I’m a huge fan of roguelikes, and was somewhat surprised to learn of The Crackpet Show very recently. Despite releasing almost a year ago on Steam, I’d somehow missed it during countless hours trawling through the Steam store looking for my next quick fix of simplistic, but entertaining, shooters. Now, with the release of The Crackpet Show: Happy Tree Friends Edition on both PC and consoles, I can get my fill of randomly generated gory goodness with a generous dose of nostalgia.
If you’ve never heard of Happy Tree Friends, then you clearly weren’t trawling the internet in the early 2000s for entertainment (and you’re probably a well-adjusted human because of it). What seems like an innocent cartoon of a group of creatures living out seemingly mundane lives quickly turns into an all-out murder fest of decapitation, broken bones, and involuntary lobotomies. It’s simple, crude humour for sure, but it always got a laugh out of me and my friends hiding in the corner during IT lessons.
Moving on from pointless nostalgia, The Crackpet Show is a delightfully brutal roguelike shooter centred around a bizarre television show that pits cutesy critters against waves of monstrous mutants. It’s a simple premise that works very well for the genre; each level is seen as an episode, and you’re tasked with making it through each one in order to advance to a season finale. With three seasons, consisting of six episodes apiece, it’s not a short game by any means (especially when each episode can take several attempts) and thanks to the procedurally generated levels and the large variety of weapons and items to collect, it doesn’t grow stale either!
These loveable animals may seem sweet at first glance — and the visuals certainly make it seem that way — it doesn’t take long for the blood to flow and viscera to fill the screen! The juxtaposition of adorable and abhorrent may take a while to adjust to (if you’ve never seen the show) but The Crackpet Show does a great job of capturing the spirit of Happy Tree Friends. You’re not limited to just using the show's cast — although I main Sniffles — as the original set of characters are just as endearing! Likewise, the enemies you’ll face are well-designed and diverse; from bears using balloons to fly across the battlefield, to 80s rap throwback lemurs, there is definitely a wide variety of unique creations!
The same can’t always be said about the environments. Admittedly, they are detailed, with small crowds gathered to watch the death-dealing mayhem and TV studio equipment littered about, but the actual environments start to feel quite samey fairly quickly. As mentioned earlier, the game is procedurally generated, so no two levels are ever the same, at least in their layout. Visually, though, they don’t offer much variety, that being said, they all end up covered in blood and guts anyway!
The Crackpet Show’s gameplay is quick, simple, and hectic. You’ll move around each stage blasting enemies, whilst trying to avoid their returning fire. You can’t move and shoot simultaneously — which did take some getting used to — but this adds to the challenge in a way that feels like a smart design choice and not an unfair disadvantage. Being able to dodge at a moment's notice certainly helps to escape a grizzly fate, and the number of items and perks obtainable can also alleviate situations where you may be vastly outnumbered. The better you do, the more “likes” you’ll earn, which can be used at any shop you come across during that run. Finish an episode (successfully or otherwise) and you’re rewarded with fame points, which will allow you to permanently upgrade weapons, items and perks in the main hub. In addition to this, slaying the stage's boss also gives you points to spend on sponsorships. These range from cheaper items in the shop to unlocking bonus rooms in future runs. You’re free to swap out these sponsors at any time, so it was always fun to mix things up a bit and see what new things were waiting!
The numerous pick-ups you’ll find, or purchase, go a long way in keeping things fresh. Weapons are varied and more often than not feature interesting perks. Take the Egg Launcher, for example its exploding egg ammunition deals massive damage to enemies, but each shot risks a mutant chicken enemy spawning. Items are limited-use aides that can quickly turn the tide of battle; from a simple turret to an exploding poop mine, I never felt like any of them were useless. Perks are another way to ensure victory, which will provide bonuses such as bouncing bullets or making you immune to traps. Each has its own uses, and though there are four basic “classes” to pick between each run, you’ll have outfitted your character with much better gear in no time!
For each episode, you progress one room at a time. These rooms can differ greatly; standard enemy encounters, mini-bosses, a random epic weapon, and so many more. Although randomised during each run, you are able to navigate a sort of map that allows for a choice of which room you’d prefer to tackle. Want to have a break and go shopping? Or are you a full health-killing machine and want to try grabbing a new perk? It’s a great system that allows for some freedom in how you progress each episode, even if the contents of each room are unknown.
As each run resets all your equipment and perks, I loved the constant risk vs reward system at play. Do you swap a weapon in the shop for a mystery one? Do you risk a tougher enemy encounter for the chance of a high-level perk? More than once I failed a run just before a boss because I got cocky and decided to try a high-level enemy room in order to get an epic perk, but with each level taking around 10 minutes to complete and the constant influx of rewards, I never felt like I’d wasted my time.
Whilst not doing anything drastically different from other roguelikes, The Crackpet Show: Happy Tree Friends Edition is still a highly enjoyable game that provides a lot of entertainment, although maybe not if you’re squeamish!
The Crackpet Show (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A tough, but never unfair roguelike, The Crackpet Show: Happy Tree Friends Edition is a blast to play over and over again. Just make sure the kids aren’t watching!