The developers at the Czech-based Amanita Design are among the boldest, most distinctive stylists in video games. The eccentric worlds of Samorost, Machinarium, and Botanicula burst with meticulous details, and they balance their busy artistry with gentle music and characters who speak in a gibberish that’s translated into pictogram speech bubbles. These are relaxing games, as beautiful as they are slyly comedic. And with their misshapen bodies and babbling accompaniments to the background music’s unusual vocals, the creatures that populate Chuchel sit very much within the Amanita Design house style. But the sparse dreamscape they populate is something new.
Where the setting of Machinarium or Samorost is obvious, Chuchel’s is as ambiguous as a blank canvas. Each screen is its own little vignette, a variation on the theme of its title character, a dust ball trying to outwit other creatures for a cherry, which is stolen from him at the game’s start by a giant pair of hands. But every time he retrieves the cherry, Chuchel is subjected to an unfortunate slapstick fate, sometimes with the game’s title card reappearing on the screen behind him. This is an adventure game as a collection of animated shorts, and its setup recalls Chuck Jones’s Duck Amuck, which subjects Daffy Duck to the whims of a merciless animator. Chuchel himself recalls Daffy, both in appearance (black-lint body and orange mouth) and in his irritable personality—as prone to failure as he is to a loss of patience.
All told, there isn’t much to the game itself. It lasts no more than two hours, and several of its screens only require the player to click a few objects in order to progress through a short joke before you’re moved to the next scenario. Other screens contain more involved puzzles that need you to complete specific steps in the correct order using whatever objects or creatures are laying around—and while accounting for the game’s goofball dream logic—but hints are plentiful and nothing ever grows too complex.
Everything in Chuchel, from trees to frogs to UFOs, is a slapdash, asymmetric composition of unsteady lines. Painted textures highlight the wiggly imperfections of even the roundest creatures, with bulging eyeballs that never line up quite right. These strange beings move in squelches and pops and rattles, if they move at all. There’s something serene about them all lounging in white space to the game’s peculiar music, which is where Chuchel comes in: He’s the chaotic outsider to an otherwise mannered atmosphere, throwing everything off balance as he directs his frustration and childish wails at anything in his way, from a sentient egg in a cup to the little pink mole thing that alternatively helps him and competes against him for the cherry.
Such chaos is often reflected in how pleasantly surreal each scenario can get, with Chuchel’s single-minded quest dislodging basic laws of space and logic: He uses a signpost to wrench open the water-filled cranium of what appears to be a head with legs and shoots ink blots at shooting stars to take down a hot-air balloon. The first screen finds him shutting off his various morning alarms, unplugging anything that’s within reach and spawning a number of slippers—despite never wearing shoes or even clothing of any kind except his hat—to throw at anything that’s out of range. He fends off everything—from an elephant to a comically huge speaker system—except the puzzle’s solution: a creature that removes its hat to begin leaking through a gap in its head, which knocks a bird off its perch and into Chuchel’s snoring mouth.
The game is a concentrated burst of lovely design that’s short enough to end before its title character, its scene setup, or its sparse interaction can grow stale. If obtuse puzzles ever limited engagement with Amanita Design’s previous work, Chuchel is a consciously slight offering that removes any such obstacles in favor of an artistic showpiece, an amusing diversion from a developer attuned to their considerable aesthetic strengths.