What is going on in there?!?”
I barely heard my concerned family member over the industrial music, chainsaws, and screams as another jet-packed foe met a fiery death after a well placed shotgun blast. Nearly at the stage exit, I groaned as my character was ambushed in a cross-fire. No matter, I quickly re-spawned at the stage entrance to give it another run. The last thing on my mind? Traffic, work stress, the price of gasoline at the pump. No, my mind was fully occupied scanning for any signs of movement as I jumped over molten steel, dodging random bursts of flame, trigger finger ready.
You play Butcher as a one man murderous ball of hate descending on a space station to kill everything that crosses his path. Is he a mercenary sent to enact retribution for a bad trade deal? A government agent routing out a terror cell? Just a crazed killer? It doesn’t matter and it isn’t explained. You are the Butcher, and anyone crossing your path will die. Horribly. Your tools are as simple as your mission. Chainsaw. Shotgun. Assault rifle. All bring swift and graphic death to your foes. Screaming as their jet packs ignite and burn them alive, exploding in red mist and a shower of viscera…it is hard to say what is the most graphic death. Fortunately the game is animated with extremely low resolution pixels, so these horrible deaths won’t scar you for life.
The game’s motto on the start screen is “The easiest mode is HARD”, and the game lives up to this challenge. You will die. A lot. You won’t be able to blame the controls, which are very tight and responsive. It takes a little bit of getting used to using a trigger button to jump, but it makes sense as you will be using both analog sticks at the same time to move and aim. Having a face button for the jump button would create a thumb gymnastics challenge while still trying to aim. The stages fill the screen with ledges to jump, walls and blocks to briefly seek shelter from enemy fire and crushing and fire traps. Switches around the stage will remove barriers or activate elevators, or sometimes trigger a horde of foes to your location.
The screen is uncluttered from a complicated HUD. Your life bar is on the left, your bullets on the right. There is no upgrade tree to worry about, no complicated menus. There are purely optional secret skulls you can collect to decorate the start screen, but other than that, the pickups are just health and ammo related. The focus is on the action right in front of you, and it demands your attention. If an enemy gets the drop on you, you’ll find the screen red with your own blood, and it’s back to the beginning for you. Butcher manages to inspire you to take a fourth and fifth run at a stage with a well crafted level of challenge.
Playing Butcher is like finding a mystery arcade cabinet in the 90’s, some mad experiment to make Doom into a side-scrolling shooter. It has the simplicity and single-mindedness of the great action games of that time, and with its tight, focused gameplay, it challenges you to ignore the distractions of modern life and just kill everything that moves. It is shockingly addictive, strangely cleansing, and highly recommended.
Butcher is available for $9.99 on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It is unfortunately not available as an arcade cabinet at your favorite old arcade as of the publication of this article. Copies of the PlayStation 4 version were provided for the purposes of this review.