“It’s only a flesh wound!” Everyone versed in movie arts immediately recognizes the famous quote from Monty Python's comedy film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which the Black Knight refuses to give up fighting even after King Arthur has cut off all of his limbs. Brazilian developer Flux Game Studio uses this attitude for their madcap beat 'em up GUTS. Here, the lunatic fighters jerk and hop onward and wave around their blood-squirting stumps until there’s nothing left. The name of the game is to amputate all of the opponent’s limbs to earn the victory.
There’s no health meter in GUTS, nor is there a time limit. The fight continues as long as it takes, with both fighters reduced to bloody torsos at worst. One more limb-tearing GUTS move through and the opponent is finally quartered. There are the usual punches and kicks, but no such thing as a fancy moves list. Each of the nine fighters share more or less similar moves that are all used to gain an opportunity for a quick field amputation. "U-moves," like dodging or attaching a lost limb back, are gained at the expense of limbs. Mutilating hazards (like giant saw blades or a train rushing through the stage) and interventions (like unlimited GUTS moves or no healing) all add their flavor to the bloody mix. Offensive play is encouraged as defending only adds to the opponent's GUTS meter.
You shouldn’t feel sorry for the severed limbs flying off all over the arenas though. Most of the fighters are multiple amputees, to begin with, equipped with outrageous prostheses, such as an electric guitar for an arm or sword for a leg. Even though the characters might appear as jokes, it’s obvious a lot of care has gone into their stories and the world they inhabit. You see, in year 2067 there’s hardly any violence left in the world, thanks to GUTS, Gory Ultimate Tournament Show, playing on the telly. This reality-TV is so gore-infested no one is interested in making similar acts for real. There’s a story mode with two different endings for each character and a solo show featuring a single match against the computer. For a local competitive play there are three modes with different rules. At the time of reviewing, there was no online activity to speak of so that’s something for the future.
No matter what you play, it’s rewarded with bountiful credits to spend on all kinds of unlockable goods, from concept art to mug shots of Flux Game Studio employees. The presentation is rich, loud and gaudy, fully narrated by the transvestite showrunner David Bo Judge, who also acts as the final challenger in the story mode. The candid madness of it all reminded me of the unhinged creativity of Dreamcast brawlers, like Heavy Metal Geomatrix. Ironically, the same goes for the gameplay, which for all its good intentions and originality isn’t fully realized.
It’s liberating there are no health meters, time limits, or a tome of executables to memorize. Flux Game Studio recount in their development diaries how they have studied dozens of fighting games, most notably Street Fighter series. That’s why it’s all the more frustrating how dissatisfying the core gameplay ultimately is. Fighting is twitchy and clunky with no momentum carrying through punches and kicks. The fights are reduced to equally trying to pull off and anticipating GUTS moves which are easy to avoid and counter. Hit confirming them helps a bit but in the absence of a proper combo system, they are too easy to whiff. The blood splatters all around in such a volume it’s almost disorientating as it obscures the fight at play.
The satire of GUTS would be so much better if the gameplay stuck its landing. Sketchy and numb gameplay simply doesn’t cut it. As it is, GUTS is a mere curiosity. A quirky look at a gory game show with some genuinely good ideas, like a combat log after a fight (I would love it in Tekken!) and fighting not measured in habitual health and time. Even though GUTS doesn’t take it seriously, it’s done seriously. I can only hope that Flux Game Studio continues to develop their obvious labor of love further. Maybe by the time the game makes its way to the consoles next year, its gameplay will have evolved further.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.