchel remains goofy and whimsical throughout. The scribble-covered white backgrounds give the impression of an animator freed from all restraints, letting their imagination flow into every frame. There’s no idea too weird or wonderful for Chuchel. Frequently, I thought I had the game’s humor pinned down. Each time, I was pleasantly shocked by an explosive twist I wasn’t expecting. Also, things occasionally just explode.
Puzzles aren’t difficult, but difficulty never feels like the point. Chuchel is a point n’ click without any inventory management or pixel hunting, and that’s great for a bunch of reasons. Firstly, my dude has no pockets anyway, so you can save that suspension of disbelief for … actually, its best not to even think about it. Secondly, it means that HUD is kept to an absolute minimum. Each of Chuchel‘s scenarios are brimming with color and detail, never obscured behind UI. Solutions are always close at hand, maintaining an organic flow throughout. Better yet, even the wrong approach frequently results in some new, brilliantly inventive animation. There’s always hints available too, should you get stuck.
I Don’t Have Another Pun But Look At That Egg
Alongside the puzzles, you’ll occasionally play through some more skill based scenarios. An arcade filled with silly subversions of classic games, for example. Or a battle against a rampaging gang of giant furious teeth. Not only do these sections offer variety, but they give the masterful animation a real chance to shine. Sequences frequently zig zag between the playful and the Pythonesque, and back again.
Chuchel‘s sound design is as bright, expressive and charming as the rest of the package. Each new puzzle features some fresh auditory fireworks display of harmonies and percussion sewn together from synthesized chaos and garbled gibberish. The nonsense ramblings of Chuchel, Kekel and the many strange creatures they encounter endlessly endearing, and easy to fall in love with.
Any negatives? Honestly, it’s hard to think. Chuchel has left me so blissfully confused that I just want to lounge in the grass and fart on ladybugs, but I’ll stick my critic fedora on and give it a go. Ok. It’s pretty short. Maybe two hours long. Replayability? Yes and No. No in terms of alternate paths and what have you. Yes in that you’re going to want to shout at people you know to come play it with you, repeatedly. Also, word of warning: The pencil flecks on the screen are supposed to be there. I cleaned my monitor twice before I worked that out.
- Gorgeous, colorful animation
- Relaxed but inventive puzzles
- Pure condensed joy
- Bite size
- Contains no actual cherries
Chuchel is joyful in a way that crosses the boundaries of age and language. I’d be just as happy playing it alone again, with my 82 year old Grandmother, or my 4 year old Nephew. Or possibly together, in some sort of terribly balanced deathmatch scenario. Hilarious, creative, and utterly unique.