To Live Is To Die In Critters For Sale

Let's keep this Critters For Sale review simple and quote Steam: Experience death from the comfort of your seat.

There’s no way I’d ever have stumbled across Critters For Sale via search or a casual butcher’s on Steam. But a random post I saw suggested it was a point and click, which qualifies it as a wishlist item.

Feeling adventurous and dipping into my wallet, I snapped up a bunch of games (about 20 in a week), but as they weren’t review titles, took my time picking them apart. Critters For Sale was a go-to choice, and despite the runtime of approximately five hours (minus a couple of achievements), I savoured every moment.

It is a point and click as you point… and … click, but not in the conventional sense of inventory items and rubber chickens. It’s more like a kinetic/visual novel jam-packed with absurdity and abstract ideas that can’t be fully comprehended in those five hours, but man, do I love this game from Sonoshee.

Critters For Sale is a hard sell. Even the description on its respective Steam page states:

Experience death from the comfort of your seat.

That’s a fair description, if brief, but it doesn’t allude to the story or gameplay. Without any spoilers (hopefully), the game is divided into five chapters with a different protagonist in each. The themes are often complex, covering time travel, immortality, black magic, satanism, Neptunians, and of course, Michael Jackson. It makes no sense, yet it all gels together in a surreal, nightmarish scenario that fans of ambiguity, who don’t want to be told everything, can fill in the blanks.

Critters For Sale Review - Jacko
King of abstract. Source: Screen capture

Two factions battle for control of the universe: the somewhat celestial Paradise Architects versus the Satanic Noid Men. Each chapter has a text adventure-like window offering a few choices like advancing through a hallway, entering doors, and a couple of dialogue options. Choices matter in Critters For Sale, with each action extending your life or abruptly ending it.

But death isn’t the end, nor does it feel punishing. Of the five chapters, there will be multiple endings for three of them, so it’s worth experimenting to unlock everything. There’s a relaxed approach to the game in that all chapters are available from the start, but it does make sense to do them in order as the fifth chapter, Dragon, can only be completed if you’ve uncovered the clues from the previous chapters.

Before that, in the Spider chapter, there’s a casino that encourages you to play some QTE memory games and reaction tests. This strays from the core gameplay, but it was very welcome, and I enjoyed playing all six games a few times. Otherwise, Critters For Sale features the same setup in most chapters. The screen is divided into multiple panes depicting your details, the dialogue window, menu and fast-forward buttons, the chapter you’re on, and a 1-bit animated window of ‘the action’.

The visual approach is an acquired taste. Me? I loved it, though, without any hotspots and lacking definition, it can be hard to see what’s going on – much like the sublime Who’s Lila? (verifying that I like weird stuff). Animated photos represent the celebrities in the game, which can be genuinely menacing – especially Michael Jackson, plus there’s dithered FMV that looks like snuff material and lots and lots of strobing. There is a prominent warning at the beginning, so if you have epilepsy, you might have to give this a miss.

You’ll note that this Critters For Sale review hasn’t been remarkably concise. It’s a slapdash write-up as I wanted to share my thoughts once I’d finished it. The game is easily one of my most memorable experiences this year, but it’s not a game I can actively recommend as it’s so peculiar. Like Who’s Lila? once again, it’s how the game makes me feel. It’s unsettling, hilarious at times, and thought-provoking but with a fair amount of head-scratching. It’s a niche game, and for those with similar tastes as mine (the dark kind, but nothing too sinister, just visceral), you’re likely to love it too.

Available on Steam and Itch.io, it’s well worth the entrance fee, but do a bit more research before you buy. As I said, I’m not actively recommending it, but I think it’s a fantastic piece of art on so many levels.

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