Quick reactions are the key to success in this apocalypse-averting action game. After being framed for poisoning the titular valley’s water supply – turning both man and beast into green-eyed freaks – Jack Johnson must clear his name, find a cure, and discover who’s responsible. That’s a lot of weight for a slingshot-brandishing school kid to carry on their shoulders. In the words of Bart Simpson, “Do the Bartman!” Also: “Aye caramba!”
A resolve to the contamination is revealed surprisingly early. An outcast has been perfecting their formula for a potent, knock your socks off, moonshine for many years. Their florescent hooch just so happens to be potent enough to turn humankind back to their usual selves. To create a batch large enough to cure the entire town, Jack must traverse the streets, sewers, beaches, and more to reach his school’s science lab. It’s a path fraught with danger, amplified by one-hit deaths.
Snakes spit, cats scratch, infected humans give chase, and wild animals charge. To stay alive, you’ll need to quickly react to the dangers on each screen. Jack’s catapult can be used to fling bait, stun enemies, and cause distractions while the ability to drag objects allows impromptu barriers and enclosures to be made. In addition to dodge rolling past enemies, you may need to quickly reach higher ground too, if only to rethink the best strategy to survive.
After obtaining a stash of empty jars, Jack can smother any projectile in hooch to save key citizens or prevent a spontaneous outbreak of enemies. Cherry bombs are particularly invaluable when it comes to crowd control, able to cure several critters or characters at once.
As with many modern games, Mayhem In Single Valley features a combination of genres. It has the look and feel of a top-down shooter, with Jack able to aim in all directions, but it also features puzzle solving, platforming, fetch quests, and chase sequences. This allows for a rich and varied experience – one that’ll have you franticly fleeing from an outbreak one minute and playing dodgeball with a ghost the next. Jack even finds time to help sunbathers separated from their speedos.
The puzzle sections are generally well implemented, being more than mere diversions. There are even a few sections where it isn’t entirely clear what you’re supposed to be doing, requiring a spot of experimentation or closer examination of the environment before striking a ‘eureka’ moment.
There’s a comical tone present, plus a few neat touches such as the BGM changing as and when cassette tapes are found. This means over the course of the adventure, which lasts around six hours, you’ll accumulate a jukebox of tunes. Each collectible is different from the last too, being based on ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture. As for the general presentation, it features chunky 2D pixel art on 3D backdrops – accompanied by shadow, lighting, and reflection effects to help it stand out.
It’s the UI that lets the package down. It should be clear by now that this is a fast-paced game calling for quick reflexes, but the inventory system is akin to something you’d find in a survival game with crafting elements. Applying hooch requires the action to be paused and menus fiddled with, while LB/RB is used to cycle through an ever-growing list of items – resulting in fumbling when in a pinch. In the game’s defense, bait and throwable projectile are mostly multipurpose – you don’t always need a specific type to bait an enemy – but I still wouldn’t describe the controls as intuitive. A radial wheel menu may have been a better choice, or perhaps manually assigned controls.
I don’t know how many times I died between being framed and saving the town, but it was probably into triple figures. While death can come quickly, restarts mostly reset progress to the last room exited. As such, the experience rarely frustrated – and this was despite the finicky controls, and the occasional respawn deep in undead territory.
It’s never long until you’re ushered into a new location and presented with a quest completely different from the last, which definitely prevents tedium from settling. A unique brand of mayhem and an even more unique premise makes this worth investigating.
Published by tinyBuild and developed by Fluxscopic, Mayhem In Single Valley is out March 30th on consoles. It first launched on PC in 2021.