Games have, over their history, often sought to become interactive movies or cartoons. There is the general decades-long race towards realism in Triple-A games running on higher and higher-specced hardware, the labour-intensive, hand-drawn aesthetic of many indie games like Cuphead or Hoa and, of course, that art form traditionally maligned but subject of a recent renaissance: full-motion video.
The challenge has always been that the more a game resembles a movie or cartoon, the less it resembles a game. The more cutscenes, the less interaction; the more bespoke animation, the less resource available to expand the game. Madrid-based indie developer Gammera Nest’s The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo has decided which way that particular cookie is going to crumble: it takes a hit to its point-and-click-adventure gameplay, but makes almost no compromise on presenting a superbly animated and fantastically surreal cartoon.
The story of Mr. Coo is not the easiest to explain, since the minute-to-minute events are so absurd. But the overarching thread of it is that Mr. Coo wants an apple; Mr. Coo acquires and eventually eats an apple; Mr. Coo is sliced into pieces by a monster; Mr. Coo must recover and reunite his assorted parts. The scenes in which this all plays out are impressive in how bespoke they are to the scenario at hand. There are no overlaid inventory items that pop out from the scenery, no tile-based movement over which animations can be repeated, and no conformation of the playing areas to the size and shape of the screen. It seems like absolutely everything is hand-drawn specifically for each click of the cursor.
And the things that are drawn are wonderfully bizarre: a giant kung-fu chick, an eyeball on a leg wearing a dress, an arcade machine hosting a Punch and Judy show run by a cat following signals from a backstage lightbulb… we could go on, but we won’t in case we go mad. Meanwhile, the abstract jazz soundtrack couldn’t be more right for the action on screen.
The stand-out gimmick of the animation on display is the way objects regularly transmogrify from one thing to another. An umbrella magically – in front of your eyes, hand-drawn frame by hand-drawn frame – becomes a flower. In the same way, a house is suddenly a pig’s head wearing a top hat, or one eyeball is suddenly two. Perhaps the most captivating example of this is the loading animation. Usually, the mention of a loading screen in a review is not a good thing, but here, although their timing can sometimes be intrusive, we almost wanted more.
With so much creative work poured into every moment, the game can only be so long – it took us about 90 minutes, including crashing three times. With such priority given to scripted animation, the interaction can only go so far. Finally, with so surreal an atmosphere, puzzles struggle to adhere to any sort of logic. But it really does look lovely.
The Many Pieces of Mr. Coo is a standout title in its commitment to presenting spectacular, surrealist animation. However, it does so at the expense of having much gameplay to offer. The playtime is short, the interaction is limited, and the puzzles are obtuse. Fortunately, the animation and music are good enough to distract you from those facts and provide an hour or two of great entertainment.