Indie Spotlight: Gamechuck — Turning Adventure Games Into Comics

April 23, 2019
FEATURES
PC

It’s easy to forget that big hits often start in small places and after numerous false starts. Rovio famously tells the story of “51 failed games” before landing on its smash hit and global phenomenon, Angry Birds. Overnight success can take years. Still, as long as developers are willing to shake things up, take chances and follow their ambition, success is never off the table. Gamechuck is one such plucky studio, based in Croatia and with a few games under its belt already.

A two-person outfit formed in mid-2017, Gamechuck is now around twelve strong thanks to both public and private investment. Its first game, All You Can Eat, tells the story of a customer living in a 24-hour diner and in possession of an “all-you-can-eat” coupon. He’s been there for ten years, unwilling to leave since his coupon expires once he sets foot outside. However, when an evil corporation threatens to buy out the diner, he needs to take matters into his own hands.

For a first effort clearly made on a budget — not to mention being developed, greenlit and published in an astonishing three months — All You Can Eat is a tightly crafted game. The lead is a likeable layabout and the puzzles, though not particularly challenging, are nevertheless engaging. There is a deftness to the gentle comedy, where even the slimy corporate CEO is endearing in his own way. An hour’s play will easily be enough time to let you get through the game twice, the second time utilising New Game+ which includes developer commentary — a feature we’d love to see in more point-and-clicks (and games in general) to provide insight into the thought processes that go into creating puzzles and locations. Interestingly, the commentary also alerts you to the fact that you can right-click to examine things: something that isn’t touched upon at all within the main game. Completionists would likely want a third runthrough just to farm through all of the different descriptions, and the game’s brevity is an asset in this situation.

Gamechuck released a work-in-progress pixel art side-scrolling shooter soon after entitled Speed Limit, which harks back to the twitchy days of browser-based Flash games, frustration included. It’s still in progress with a release penned for the end of the year. But it’s when they switch focus back to the point-and-click genre that the studio makes it clear where its strength and passion lie. vApe Escape is another (free)short title clocking in at around twenty minutes, a sci-fi comedy about imprisoned apes on a spaceship whose brains have been turned into vape dispensers to let humans get high off their brain waves. The story doesn’t get any more serious than that, but the plot cleverly flips halfway through when your rogue simian protagonist gets a taste of the magical vape and instantly improves his intelligence. This ties in with the aesthetic switching from black-and-white to full colour, a simple but tremendously effective change that highlights his new mental capacity.

It is reflected in the dialogue too — though the only conversations you have are with the ship’s AI, they are frequently funny and rely on a couple of solid through lines involving error codes and the AI’s loneliness to land jokes. While the transition from dumb ape to smart simian means that you’re now having far more complex conversations as you rattle through the dialogue options, it’s a shame that numerous typos break the immersion. This is an area we hope will be looked at as a priority in the studio’s next games.

Interface-wise, the classic point-and-click UI makes fun of a traditional player’s propensity to try and use inventory items on everything. Hey, you see that really heavy safe? Try using it on the ship’s window. It’s nice that the team has accounted for near-certainties such as this, rather than the tired “I can’t do that” response of days gone. Though the puzzles are a little basic, there was at least one that had me scratching my head, despite only having two items in my inventory and two locations in which I could use them. Importantly, the solution made sense, and it seems Gamechuck is on the cusp of nailing that balance between challenge and logic.

In both games, the three-panel presentation looks interesting, but actually restricts the amount of gaming real estate you have to explore. The idea behind this approach is to allow the player the option of exporting their entire runthrough into a PDF comic book at the end of the game. In theory, that’s a novel idea, but in reality what it actually does is export every single action you take. So if you’re going back and forth, trying to work out how to proceed while cycling through the same lines of dialogue, that will be included in the PDF, resulting in a lot of repeated pages.

Still, with a bit of work to filter out the duplicates it might be an interesting way to revisit your playthrough; at the minute, it feels a bit unnecessary. The comic book style approach to dialogue works nicely, however, and vApe Escape is very much a proof of concept for Gamechuck’s approach to the adventure genre. It is a light, silly game with a decent heart which shows the studio’s potential to create something special.

Next up is forthcoming title The Lot. Gamechuck’s third point-and-click will centre around Harry Hunter, a freelance parking attendant. When his daily routine is upended by a Mustang driver who dared to enter Harry’s realm without buying a ticket, your goal as Harry is to find that driver and make him pay. Literally.

The Lot will be Gamechuck’s first full adventure, clocking in at around two hours with multiple endings, numerous paths through the game and thousands of lines of dialogue. If it’s anything like their previous releases it will be a lot of fun to play, and the comic book presentation alongside an exportable file may prove to be the perfect marriage for a game with a less linear path than its predecessors.

Finally, there’s The Heist, a game being developed in collaboration with Munzesky Games Studio based in Serbia. This is a very different beast: while the layout utilises Gamechuck’s presentation, the story is a cyberpunk thriller from the team at Munzesky.

Ganymede is the futuristic capital in which the action happens, where a four-person team sets out to acquire a valuable piece of tech to help advance their cause. Very little else is known about the game, but the markedly different art style suggests a far grittier adventure than Gamechuck’s other offerings. This is future-noir with the emphasis on noir, as the screenshots and trailer clearly convey.

It’s clear that Gamechuck has both a love of the point-and-click genre and a very engaging style with which to present it. They told us that that they’re planning to release at least three games this year — including The Heist and The Lot — and if their previous work is anything to go by, there is plenty to look forward to.

Check back with JDR for reviews of Gamechuck’s upcoming releases and keep an eye on their official site for regular updates!

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Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.