Sludge Life has launched. Here are my thoughts.
I am partial to short, imaginative game experiences. I’ve often lamented that an exciting and interesting game, something that I want to spend the time on, is simply too long or too big for me to really commit to. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Sludge Life so much.
Sludge Life doesn’t make many promises, but it does deliver on everything that it does promise. With its low-res VHS aesthetic and Jet Set Radio meets walking simulator gameplay, it’d be easy to dismiss Sludge Life as a game more interested in its aesthetic than gameplay, but that would be a mistake. The game is a charming and strange collaboration between indie developer; Terri Vellmann (High Hell), American rapper, Doseone (Enter the Gungeon O.S.T.), and weird tastemaker studio, Devolver Digital.
Set in a grimy industrial dump of a town, the main gameplay of Sludge Life features parkour platforming and exploration of its relatively small sandbox world. You jump, climb, and glide around, looking for spots to tag with graffiti, all the while having brief but entertaining interactions with a variety of colorful characters with a variety of mutations and a healthy dose of misanthropy. The in-game soundtrack is sparse and synth-driven, with my favorite track being in-game rapper, BIG MUD’s “Bubble Up” (which can be heard on the Bandcamp page setup for the fictional rapper).
Sludge Life humor
The sense of humor is downright surreal – a menu option lets your choose if your character, “Ghost,” is vegan or likes dogs, for example. There are several unlockable items for the laptop that serves as Sludge Life‘s menu, including a short puzzle game and, oddly enough, the game’s achievement list. Exiting this menu throws your laptop into the game’s environment, leaving it on the ground until you open it back up.
A snake attacks you from a toilet, too, and you later learn there are several escaped snakes from a person passing out posters with a picture of a snake and the word “LOST” emblazoned on them – he isn’t interested in getting them back, he just thinks people should know about the snakes. Oh and there’s plenty of potty humor, too, including a dedicated fart button and a “sea monster” found in the bathroom of Burgermon.
Where the game really shines is in exploration and easy navigation. Through my time with Sludge Life, I would often spot a hovering spray can or two that indicated a place for me to tag, and I would work backwards from there, mentally envisioning a route to my goal. The first time a door was locked or a bouncer prevented me from entering a room, I knew I would have to find another way to jump crawl and drop down to reach my objective and started looking for a path. There’s no big penalty for failure, so it feels safe to experiment on your own terms to find a route to the next tag spot.
Story and level design
There’s no big story here and the entirety of the game can take just a few hours. There’s some counter-intuitive level design – in particular, some yellow objects you can climb and some you can’t, as well as a jump that you don’t really “make” but seems to be the only point of access to a certain rooftop unless you’re really careful. Despite that, it’s a game packed with grimey style and the biggest complaint I have is that there simply isn’t more of it. While I enjoyed Sludge Life‘s brevity, I found myself wanting more by the time I’d explored the sludge-bound island – which is perhaps the best compliment you can pay a game.
Don’t miss a chance to play this game – Sludge Life is an enjoyable and short experience with an oddly laconic pacing that encourages exploration. The humor is often scatological or meme-seeking (a certain two-butthole’d cat comes to mind), and isn’t for everyone, hence its M rating. It’s currently free on the Epic Games Store for a whole year, with a Nintendo Switch port in the works.
What do you think? Have you played it? Tell us below!
Sludge Life [PC]