I am always fascinated by titles that clearly took inspiration from bigger projects in order to create something unique, but on a much smaller scale in comparison. We have Salt and Sanctuary being an obvious 2D take on Dark Souls, Rise of the Argonauts could be argued is a diet Mass Effect, and Dark Messiah takes a more focused approach to the RPG setup The Elder Scrolls-series is known for. I find games like these truly interesting, as they are made through limitations set by their own developers in order to become something different and worthwhile. Creative forms of demakes, if you will. Butcher is one of those interesting projects, as it could be best described as Doom‘s little brother.
This game deserves its title
There is no real story in Butcher. You are set in a gory 2D run and gun, where you go from stage to stage in a linear structure. Each stage gives you a goal to reach, plenty of enemies to kill on your way, and forces you to keep moving in order to stay alive. Butcher does not skip on the action with plenty of ammunition available to pick up, but pickups for health and additional armour are scares. This is a great setup for giving you some options in what weapons to use and keep the carnage going, but also to demand skillful play.
This holds especially true thanks to the challenging enemies that comes with different firearms and behaviours, such as the soldiers wielding flamethrowers while flying with jet packs or the giant robots that shoot rockets. Each enemy is a threat to be recognised with, making it so you will have to be on the move at all time or quickly face your doom. Of course, you are also packed with weapons yourself and will not need to reload your guns even, which helps to keep the action constantly present.
While the chainsaw is a decent weapon for conserving ammo, the shotgun, assault rifle, flamethrower, grenade launcher, and chargeable laser gun, are all strong and effective firearms for different circumstances. For example: the shotgun has a wide spread to take down more enemies, while the laser can go through solid objects. Some weapons are clearly stronger than others, but the ammo for the more powerful ones will not be as common as for the lesser ones, making a diverse use of firepower important. I also love that you can surprise enemies, as they will not notice you unless you are in their line of fire.
This game is actually best played with a controller, due to it providing automatic aiming and the ability to switch between weapons with the shoulder buttons. You aim with the right analog stick and can jump with one of the trigger buttons as well, which is fantastic as you will never need the face buttons and can always keep a steady aim. This setup is reminiscent of 3D shooters, but this makes me baffled that more 2D shooters with a focus on constant action does not follow similar control layout these days. The only other abilities you have at disposal, are a useless melee attack that does not compare to the chainsaw and the ability to push switches in order to progress through the stage.
While the stages are short, they convey many different obstacles besides the enemies in order to never get dull. Moving platforms, dangerous hazards, and traps that can all affect both you and the enemies, are all fun extras to make sure you are never truly safe. In fact, there are even arena style rooms that puts you against plenty of fiends and dangerous setups in order to survive. These are nice ways for both testing your reactions, and your ability to use the traps and hazards to your advantage. While going all out with guns blazing, of course. A great example, is one stage where the lava will rise and you must fight your way through the stage, but also knock people into the lava in order to conserve ammo.
The creativity never stops thanks to the different obstacles to tackle, adding just enough variety to never make the game become close to repetitive. Because of the stages’ short lengths as well, starting from the beginning upon death never felt like a sore loss, just as an inconvenience. This game is definitely challenging, but while the “easiest mode” used to be hard, that is a bold statement. Personally, I believed the challenge was simply a good one. It always kept me on my toes, but was never overwhelming. If you play on the new difficulty that was added with the W.I.M.P update, then you honestly deserve that title. Butcher even has hidden rooms that can provide some nice support and all fights are based on testing your skills, never on cheap shots or unfair enemy placement.
Sadly, it is not just the stages that are short. So is the entire game itself, with a tutorial stage, 20 main stages, and one final boss. Because of this, Butcher can clock in about two hours the first time, less depending on your skills. However, all stages were enjoyable and the journey itself was a fantastic one. Avoiding attacks and traps, while thinking quickly about which gun to use on who, will get your adrenaline pumping and put you on the edge of your seat through every single stage. It was just a shame it ended before it could do more with its setup. You could say it missed the icing on the cake. Especially so, when the ending was nothing more than a “congratulation” screen with a middle finger in your face.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Butcher presents a dark and dystopian world that is something to truly admire visually. The five different areas give each a rusty and dreary take on the apocalyptic world, with the rainy jungles being filled with hungry animals, the fallen city containing flickering neon lights, and the military base having sounds of machines in the background. All settings provided in Butcher are unsettling, gruesome, and wonderful because of the mood they set. However, the biggest blemish that comes through this setup, is that every place becomes similar due to the use of dark colours. This makes it hard to distinct one area from another and, while there are minor differences added in to each area, repetition will be a sore part of the experience visually.
The take on pixelated presentation and all creatures being in less than 8-bit, is a very intriguing design-choice. Despite the small designs, you will always be able to distinguish an enemy from the environment thanks to some excellent lighting and the exclamation mark for when they notice you. The pixel art does not make them very detailed, but is a great choice for making it easy to see every enemy present and the stages’ layout.
This also makes the gruesome bloodbaths and entrails left by the destruction caused upon them exciting, especially when you shoot your prey into hooks and see them hang from their own body parts. The carnage can really become artistic in this regard and easily please gorehounds. There are even some nice nods to the developers’ inspiration, such as having the screen melting away when you finish a stage or become completely red when you are being killed.
Although, no goretastic game would be anything without its sound effects and Butcher clearly knows this. All guns sound incredible with the heavy firepower shaking and lighting up the screen, giving them all a sense of the destruction they can create, complimented by the screams from the decayed soldiers fading away and the explosions machines will cause. Even the traps, be they the enormous buzz blades or the unstable machines, conveys a form of fear I have not felt in ages from a 2D game, due to their solid sounds alone.
Accompanying these unsettling effects, is a depressive soundtrack with dark instruments utilised to show that there is no light at the end of this tunnel. Bass, drums, and el-guitars are what you will be hearing and they will be used for heavy and dark metal, which is fitting for this rusty and destroyed world. There are some electronic tracks as well, but they too add to this uncomfortable atmosphere lovely. Do consider getting the soundtrack.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Creating your own fun
While the hard difficulty gives you a fair challenge, the other ones can be downright brutal. To give you an idea, the hardest one neglects medkits and armour completely, and gives you only 33.3% health. It truly fits its name: impossible. The secret skulls that are hidden throughout the game can be fun to look after, but they do not give you anything in-game for finding them. However, the best elements this game has to offer are two things: speedrunning and stage creation. The game is easy to speedrun by being quite short and having weapons that can affect your jumps or speed, adding to the tensity. It is truly fun to try out, with runs being able to go by as quickly as 30 minutes. Besides this, there is an easy to use level editor to create your own stages and share them, giving you tons of more things to do. However, the stage creator is only for the PC version, oddly enough.
Extra Score: 7.5/10
Being a little brother to someone, is not a bad thing at all. While it is not as long or stands as tall as Doom, Butcher gives you a short and sweet experience for any fans of dark and gory shooter who gluttons for a good challenge. It is also unique in its own right by simply shifting its dimension and if you are the creative type or love speedrunning, you will come to enjoy this game for a long time. Butcher is definitely worth more than just “a shot”.