Earlier this week, I was entranced by the trailer for Sludge Life, Terri Vellmann & Doseone’s open world graffiti platformer. Mainly, the itch.io-esque low-rez aesthetic caught my eye, but so did the double-buttholed cat that featured so prominently. Well, fast forward a few dozen hours and Sludge Life is out — and currently free on the Epic Games Store — and I’m thrilled to say it’s not just a one trick pony (er, kitty?), but a delightful little game that just happens to feature… a two-butted feline.
What’s especially cool about Sludge Life is that it seems to bridge the gap between the types of super low-rez, simple games that I enjoy so much from single creators or tiny teams, and something much bigger and more mechanically complex. It’s essentially set in a small open world, where you run, jump (and eventually learn more exciting means of traversal), and tag the walls with your funky little ghost-art. Sorry to do the “meets/meets” thing, but here it’s fairly illustrative: Sludge Life is a little bit Jet Grind Radio (the tagging is much simpler, but you can’t escape the influence) by way of a miniature Crackdown. The movement feels fluid and exaggerated, and it’s a pleasure to bop around the 3D world, looking for areas to tag up.
The environment is a big draw here, and has a few other connections to the Dreamcast masterpiece. There are other artists hanging around, all with their own tags, and meeting them and interacting is a delight. There are tons of wacky characters, in fact, from one super buff lady who steals… washing machines to the burned-out workers populating what quickly becomes apparent is a company town, to the strange and wonderful animals you meet along the way.
There’s a story here, about violent cops (Clops, in this world, as they have… one eye), greedy CEOs, and the much more interesting and colorful people eking out a living in the sludgy city. Many workers are on strike, and several have joined a protest at the heart of city’s corporate tower.
It’s, very gently, a game about protest, labor, environmental justice, and escapism, with plenty of Adult Swim-style humor heaped on top. That doesn’t always hit the right note for me — look, the double cat butthole got me, I fully admit it — but with poop jokes, less is usually more. There are one or two of those (including one situation with a janitor who wants to leave a mess in honor of its making), but the game’s tone and vibe leans more into the surreal and sweet than the all-out gross. And the cat butthole, believe it or not, actually is tied into the narrative in a few ways.
It’s not exactly a linear experience: you are free, from the first moment, to hop around and explore to your heart’s content. It’s very much a game of delightful surprises: finding a weird drug in a back room of an apartment, petting a cute doggie staring at a hot dog stand, finding new abilities and scaling giant towers. There are plenty of sight gags and little jokes, and Sludge Life strings them together with an impressive sense of cohesion. This is a very odd little world, but it all hangs together nicely.
On top of that, there’s a really satisfying sense of progression. You will find new abilities that let you get around in new ways — and these are a real joy to experiment with. I don’t want to spoil them, but the scope of the game kept surprising and impressing me as I made my way through.
As soon as the credits rolled (in spectacular fashion), I jumped right back in, to find all the little scenes I had missed. Sludge Life really won me over with its oddball charisma, especially for a game I only just found out about a couple of days ago, and only then because its cat butt marketing was just too goofy to pass up. I’m very happy I gave it some time this afternoon.