Happy Slap or Slap in the Face?
Coming from Spanish developer MonkeyToons is the first chapter of cartoony point-and-click Western Slap Village: Reality Slap.
We follow Lurditas, a relentlessly cheerful soul who starts the game packing for a visit to her grandmother in the titular Slap Village. En route she meets, in no particular order: an elderly biker, a fastidiously bureaucratic bus driver, an onion-obsessed shopkeeper, a secret society of people who ‘dress up and play games’ and a floating extraterrestrial who looks like the fourth member of 90s one hit wonder Hanson.The otherworldly Mmmbopper reveals himself to be ‘someone with a name too long for these small text boxes’, a mercifully rare instance of a 4th wall-breaking aside. We can call him ‘Pi’. Perhaps because he is going to radius for the fight ahead? Like, ‘ready us for the fight ahead’, but with radius because it’s Pi…
Pi warns us, albeit in an unhelpfully vague manner, that the world as we know it is on the cusp of monumental change. Malevolent forces are at play, and Lurditas will be instrumental in the fightback. But there’s no time for advice or pep-talks, as Pi vanishes from view as suddenly as Hanson vanished from the public’s consciousness.
From here on out, Pi’s presence is maintained via cryptic clues scrawled on paper that aid, in a small way, Lurditas’ progression. The clues have to be cryptic because they’re all jimble-jambled because of multi-dimensionalism or something.
Even with the sometimes questionable aid of Pi, progressing from one level to the next requires a mixture of puzzle-solving and observational skills—a formula that doesn’t stray far from point-and-click conventions. Unfortunately, as is so often the case within the genre, any Eureka moments Slap Village provides are completely smothered by the hefty molasses of pre-Eureka frustration. This leaves the game clinging to the faintest notion of playability, asking the player just how far they’re willing to go as opposed to enticing them further.There are two main criteria that, in my mind, a successful point-and-click game must hit: firstly, all puzzle solutions have to make sense, and secondly, the player shouldn’t resort to clicking randomly around the screen in the hopes of hitting something relevant, like some kind of down-on-their-luck prospector hoping to strike oil with a shovel in the Lake District. These rules aren’t set in stone, and one or two instances of either does not necessarily equate to a bad game, but if these issues are repeatedly cropping up, then the game in question has a very serious issue. Such is the case with Slap Village.
Quite aside from certain puzzles created from an impenetrable frame of logic, (as a case study: how do you catch a bandit? Why, chuck some peanuts into the tiara of an affluent woman in order to lure a monkey there, of course!) the way you progress from event to event is basically removed from the narrative. You may think your objective to be one thing, but the game might actually wish you to visit somewhere irrelevant, not only presenting a ridiculously convoluted path but also forcing you to explore enough to fortuitously fall into said path. (Another case study: there are some children in need of food, preferably ‘something sweet’. There is also a bowl of sweets in your grandma’s house. Without giving anything away, the answer to this conundrum involves the local clergy, a mummified finger, a miraculous fountain and does not include the sweets in the bowl.)
It’s a system which encourages walking around, searching everywhere and exhausting dialogue options. And that’s fine, as long as the game’s world is rich and diverse enough to support the gallivanting; Slap Village’s is not. For all the talk of a vibrant and bustling town, it seems that the denizens of Slap Village consist of a handful of sentient characters scattered amongst numerous cardboard cut-outs.But that’s enough for the gameplay because there’s a ton to be said about the game’s writing. To illustrate this point: I make notes on a bit of paper whenever I’m playing a game, and for Slap Village that sheet is rammed with quotes taken direct from the game at various points which highlight its hilariously clunky dialogue. Here are some of the prime cuts:
“Here are the pliers that I use to fix things.” …and here are the pliers that I use to wreak havoc and devastation.
“It’s a brick with sentimental value, a friend of mine gave it to me.” I’m trying to think of items less appropriate to have sentiment bestowed upon then and am coming up short. Toilet paper, maybe.
“You know what people say: bodyguards and journalists, it’s better to keep an eye on them.” Oh, of course I know that saying! In fairness though, I have read 101 weirdly esoteric phrases about bodyguards and journalists.
And finally, when attempting to use a jar of beans on a sleeping man, Lurditas comes out with “I don’t think that’s politically correct.” Have you seen the latest Trump speech? You know, the one where he rails against the damn PC Police, walking around forcing beans upon those in their slumber.
These are all quite clearly quirks of the game’s translation, as is also apparent in many pronunciation issues within the voice acting. For the occasional chortle, these are great; for proper narrative engagement, not so much.
So, why the score? So far I’ve described an absolute turkey, something deserving of thirty or fourty percent, dependent on your disposition and the alignment of Venus and whatever the hell else goes into formulating game scores.Well, for all of it’s frustrations, I found myself somewhat enamoured by the sheer heart of the thing. This is a game which exudes bright-eyed optimism, helped significantly by its eminently likeable protagonist. In spite of all its flaws, it’s hard to come out of Slap Village harbouring any kind of cynicism because that would be totally at odds with what the game is about.
The soundtrack is perfectly fine, and the animations—particularly during cutscenes—are always good and often utterly adorable, especially when focused on Lurditas’ mouse pal Rasta. There are even small minigame sections, which, though infrequent, still manage to break up some of the monotony. It’s just a terrible shame that so much of it is monotonous.
And that’s the reason why the game’s score might seem incongruous with what I’ve written here. Slap Village is deeply flawed, but it’s a game that’s made with such passion and that contains such a positive outlook that it’s difficult to not be taken in somewhat, almost in spite of yourself. This is only chapter one, so it will be great to see whether the next release can fix some of the issues while keeping the core untouched.