Playing Anarcute made me think about video games that used civil disobedience not only as a theme but as a central game mechanic. I can think of only a few off the top of my head, like the spray painting antics of Infamous Second Son and Jet Set Radio as well as Rockstar’s infamous State of Emergency. To my knowledge, there haven’t been a great deal of titles that put you in the role of the masses raging against a corrupt machine. It’s always the lone hero rising up to wake up the the “sheeple” and pit them against the despots. Anarcute is nice because it puts the power of change and civil disobedience in the hands of the masses, that protest is stronger when there are many, not few. As the title of the game suggests, however, this isn’t a game about non-violent, peaceful protest. Buildings collapse, cars explored, and propaganda is destroyed in the name of freedom.
There’s an amusing dissonance in the design of Anarcute. It blends the chaotic violence that comes with destabilizing a regime with the warm, fuzzy cuteness of its proletariat. Rather than control a single person, the game has you building a large mob with the movement and consistency of a giant slime. As the crowd grows larger, either by attracting small crowds milling about or freeing them from cages, the dynamic blob of anthropomorphized fish, foxes, dogs, cats, and raccoons take on the properties of Katamari Damacy as they pick up items--benches, fences, trash cans, and cars--to be used as projectiles against the military police. All this is done against a bright color palette and an engaging soundtrack.
The game is set in four different parts of the world with each level based on a major city. Completing a level involves accomplishing goals needed to liberate the zone. Initially, the mob can do little more than throwing debris and pounding enemies. A nice, steady progression systems allows for a growing arsenal of special tricks and attacks to balance out the incremental escalation of enemy troops. These abilities are activated by increasing the population of the mob to unlock special movement boosts, weapon modifiers, and abilities like taking down whole buildings. These abilities can be further upgraded through an in-game store that can expand on the mob’s ability to wage chaos, be it by adding a ricochet to tossed projectiles or gain momentary invincibility. To prevent the player from growing thoroughly overpowered, these special bonuses are only available as long as the mob has a certain amount of protesters. Lose them to the enemy and abilities are locked away until the numbers can be shored up again. Mob health is represented by the number of people in the group. They can’t take too many hits before dying and if the mob population reaches zero, it’s game over. There’s a lot of strategy involved in keeping the mob healthy in order to maximize the effectiveness of special abilities.
Each stage offers its own set of interesting challenges. The government’s paramilitary forces don’t take civil disobedience lightly and will attack the mob if it crosses their immediate line of sight. The lowest tier enemies are relatively harmless but as the game progresses, so do the enemies. Before long, your mob will have to deal with armored SWAT officers that launch proximity attacks, tracking laser turrets, snipers, and soldiers wielding spiked balls. With such an escalating police force, I often felt like my protesters were almost always underpowered. Attacking anything stronger than the standard foe feels like you’re taking more hits than necessary. Though perhaps that’s just me thinking that damage should scaled based on the size of the mob. Projectiles help in dealing damage, especially vehicles that explode on impact, but overall my damage output never felt satisfactory.
What also bothered me was how easy it sometimes is to have the protesters killed. It happens frequently with turret enemies (and the final boss of the Paris level). The mob moves in a manner similar to a puddle of water on a slick, greased surface. The blob of cutesy animals bends and pulls, creating lone stragglers as they move through the city grounds. These stragglers are easy targets for the enemy and there’s really nothing to do about it. I suppose that’s the inherent challenge of the game, that every protestor has their own hitbox instead of one bigger hitbox covering the entire mob. I lost a considerable amount of protesters against a laser spewing boss because members of the group either got caught in the environment or were slow to respond before getting hit with an attack.
Where most games that feature the player facing The Man are likely to use a gritty, urban aesthetic. Anarcute is more like a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper come to life. Amidst all the violence, urban destruction, and frequent news bulletin from gas mask wearing regime members, the game is cute and colorful. Protesters are little more than animal heads with arms and legs. There are light customization options for your woodland critters but it’s a mostly secondary feature. The game’s music is jaunty and has a good beat, the perfect backdrop for disrupting a totalitarian regime.
Anarcute is a fun way to spend a weekend. Creative achievements (that are rife with spelling errors) and a grading system offers some replayability. However, once you collect all the achievements and earn perfect grades for every level, this isn't much to do afterwards. It's a fairly short game with no multiplayer option, so when it's over, there is precious little to keep you coming back. The game gets more and more repetitive as you reach later stages so its best enjoyed in small doses. Regardless, Anarcute is a fun, well built game to play. It has the right amount of challenge, the music's great, and the rioters are just so damn adorable.
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.