Thursday, November 30

Review: Serial Cleaner [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Have you been looking for something a bit weird and different on the Switch? Something that has sort of hybrid gameplay and that doesn’t generally let you get too comfortable? Perhaps you are looking for a load of distinctive style as well, both in terms of visuals and music? How about a dash of morbid and weird humor to spice things up? If you answered yes to those questions I’ll gladly tell you that Serial Cleaner is very likely for you!

You play the game as the guy who the mob (or some other interesting people and organizations, it turns out) calls when things get a bit “messy” in a criminal sense. Your job is to remove evidence, some bodies, and a fair amount of blood from what are often extremely active crime scenes, having to evade the detection of cops in the process. This results in a very cat and mouse style of gameplay and makes it a hybrid of a puzzle game and a stealth action game. Of course you won’t want to take it too seriously (in general, it doesn’t) when somehow things like evading the cops at the last second by hiding in a cardboard box are effective. Hey, it’s a game, you’re here to have some fun!

The essential gameplay loop is that you’ll get a call for a job, roll out to the scene in your wood-paneled station wagon, and then work to clean things up. To do this you’ll make use of your pulled out “Cleaner Vision” that will stop the action and show you where everything of relevance to the current level are. This would include bodies, pieces of evidence, places to hide (make very good note of those!), things that can be moved, and the cops as well. You’ll need to very carefully then make your way around the level to clean up blood, snag evidence, and pick up bodies to put back in your car. The fact that levels aren’t always the same layout (particularly the further you go), some cops have somewhat roving patrols, and you can’t manipulate objects or hide with a corpse on your back help to provide some structure and challenge to things and while getting caught is always frustrating I very much appreciate the level of effort dedicated to levels not having a static solution and forcing you to keep your head in the game at all times. A further nice touch is the hints at what’s happening in the world between missions and the elements you slowly learn about your character over the course of the game. They’re hardly a revelation but again, it is a nice touch.

In terms of shortcomings there are some things that sometimes feel quirky or at least inconsistent. More than once I was caught because I had a difficult time triggering a door or some other object in the environment to open or close. The zone of activation can be a bit odd sometimes and it would have been nice to have it be a little more forgiving for those situations where you’re trying to evade capture. While I would consider it less of a fault than a casualty that comes along with the style of play as the game progresses and levels get larger and more complex the all-or-nothing style can be more aggravating, though that also lends some excitement and feeling of relief and achievement when you do finally beat them. Just understand that your worst enemy in the game is yourself and your own patience. Not pushing your luck to get by 2 cops in a row without hiding may take an extra minute but the 10 minutes it may save you not having to start over again could be well worth it.

In the end Serial Cleaner, by its style, won’t be a game for everyone but for the right people I think it will be very engaging. It’s clever in the right places, a bit funny at times to keep things light, and it will challenge your planning as well as your patience. If you enjoy stealth or creative spins on puzzle games it is a refreshing hybrid that delivers a solid challenge for the cost of admission.

Score: 8

  • The layouts of levels and some seemingly random officer patrol routes at times don’t allow you to get lazy in clearing the crime scenes
  • Mixing elements of stealth games with what amount to puzzles makes for some fresh gameplay
  • A terrific visual style that works well
  • Though the hiding system can be silly you’ll also be glad that it works the way it does
  • Be ready for aggravation when you blow it trying to move your last body into your car
  • Sometimes things like doors don’t trigger when they feel like they should, usually at very inconvenient times
  • Relatively early on mechanically the missions all involve the same actions, they just become more elaborate

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