Developer: Crazy Monkey Studios and Claeys Brothers
Publisher: Crazy Monkey Studios
RTS may be my favorite genre, but I am also a closeted SHMUP (shoot ’em up) fan. SHMUP come in all flavors, though most gamers associate the term with titles such as Raiden or Ikaruga. Contra and Space Harrier might have been categorized as action games back in their day, but after Sunset Riders and Gunstar Heroes, “SHMUP” became more inclusive.
The difficulty that indie developers face in being noticed among seemingly dozens of daily releases between console, PC, handheld, and mobile platforms is considerable. I encountered Crazy Monkey Studios’ Guns, Gore, & Cannoli by sheer serendipity. One of my favorite SHMUPs is the Metal Slug franchise, and GG&C passed the eyeball test in similarity, but I wondered if it could offer more than eye candy.
Set during prohibition, Guns, Gore, & Cannoli begins with Vinnie Cannoli mulling on his career as a mobster, taking money for jobs and jobs for money. Sent on a mission to bring “Frankie the Fly” out of Thugdown, he is on a ship headed to shore when he overhears the crew begin to cry out in mayhem and terror. Vinnie grabs his piece and heads to the top deck. ZOMBIES! Vinnie must make his way through the hordes to find Frankie. On his journey, he stumbles upon the cause of the outbreak and finds himself an unwilling, yet key component of the a conspiracy.
Violence: As the name of the game suggests, Guns, Gore, & Cannoli contains the plenty of the red stuff. Headshots result in animations akin to mashing a watermelon with a sledgehammer, electric shocks reveal skeletal structures, fire burns flesh to ash while acid melts flesh to green goo. Enemies sometimes explode into a hail of gibs. The violence in this game is as advertised–not as gratuitously sensational as Mortal Kombat, yet still as graphic as Team Fortress 2.
Drugs/Alcohol: GG&C is set during the era of prohibition, so alcohol is present at the fore, even if it is not pouring on-screen. There are other toxins present in the game, but those are spoilers.
Spiritual Content: Ultra conservatives may be offended by the presence of the walking (un)dead.
Sexuality: Every female sprite in GG&C displays cleavage. A certain BDSM-oriented zombie makes its appearance as a specialized enemy type whose breasts bounce when she walks, and the only playable female character in the game is essentially an anachronistic Daisy Duke.
Guns, Gore, & Cannoli adheres to the tried and true formula of a SHMUP: proceed from one direction (left) to the other (right) while shooting enemies, gaining powerups, and avoiding damage. “Procedural” has been used to describe the core design of many games lately, though GG&C is as such not because of design, but because of genre. Fortunately, the game does not feel procedural due to the broad weapon variety and the diverse array of enemies to use against them.
I am pleasantly surprised not only by the number of zombies that could be on my screen at one time, but also by their types. The combination of the slogging, Resident Evil-type zombies—some including former police officers and army soldiers armed with pistols and machine guns—and Left 4 Dead-inspired sprinting zombies should keep players on their toes. The basic, default pistol is adequate for dispatching the first, but the latter will require a stronger loadout to dispatch.
As a plot device and for comic effect, some St. Patrick’s day zombie leprechauns chuckle in a stereotypically Irish cadence while tossing toxic bombs whose composition are a major spoiler. The football player zombies are by far the most annoying, capable of taking heavy damage while knocking the player about. When one particular female zombie’s head explodes (which it does regardless if her head is targeted), she sprints toward the player and runs around them for about five seconds while spewing toxins from her neck into the air. The player must duck or take damage, which means that the player is also stationary, forcing them to either shoot her again and waste ammo, run, or camp until she dies permanently—that is great enemy design.
The enemy AI is the surprisingly stellar for a budget title. Zombies actively seek out the player while leaping over obstacles and navigating elevation. Human enemies, introduced after the first third of the game, chuck grenades at the player in addition to shooting in his/her general direction, much like the notorious soldiers found in Half-Life. The fact that enemy humans and zombies fight each other and suffer from friendly fire enhances the immersion of being in a zombie apocalypse where all hades has broken loose.
The number of and types of weapons acquired in Guns, Gore, & Cannoli are sure to maintain the player’s attention. The list of guns is as follows: double-barrel shotgun, tommygun, pump-action shotgun, magnum revolver, flamethrower, bazooka, heavy machine gun, and experimental electric gun. Additionally, players may use grenades and molotov cocktails. Each one of these has its strengths and weaknesses from stopping power, to spread, to ammunition, to collateral damage. Gamers will simply have to experiment to find their favorite; every weapon has its place and no weapon feels significantly underpowered compared to the others. Personally, I found myself fond of the double-barrel, machine guns, and flamethrower.
Of course, the last component of title, “cannoli” is the only power-up in the game—health recovery.
I really do wish that more indie developers would exercise the creativity found within the aesthetics of Guns, Gore, & Cannoli. Not all games need to showcase hand-drawn graphics, though painstaking craft and precision is what distinguished Disney from other animators such as Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. Animation. Don’t get me wrong:
Guns, Gore, & Cannoli does not exhibit silky-smooth animation like a Disney movie, yet one can experience Crazy Monkey Games’ creative vision through the brilliance in the sprites of the characters and foreground objects, as well as the static backgrounds. Despite being a game about the dead, the art direction in GG&C oozes with vivaciousness.
Character models are understandably parody. I am not aware of the development history of GG&C, but I suspect that the developers began with just Vinnie as a playable character, then proceeded to include the other normal-sized Italian NPCs to simulate multiplayer mayhem (yes, up to four players can play locally; based Metal Slug). It appears that a few additional characters were patched in, such as a Rambo character and, ugh, “Daisy Duke.”
No lines of VA made me cringe during cutscenes, nor did I become annoyed by any of Vinnie’s one-liners during gameplay. The music is archetypal in its Italian theme—appropriate, but nothing I would rock in my YouTube playlists.
Doom is a timeless game because it is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. The gunplay is satisfying because every weapon is balanced to the point where any weapon can be used throughout the entire game. Enemy variety ties directly into gunplay, offering appropriate challenges without being OHKO bulletsponges. In other words, when I play Doom, I expect to walk into a room full of imps and pinky demons, and circle-strafe with the weapon of my choice until they are all dead.
Guns, Gore, & Cannoli is not Doom, yet adopts its own sense of timelessness and “perfection” in its faithfulness to the SHMUP genre, as well as Crazy Monkey Studios’ commitment to quality presentation. Though lacking in secret rooms and power-ups, GG&C lasts long enough to provide a great experience in mayhem and gunplay, and I can easily see myself returning for higher difficulty and challenge runs (read: ACHIEVEMENTS). For fans of SHMUPs and video games in general, I would highly recommend GG&C. There isn’t much better out there, but there’s certainly a lot worse.
Introductory image by POOTERMAN
The Bottom Line
Guns, Gore, & Cannoli is a stellar SHMUP that belongs in the same sentence as run-n-guns like Metal Slug and Gunstar Heroes.