Give Mr. Tingle an AK-47, who cares
I love shooting things in video games. Not all the time – Nintendogs would be a tough one to get away with. But first-person shooters specifically hold a special place in my heart, and no matter how many entrancing experimental games interest me, I’ll always pick up the latest military-funded boot licker like clockwork. But while dark, gritty and bloody games dominate the genre, it’s not the only option. Shooters can get cuddly too.
Lovely Planet is my best example, a 2014 FPS developed by quicktequila that describes itself as a ‘gun ballet’. Jumping through colourful mounds of floating green pastures in the sky, you move through this abstract world with a gun consisting of bright rods and pink stars. The enemies are big blocks and thin strips of paper with blank faces firing projectiles, and you have to move quickly to dodge and hit your targets. While you might associate my language with something easy for children, Lovely Planet can be absolutely brutal. Its later spin-off Lovely Planet Arcade revels in this pain, with insane jumps and combos required to beat its adorable monsters.
What I find interesting about Lovely Planet is that it achieves a feeling of tension and challenge as a shooter, frustrated with respawning and needing to hit my shots just right. And yet, its visuals and gloriously happy soundtrack looks and sound nice, partly as a mocking taunt as if a baby is putting you through the ringer, and also as a calming deterrent that most shooters replace with darkness and gore. Without the immersion of war, it feels less overwhelming and more like an arcade challenge, inviting you to try again either to beat it or do it even faster. It has something most FPS games don’t: a world that’s nice to just vibe in.
I definitely still enjoy the traditional shooter, the single-player modern war campaigns even more than sci-fi battle royale, but it comes with a lot of heavy baggage. The entire concept of pretending to be someone with a deadly rifle is tainted by people that actually use those things designed to kill humans to kill humans, so its hard to introduce the genre to wider or younger audiences. By wider, I’m also referring to the majority audience of white men that can often be aggressive, leading to intimidation around joining in with FPS games. But in a vacuum of gameplay, shooting things with a projectile and trying to stay alive is extremely fun, and seems wasted on one setting and tone due to its associations in the real world. It should get weird more often.
Whether its changing your shooting purpose, like the recent game Kill It With Fire about exterminating spiders using far too much firepower, or changing the visuals to be unique like one of my favourite games SUPERHOT. What I love about SUPERHOT isn’t just the satisfying ‘time moves when you move’ mechanic, but the bizarre virtual reality simulation its set inside that hides secrets and shows cryptic messaging. And while immersive sims like Dishonored and Deathloop have standard shooting if required, its detailed and stylish environments take the focus off the shooting, and more on the world around you.
First-person arena shooters also lend themselves well to the bizarre, like one of my favourite indies Fancy Skulls, a fairly basic but very fun procedurally generated dungeon crawler that’s similar to Lovely Planet with its abstract enemies that don’t explode with blood, but come apart like ripped paper. Boomerang X is a strange one to call a shooter as you’re throwing a magical boomerang, but still uses satisfying pointer mechanics and movement paired with a stunning, colourful painted aesthetics.
While I love the blood and guts of war shooters and space assassins filling game charts, I do believe there’s more space in the first-person shooter genre to experiment with. Whether its indie developers creating a non-traditional world or a mechanic we don’t expect as they do now, or perhaps a studio taking a swing away from the market formula, FPS games can be pried out from the racial stereotypes, gruff masculinity and adult-rated content that it seems prescribed. Let’s get weirder.