Devolver Digital's Sludge Life caught my eye when it launched free on the Epic Game Store last year, but I never got around to checking it out. The visually bizarre first-person spray-painting platformer game always seemed like it'd fit best on the Nintendo Switch, and now it's finally here! Sludge Life is a short game that oozes personality and style, and even the somewhat aimless gameplay fits right into the world it's created.
Support the Strike
The bleak world of Sludge Life is established when you first start playing the game. Your character seems to have a dingy home in a shipping container. It seems like shipping containers are the primary residence for lots of the weird, mostly static NPCs in this game. The whole playable area is a series of docks and structures sticking out of some sort of black goop that covers the world. It looks like it's all some sort of a manufacturing or shipping facility for a corporation.
The details of what the company is or what they are doing aren't really important for the message of this game. The important thing is that the workers are on strike which makes this a great day to get tagging!
Jump and Paint
The gameplay loop in Sludge Life is pretty straightforward and weirdly ambiguous. All you know at the start is that you are a tagger armed with a can of spray paint. You wander the island from a first-person perspective, hopping around looking for spray can icons to pop up. When you get close to one, a single button press throws up one of a few different tags. It feels good to get each spot marked, but there's no immediate reward. You just hop away to find another one.
There are a total of 100 tag locations to find throughout the game. There are also a few pieces of kit you can find that help you find and reach tag locations. You'll also find banana slugs all over that I think you eat? There are a ton of weird NPCs around, but most of them just give you a line or two of dialogue about how horrible everything is. The weirdest thing is that the game never pushes you to do anything. There's no timer, there's no leveling up, there's not even really a goal. It seems like it mostly wants you to just sort of hang out, experiencing this weird, corpo-apocalyptic malaise.
The controls all work well enough, but when I was about 40 tags deep I felt like I was sort of drifting through the game. I started to wonder what the point was going to be. Like, I was just going through the motions without really knowing why. It wasn't unpleasant, but it was aimless.
Ultimately, this is really a game all about setting a tone. Like Aerial_Knight's Never Yield, every aspect of the experience is put in place to establish a mood. Sludge Life‘s characters are all stuck in their dreary, fish-eyed, hellscape, and playing the game makes you start to feel like you're stuck there, too. Sure, you're going around and putting up your graffiti, which is fun enough, but you're still just as stuck as all the NPCs.
I won't spoil the game's three endings, but they are all really interesting. It only takes a few hours to get through Sludge Life, and getting to an ending is important for really putting a cap on the weird feelings this world invokes.
I enjoyed playing this game just fine, but I think I'm enjoying thinking about the experience of playing it a heck of a lot more.