Earlier this week, I picked up the ridiculously good value for money itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, a bundle of over 1,000 games currently available for as little as a £5 charitable donation. The bundle contains everything from recently released capitalism destroying beat ’em up Tonight We Riot, to a series of much smaller and more experimental indie titles. Now, the bundle has so many games many people have found it a little daunting to dig in and find which ones are any good. So, I’m spending the next few weeks trying out as many games from the bundle as I can, to try and give recommendations for small interesting games you might not have heard of.
Extreme Meatpunks Forever is at its core a mix between a visual novel, and a top down, character based brawler. The game is set in a world that’s a world that’s Mad Max’s wasteland, if you layered on a little Welcome to Nightvale supernatural surrealism and dropped in a bunch of fleshy meat mechs. The world still has the expected trappings of modern society, there are gas stations and bars and churches, but there’s also huge deserted wastelands outside city limits, Eldrich abominations, and cults that worship the very sun itself.
One of the first things that really caught my attention about Extreme Meatpunks Forever is the diverse cast and how they interact with the game’s core setting. Put simply, this game’s inciting incident is that a group including various sexualities, disabilites, gender statuses and racial backgrounds fight off a fascist in self defense, who turns out to be the son of a cop. The game doesn’t flinch away at all from the fact that for this group of people, drawing the ire of a fascist affiliated cop is going to play out badly for them, which quickly pushes the group together, and kicks off their adventure. From Sam, who is dealing with life in a small town with his only friend leaving, to Cass and her reluctance to feel, Brad’s excited obsession and need to be respected, to Lianna and her low self esteem, the cast of characters are all well written, and have really interesting interactions with each other over the three or four hours spent playing through the game.
For a game that’s about being punks fighting off fascists, it was really refreshing to be able to play as a cast of characters that actually felt like they might have a good reason to rebel against the establishment and not simply trust those in power to do what’s best for them. It’s punk, and not just in its aesthetic, but in its unwavering desire to fell fascists to fuck off, and to use force if needed to fight back when threatened.
In between visual novel segments, the game frequently throws the player into top down brawling sections, where the characters pilot mechs made out of raw, unforgiving organic components. These mechs are not clean and polished, they’re almost animalistic, with a little life of their own. Characters hook into them, connecting to all the nerves and neurons of the mech itself, in order to viciously fight off nazis by punching their mechs over and over. This game’s interpretation of mechs as something almost uncontrolable, that amplifies emotion and has to be fought into submission is really engaging, and something I would love to see explored in greater depth in a future sequel.
Now, I won’t deny, the mech combat sections of EMF are rough around the edges, and initially were a bit of a turn off for me with the game. Players move around with the WASD keys, aim their mech punches with the mouse pointer, left click for standard attacks, and right click for their character specific special moves. The game doesn’t place any of pointer around the primary mech to highlight where it’s about to aim a punch, so you have to make sure not to loose track of your mouse pointer, but with a little practice this is manageable.
Additionally, fights in the game are generally won by knocking enemy mechs out of the ring, or off a cliff, which is fine in latter portions of the game where most environments have multiple open sides to knock enemies into, but not great early on when environments often only have one side an enemy can be knocked off for the win. I feel like the developers perhaps wanted to limit knock out areas to help the player early on not loose too many fights, but more often than not it caused early fights to devolve into having to lead enemies repeatedly away from walls, try to get behind them, just to start pushing them the right way. If an enemy is in a corner, you’re just going to hit them more into the corner unless you can coax them out and get behind them, which isn’t always fun.
As much as I have complaints about the combat early on, by the latter half of the game I was actually having a really good time with in game combat. Each mech plays noticeably differently, from one that can teleport, to one where you have to make use of speed boosts to cause big damage, to all or nothing smashes that leave you vulnerable, and characters that get stronger the more they’re hit, each mech has its own rhythm to combat, and once those started to click, these segments really added something cool to the game.
If the combat ever gets frustrating, you can skip any combat encounter after your first loss, but I recommend sticking with it, the combat system has a lot to offer if you persevere a little with it. At the very least, once environments open up more, return to trying fights if you had given up on them early on.
While Extreme Meatpunks Forever is a fairly short game, it manages to tackle a lot of emotionally raw, complex ground, as well as find space for joy, adventure, and hope. Each of its characters unique backgrounds are explored in ways that feel natural in a story about rebelling against fascists using violence, and several plot points brought up early are reflected in new light by the end of the game. Any time the game is going to take a tonal shift towards something dark or tough to experience, the game does a great job of gently letting you know without spoiling the entire scene, in order to help players make informed choices about how and when to tackle it’s more challenging material. The game ends on a clear cliffhanger for a sequel which is currently in the works, and I honestly can’t wait for it. Everything about the way the wider world that has been set up has me fascinated, and I can’t wait to dig in deeper.
If you’re in the mood for a wonderfully creative queer visual novel, with mech combat that’s just a little rough around the edges, as well as a good dose of anti nazi energy, Extreme Meatpunks Forever is well worth checking out. It’s a creative and exciting game, well worth seeing through to its end.