When butchery is not a sin

Something I’m learning about the Nintendo Switch is that it’s a really great machine for indie adventure games. They’re the kind of games that are good for little sessions here and there, or burning through the whole thing on a Saturday afternoon. So it makes sense to be playing them on a machine that facilitates both on-the-go gaming and living room big-screen play.

While some adventure games I’ve played on Switch have had more modern qualities, my latest conquest is closer to the classic point-and-click style: Agatha Knife. This is a story about a young girl who works in her mother’s butcher shop. But she isn’t manning the sales counter or out front in a hamburger costume trying to drum up business à la Gene Belcher. No, Agatha is the one that actually slaughters the animals and carves them up into tasty chunks.

And you might think this is a horrible vocation for a child. You might not be wrong, as many characters in-game voice the same concern. But Agatha loves her job. She loves playing with the live animals, and she loves chopping them up just as much. She’s just not a fan of how terrified they are of her once she pulls out her carving knives. So she does the obvious thing: she goes on a quest to create a religion to make the animals more willing to give their lives to become food.

This is the premise of the game: collecting sacred artifacts and whatnot to establish the religion of Carnivorism. This beefy quest takes you to a number of locations around town, and has you meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. You’d better enjoy your interactions with those characters, too, because that’s the meat of the game. There aren’t any real puzzles or dialogue trees to satiate your hunger for deeper gameplay. Sure, you have to find objects and use them in the right places here and there, but that’s all just gravy to the story that’s being told. The rest of the gameplay is somewhat gristly, consisting mostly of running back and forth across town between conversations.

*Ahem.* I’ll stop with the puns now.

What Agatha Knife (the game) lacks in gameplay, it more than makes up for in charm and wit. Agatha Knife (the character) is the kind of kid I’d be proud to have as a daughter: she’s smart, independent, doesn’t take crap from anyone, and is a connoisseur of quality meats. The way she’s willing to speak her mind so plainly is very endearing, and the way it bristles other characters is usually pretty funny. A lot of those other characters are pretty wacky in their own ways, each one generally having some sort of unique character quirk. The writing isn’t award-winning or anything, but it’s pleasant throughout, and I did catch myself chuckling more than a few times. I especially liked when at one point, Agatha turns to the camera and asks the player a question in disbelief. It was cute, and fun that she sort of brings the player into the world.

I think I’d say that Agatha Knife is just about the right length for this kind of game. The Switch’s play log has recorded my playtime at a somewhat vague “over four hours”, which puts it at roughly twice the length of The Count Lucanor. I’ve noted that I did miss a couple achievements, some hinting at missed scenes/puzzles to solve, and some suggesting that there are multiple endings. It wasn’t clear to me at any point how to make the ending branch off in another direction, but at least there’s incentive for a replay down the line.

It’s easy to say that I really did like Agatha Knife. It told a story that kept me interested, and while I wouldn’t have minded a little more in terms of puzzles, at least I didn’t constantly find myself stumped by something like I was with Thimbleweed Park. The game was charming and had a very strong opinion on religion (read: not positive), and had a lot of black humour sprinkled throughout. My only strong complaint with it is that I had to spend so darn much time running back and forth across the game world. It would have been nice to have a quick travel option. Regardless, I thought it was a strong game and would definitely recommend anyone drop a tenner on it if they’re looking for a clever, satirical adventure for a rainy day.

PS: After writing this review, I discovered that developer Mango Protocol had previously released another game that is based in the same world, MechaNika. It’s not on Switch, but I tweeted Mango Protocol about it, and they say they want it to happen. Guess I’ll just hang tight!


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