Gun Monkeys is a game that I instantly want to put an exclamation mark behind both in text and verbally, “Gun Monkeys!”, it just works. You know where you are with a title like Gun Monkeys, a lot of indie games, over the past year for sure, have trodden down the art-house or abstract titles that really are there to intrigue. Gun Monkeys doesn’t need that kind of pretension, the game features monkeys and guns, that covers 90% of the game, the other 10% is all about blood, power cubes and the actor Kevin Eldon.
Gun Monkeys(!) is the latest offering from Dan Marshall, creator of ‘Ben There, Dan That’. The game is simple, if you don’t look too deeply into the story. There are two monkeys on-screen brandishing weapons, each monkey is formed in a chamber and sent out into the arena, the chamber has a clock counting down, if it hits zero then it’s game over. To keep the clock running out you must score points, firstly kills gets your score up by a generous amount, or alternatively you can run around the arena collecting little blue energy cubes, once you’ve filled your pocket you return to base and cash them in for time. Dying makes you lose points, both if the enemy chimp makes you spill blood and also if you accidentally kill yourself, which happens more often than you would expect, or less often if you are realistic and think about real monkeys and guns.
Weapons in the game start from the basic and obvious and go to the extreme side of genocide and literal over-kill. Each primate starts with a basic pistol, then throughout your game crates drop from the sky, each containing either a power-up, like the ability to slow time or freeze your enemy, or a weapon. The weapons range in usefulness and skill required. A sniper rifle can shoot through walls but does require pin point accuracy, or luck. The Nuke on the other hand is remote-controlled and makes a big boom, unless you blow it up next to your own face then monkey murder is pretty much a given. Finally each monkey can sacrifice some of their points to drop a bomb that sends an explosive wave going up and to either side, think of the bombs in Bomberman. These are brutal devices, the bombs are small black boxes that are easy to not notice, play the game for a bit however and you learn to recognise the sounds of one being dropped, at which point hit the deck or start climbing. There are enough weapons with enough differentiating them to make this an interesting take on the arena battle style game.
The levels are procedural meaning they are created at random, sure they follow some set rules along the lines of “There must be somewhere to walk” but on the most part you’ll rarely, if ever, see the exact same level twice. The levels seem to follow a few set themes, there’s a spacey one, where the unlucky chimps are wearing space suits, there’s a lava area, normal area and an underwater area. Each of these arenas are prime primate murder locations. Every one features vantage points, ladders, saw blades and my personal favourite, little gaps in the floor, there is nothing more satisfying than diving into a pit and ducking just as an explosion goes off overhead.
Kevin Eldon is a wonderful actor that has appeared in most the UK’s comedy outputs over the past 15 years, he is one of those great people who is often referred to in pubs as “You know, that guy, from things and stuff!”. For years his showing in the sketch show Jam has haunted me for completely negative and horrific reasons. He brings to Gun Monkeys(!) a voice perfect for games, his friendly and jovial tones lighten the mood as he explains the basics of the game and as the above trailer showed he nails the delivery. His addition takes this game from a slightly odd and violent PETA baiting game to something that, despite its blood, is a fun and friendly experience.
The graphics jump a great line between pixel art, vector art and the neon indie wave we have been seeing recently with games like Monaco: What’s Yours is mine. with procedural levels there is always the risk of, to put it technically, ‘ballsing up’ and not producing enough room to maneuver or too much space, but the arenas in my experience have all tread that line excellently. The explosions from the bombs are a force to be reckoned with and produce genuine fear as you see the cloud coming your way. The game does have a bullet time-esque slow down when monkeys die in particular ways which at first is cool but sometimes ruins flow. In my experience playing online I had no lag, thankfully a mostly visually simple game doesn’t need too much data transfer and the servers held up well. The soundtrack is the epic music that jumps between chilled and heavy beats which, I presume, is to get the played riled up and feeling ‘shooty’.
The flaws in this game are few and far between, but they are there. The slow down animation as I mentioned above breaks the flow of the game and detracts from the fast paced action, the bombs are slightly overpowered and are almost too difficult to spot and finally the game could do with flagging up when a player is near the end of their time. Quite often myself and a friend were deep into a fun game and then game over screen appears from no-where, a bit more of an obvious warning could change a monkey’s tactic a make for an interesting finale. These are all things that could be sorted with a patch and are only minor balancing issues in what is a great game.
Overall this is an interesting and fun game to add to your collection. The online community will hopefully grow, finding an opponent isn’t too hard at the moment but at certain times of day there is a challenge. But with public awareness growing I look forward to some tough bouts in the future. The graphics, music and most of all fun come together to produce a game that is challenging but also on the friendly side of competitive. Plus it’s as cheap and chimps.