The first thing you do in Chuchel, a new adventure comedy game, is to feed a green blob with a top hat a little water. Give him enough, and he will throw liquid like a tap, directly into the mouth of a strange diffuse orange ball. The ball, in turn, will become so round that it will roll directly over the main character of the game, who has been dozing idly in a cardboard box all the time, but eventually wakes up. This is far from the strangest moment in the game.
Chuchel is the latest release of Czech developer Amanita Design, a studio best known for its enchanting, and often bizarre point-and-click adventure games. That includes the surrealistic series of Samorost, as well as the moving Machinarium, a game about two robots in love. Thematically, studio games are often very different, but all share many of the same characteristics: they are wonderful, surreal, and do not depend on words to convey a story or feeling. Chuchel is the same, but it is also the most fun game the studio has ever done.
Chuchel is a hairy, black and diffuse creature looking for a juicy red cherry. Each time it approaches the cherry, the fruit is removed. (A giant hand comes down from the sky and rips it off, a sensitive drop of jelly hides the cherry in its belly, or the fruit is trapped behind a huge drilling robot on wheels). Chuchel channels classic slapstick cartoons like Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny. His hapless hero always tries but punishes him constantly. It can be crushed by a block of heavy stone or fall without grace out of a tree. At one point, the main character is actually chewed to pieces by a pack of angry ladybugs.
This stupid premise is combined with the structure of a classic point-and-click adventure game; think something like Maniac Mansion or the Monkey Island series, but much more simplified. Chuchel is divided into a series of small scenes, and in each, you can interact with characters and objects to solve a puzzle and, hopefully, recover the cherry. Things, as expected, get pretty weird. In one scene you have to discover how to silence a group of eight sinister creatures, and your only tools are fruits that change the main character's shape when eaten. Later, you need to open a conscious egg with a giant spoon to free the chicks.
Despite its rarity, riddles are surprisingly intuitive. Adventure games are known for complicated and often inscrutable riddles, but Chuchel somehow manages to avoid this. The things you have to do in the game are strange, of course, but they have a certain sense within the logic of the world. Part of this also comes down to the playfulness of Chuchel. You want to experiment with all the different interactions for how silly they are, and this, in turn, gives you ideas on how to really progress. (There is a system of clues that shows what should be done, without spoiling how to really do it). Chuchel also divides his abundant riddles with happier arcade sequences, where everything is done, from piloting a blade to a labyrinth of jumping balls, to play bizarro-world versions of Tetris and Pac-Man.
This lack of frustration in Chuchel is especially important because of the tone of the game. It's an experience that feels designed to make you smile constantly through a combination of playful interactions, silly sound design and whimsical characters. The scenes are so strange and hilarious that you can not help but laugh, either by a gelatinous spot that provokes you with musical laughter or a collection of hats that change the weather when you put them on. There is so much charm put into every little aspect of the game, and it would be ruined if you are constantly stuck trying to figure out how to overcome a particular puzzle.
Fortunately, I did not experience any of that in my time with the game, of course, your mileage may vary. Instead, I found an experience that was both delicious and strange, one that encouraged me to press each button and turn each knob. It is silly in the best possible way.
Chuchel is now available on PC and Mac.