Sludge Life is a quirky and surreal exploration game set on an island of junk and pollution. Players take on the role of GHOST, an up and coming graffiti artist. GHOST will explore the island to discover large blank canvases to tag and display their work to the world while meeting the island’s odd inhabitants.
Sludge Life does not have a moving plot but rather a snapshot of a surreal and weird world. Players can talk to almost everyone on the island. From these conversations, players can sketch out what is going on at the moment: the problems that plague the people, the troubles of the island, and some mundane everyday concerns.
The game is ripe for social and political commentary considering the polluted world, the heavy corporate branding, and the tradition of graffiti as counter-culture. While there are some nods, the game feels like a wasted opportunity overall as GHOST’s interaction with other characters is almost exclusively with other taggers discussing GHOST’s work and getting smacked for talking to security. While there is nothing wrong with focusing on a purely surreal world to create a relaxing atmosphere, Sludge Life seems to dip its toe in the pool of commentary without bothering to jump in and give it the attention it deserves.
Sludge Life is focused on relaxed exploration and jumping puzzles. Players are simply tasked with finding a hundred spots on the map to tag with their GHOST logo, and they may find one of three endings along the way. Many of the tag spots are out of reach, requiring some jumping skills, creativity, or special items to reach. The actual act of graffiti in Sludge Life is unfulfilling. Players hit the use key and the tag goes up with the obnoxious “GHOST” catchphrase played. While this is not the worst implementation, it is incredibly disappointing for a game focused so heavily on tagging.
There are also a variety of items to interact with on the island. Some seem purely aesthetic and others have more practical value. Most of the aesthetic items are run of the mill, but once in a while there is something special and creative. One of my favourite moments in the game was discovering stone blocks that could be carved into statues. Finding out what lay beneath the stone was like opening up a Kinder Surprise egg without the calories.
The game’s laptop was an enjoyable experiment in game menus. Instead of the traditional video game menu, the player is presented with a simple operating system. As players experience new things or find software discs, new programs are loaded into the laptop. Some are helpful, like the satellite map and others are entertaining, like the videogame all the characters are talking about.
The controls are okay. They work well enough for the most part but jumping and mantling can be finnicky at times. Navigating the options menu is a bit chaotic as each option has its own confirm button.
Sludge Life has a lo-fi cell shaded style. The fancy graphical effects are minimal. In fact, the game exaggerates the aliasing effect for stylistic purposes. The character design has a memorable look reminiscent of an adult cartoon series. The world is focused on dark and muddy colours broken up with brightly coloured object and tags. Colours are used intelligently to draw players eyes to points of interest.
The default camera settings are a nightmare for those struggling with motion sickness. There is lots of camera shaking and an odd camera pan effect when the player moves around. Thankfully, the intensity of these effects can be controlled or disabled completely in the options.
The audio experience is okay. The game has a great soundtrack that can be heard on the radio around the island. It’s a shame I couldn’t find some sort of personal music player in game. On the other hand, the sound effects were good, but a touch on the repetitive side.
As a slow-paced exploration title, Sludge Life isn’t awful, but it isn’t good either. The world is visually interesting but completely forgettable as a setting. The tagging gameplay mechanic is unimaginative and wandering around looking for tagging spots can get boring after a while until players stumble onto the special items to help them progress faster through the game. While the soundtrack and visual style is great, the gameplay just doesn’t hold up.
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