One of the most renowned tales in gaming is how Rare become so sick of making cutesy 3D platformers that they went entirely in the opposite direction, turning Twelve Tales: Conker 64 into the crass and chaotic Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Not even Nintendo themselves would touch it, leaving THQ to pick up publishing rights.
Chances are even modern-day, slightly more lenient, Nintendo would turn down Hell Pie. Developer Sluggerfly wanted to create something filthy and obscene. Not necessarily intended to shock, but rather to amuse. It prides itself on being a ‘bad taste’ platformer, with a noticeable obsession with poo in particular – it features a supermarket that sells “fresh” faeces, a race of sewer-dwelling creatures that dine on poo, and an enemy assortment that includes bipedal turd soldiers.
Buckets of vomit, blood and gore, and phallic jungle critters feature too – all sprinkled with a light dusting of internet memes.
You play as Nate, a demon employed by Sin Inc who finds himself tasked with finding the far-flung ingredients of the titular pie – a legendarily disgusting treat – for Satan himself. A trip to a supermarket for pie crust mix not only teaches the basics but also introduces us to Nugget, an upbeat and delightfully naïve cherub. Originally being sold as meat, Nugget becomes Nate’s sidekick – the two are chained together, recalling the often-forgotten PS2/Xbox platformer Whiplash.
Nate is mute throughout – in fact, he isn’t particularly expressive at all – putting the spotlight on Nugget. He converses with large text bubbles, which have an irritating habit of obscuring the screen, and mostly either makes observations about the environments or shares daft anecdotes. About poo.
Nugget isn’t simply there for comic value – he’s used as both a weapon Nate can swing around, and as a means to glide through the air. Again, by swinging. Traversal forms a large part of the experience, with key areas often connected by hazard-filled corridors and vast bottomless chasms littered with moving platforms.
Demanding is the best word to describe platforming – Nate can jump, double-jump, dash, swing, boost swing, and wall climb. Just when you think you’ve mastered these skills, an upgrade comes along. There is no room for complacency.
There’s quite an ‘old skool’ approach to all this. If you collide with a platform while swinging, Nate will fall to his doom – it’s vital to be aware of your surroundings and how much space is required for certain manoeuvrers. Projectiles will also send our hero plummeting. Upon dying, you’re dropped back to the last checkpoint – never at the location from which you fell. This can make some areas incredibly tricky, especially the task of navigating a colossal spinning, laser spewing, totem that’s surrounded by dozens of moving platforms. A spinning tower of death, essentially.
Indeed, this is a surprisingly demanding experience, and this is before factoring in the size of the main worlds. Sin Inc is the main hub, which has its own quests – including a trek into the depths of the IT department to restore WiFi – while the main worlds have large outdoor areas with paths that lead to key indoor locations, which again are reasonably large. You’re going to be spending several hours in each world before heading to the next, dropping off pie ingredients to Sin Inc’s chef en route, and even then, chances are you’ll need to return at some point.
This is because Nate gains a few ‘horn upgrades’ along the way, adding a speed dash, the ability to grab overhead rails, and more. Some locations are gated off, requiring a return visit once a new skill has been discovered. These aren’t too tricky to find, thankfully, as they’re shown on the world map.
Combat features too, although it’s largely redundant. Enemies have a habit of spawning practically on top of Nate, and button bashing will usually fend them off. Boss battles also feature, albeit infrequently. One of these takes the form of a Crash Bandicoot-style running into the screen chase sequence that requires careful timing. Thankfully, it has checkpoints between phases.
There’s a spot of variety elsewhere – impromptu whack-a-mole, tunnel slides, fetch quests, and every so often Nate gets to wield a gun which involves a third-person view. Mostly, though, it’s centred upon platforming. That, and trying to work out where the next pie ingredient is. Don’t expect much handholding.
The premise, as daft as it is, is able to carry the entire experience – which is amazing considering the 15+ hour runtime. Every location has a checklist of ingredients, keeping track of progress, and the desire to discover the fate of Nate and Nugget upon delivering the pie to Satan proved to be surprisingly compelling. Even when faced with challenges tougher than they should be – Hell Pie is really fond of lengthy obstacle-filled corridors – I found myself immediately trying again.
For something that has seemingly come from nowhere, I was constantly surprised by the size and scope of each area – this isn’t a game you’ll beat in one or two sittings. There is a slightly rough feel to some aspects, however, including signs that suggest the Switch was lead platform – such as smudgy textures and slightly angular character models. The camera could be more refined too, with some areas perhaps benefitting from an overhead view.
With extra spit and polish, and maybe additional playtesting, Hell Pie would be easier to praise. What’s here though is enjoyable and entertaining enough – a spectacularly silly game that doesn’t just share the warped humour from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, but, irritatingly, also some of its twenty-year-old foibles. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Published by Headup, Hell Pie is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Switch version imminent.