The battle between good and evil, between independent and commercial, rages on, whether we remain aware of it or not. There has always been an inveterate band of heroes willing to rid themselves of capitalism’s ties to the status quo, freeing themselves to invent, destroy, and rebuild the world. These individuals are our saviors, often invisible to the majority, but just as powerful and important. This is the story of one such freedom fighter…
His name is cactus, a Swedish game designer of several shoot-’em-ups and other strange games, many of them conveniently collected in an arcade. Many of his games capture a sense of chaos both mathematical and organic, often reflected in their visual styles which are always unique even when the gameplay is more traditional. Ranging from sexy vector graphics to seizure-inducing splotches of MSPaint, cactus games are violently psychedelic, purposely exploding your senses while your disoriented fingers stumble to find a hold on cactus’s fiercely difficult gamescapes. Many of his games aren’t much more than experiments, often incomplete in one way or another, but they are all unique in their mixture of visuals, music, atmosphere, and insane mechanics.
Clean Asia and Burn the Trash! are examples of his style on two extremes of a spectrum, the former being an experiment in weird shooter design (you crash into giant enemies to pick up debris which you throw back at them), while the latter involves a ridiculously slow refresh rate for animation, causing the screen to cloud up with enemy explosions and the trails from your flamethrower. Falling visually between Clean Asia and Burn the Trash!, Seizuredome is a humorously gory sumo-shooter about childbirth (maybe), forcing you to fight back endless waves of babies, naked women crawling on their backs, and other aborted creatures of flesh. You futilely employ a variety of weapons to postpone the inevitable, as the babies approach you slowly in greater and greater hordes, crawling over you and pushing you off the screen into madness. Probably cactus’s most original game in terms of mechanics is The Design, in which you control two points on a blueprint that rewrite their own paths while pieces of the blueprint come alive and try to destroy them. The controls in this one are nearly impossible with a keyboard, but it’s still worth checking out for what an awesome idea it is.
However, the two most complete and worthwhile games in the arcade are Mondo Medicals and its sequel Mondo Agency. These games are creepy atmospheric mindfucks in the disguise of very simplistic first person exploration games. In Medicals you will take orders from an insane doctor who wants to “kill a cancer,” and what at first appears to be a tutorial sequence quickly reveals itself to be sadistic level design that forces you to think against the grain of the game to solve seemingly impossible situations. Meanwhile, Mondo Agency gives you more control and a slightly more coherent story and level design than its precursor, and while it does not capture the same hopeless vulnerability of Medicals, it does create an even more creepy atmosphere that would be ruined if it was described in detail. Both games seem heavily influenced by David Lynch-ian creepiness, in their sort of dream logic and their Twin Peaks-esque nonsense voices.
cactus is currently working on the platformer Brain-Damaged Toon Underworld, which might be his most complete game yet, assuming he ever finishes it. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Download: Cactus Arcade (Windows, 46meg)