I’ve spent the last few days marching through city streets, banners held high, battling through tear gas and armor-clad riot officers in the name of exercising my democratic rights and making my voice heard. I’ve stood before lines of silent police, daring them to strike first. When the lines were suddenly, violently broken, I’ve rampaged along Parisian boulevards and Miami beaches, smashing streetlights and trashing cars. I’ve risked life and limb, all in the name of my cause: #CuteLivesMatter
This is Anarcute, which has the (mis?)fortune of coming out in the week after America all went a bit nuts. Two black men were shot by police. Then five police were shot by an angry protester. Then more than 300 people were arrested over a weekend of protests (and sometimes riots).
I’m not American, and I am decidedly, embarrassingly white, so I’m going to steer well clear of the political morass surrounding the whole ugly, horrible mess. What I do know is Anarcute. And I know this: Anarcute is the best.
You control a mob of the cutest anthropomorphized characters this side of Animal Crossing, striding through the streets against a nasty authoritarian government. The cause is ill-defined at best — but we’re cute, they look vaguely like Stormtroopers, and so the only sensible thing to do is smash everything they have.
I can pick up objects to lob at my foes, with varying effects. Throwing a deckchair might annoy them, throwing a petrol tanker will likely do a bit worse. As I go I build up my mob, picking up new rioters scattered around each carefully laid out level. The bigger the mob, the more powerful it is. That’s both on a brute level (more cute animals means more arms with which to throw rocks and, uh, beach balls) and because the growing crowd helps unlock new powers. Hit 30, for example, and you can topple buildings, knocking down snipers and crushing anything unfortunate enough to be standing underneath.
Naturally, as your mob advances, so do your enemies. From simple cops in the first levels Anarcute advances to laser-wielding robots, hovering helicopters, and hulking behemoths wielding mammoth ball-and-chain flails. In one of the game’s best touches, all of these can be yours, as defeating a high-powered enemy usually drops its weapon for your own miscreant purposes. Before long I’ve built up a rampant mob swinging flails and chain-gunning everything in sight, and I am literally cackling with delight.
I’ve written before about using Jet Set Radio to live out the rebellious fantasies I never really thought I had. But if Jet Set Radio is a chance to explore a defiant adolescence, Anarcute is a retreat to a riotous childhood. To call the game ‘cute’ doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Every animal is a perfect, glorious symbol of the chibi aesthetic, all adorably stumpy limbs; gleaming, googly eyes; and exaggerated features. I lost count of the times I genuinely squealed and gasped with joy at the latest animal unlock (A bat! An axolotl?! A velociraptor!?!), but it goes beyond the adorably violent rabble. Every inch of the four cities included in the main campaign is meticulously realized, the chunky, blocky aesthetic used to impressive effect in diverse renderings of Tokyo, Paris, Miami, and Reykjavik.
Driving it all is a bafflingly compelling soundtrack, a relentlessly upbeat electronic celebration. ‘Bouncy’ is just about the only word to describe it, but I never tired of it across the six or so hours it took me to best the game. Even as I write this, I have a gameplay video on in the background just so that I can listen to it some more, and I’ve watched the game’s trailer three times in the last ten minutes to get my fix. It’s just so good and I don’t know what to do about it.
I’m not sure if Anarcute’s release timing is a blessing or a curse. I don’t know if it’s an ill-timed trivialization of real, pressing, violent problems (wanton rioter-on-police violence inevitably feels a tad uncomfortable post-Dallas) or a welcome celebration of anti-authoritarian spirit, a reminder to stand up for free speech and cute things.
What I do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is that Anarcute is a delight. It’s immediately, astonishingly, consistently satisfying in a way few AAA titles can match. It’s got a striking, distinct art style and one of the scores of the year. It’s got comfortable, intuitive controls, and hides a surprising amount of gameplay depth behind its chaotic outer appearance. But more than any of that, it left me grinning like a bloody lunatic for every single second.