Cookie Cutter

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Rogue Games
Developer: Subcult Joint
Release Date: Dec. 14, 2023


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PC Preview - 'Cookie Cutter'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 27, 2023 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Love turns to rage and chainsaws in Cookie Cutter, a techno-pop-punk 2D hand-drawn Metroidvania set to the backdrop of a bleak and beautiful dying world.

We have lots of Metroidvania-style games that have been released in the past few years. One can argue that the subgenre has been just as prolific as the roguelike in terms of sheer number of titles available and breadth of topics it covers. Standing out from the rest becomes a difficult task. For the developers at Subcult Joint, the hook started with a name that's the exact opposite of the kind of game it wanted to deliver: Cookie Cutter.

The opening cut scene is filled to the brim with loads of modern sci-fi tropes. In the distant future, a utopian location was built around an element called the Red Seed. The one who created the planetary paradise built a golden city and created Denzels, androids that were infused with the souls of humans, to fulfill the promise of eternal life. Of course, it was all a lie, as the Denzels were essentially forced to work to keep things running so that the corporation could keep ruling the planet. You are Cherry, a Denzel created and loved by Doctor Shinju Fallon; you're different from the rest, as you were created to take down the corporation. Unfortunately, Fallon was kidnapped, and Cherry was butchered and assumed to be destroyed. Cherry was rebuilt by another mechanic, and with her memories still fresh, she heads out to seek revenge.

The core gameplay loop adheres quite closely to Metroidvania standards, from the big sprawling levels that need constant backtracking to the slow acquisition of tools and checkpoints for saving progress. There are two main hooks that the game uses to differentiate itself from the rest of the crowd. The first is the combat. There's a quick attack button that can bust out a few combos when mashed and a move set that changes when you hit that same button and a direction. Early on, you get a gauntlet that lets you produce a heavy hit at the expense of some energy, and it's refilled when you hit with your quick attacks or defeat an enemy. Get their energy low enough, and you can produce a killing blow that not only finishes off the enemy in spectacular fashion but also produces some splash damage to nearby foes.

The combat system is explosive. Combat is fast, and that's before you get moves like a dash or a double-jump. Combos string together effortlessly, especially since you can hit multiple people at a time and perform juggles and slams. What's interesting is that enemies get no invincibility time period, so you can slam them on the ground and keep whaling away without having to wait for them to get back up. The title tries to balance things out by ensuring you can't keep enemies in a stun locked state for very long. This doesn't make you invincible, but it does make you feel powerful from the get-go, which the genre only lets you do briefly before taking it all away.

Button-mashers and more precise players will enjoy the actual fighting, but parrying is a different story. Parrying allows you to stun the enemy to get in some free hits or go for the killing blow, depending on the enemy you're facing. The move is powerful enough that it requires precise timing, which is much tougher when you're being swarmed with enemies. Even with the telltale purple glow to indicate that a parryable hit is coming, prepare to get hit plenty of times by one enemy type before getting the timing down. You'll need to restart the process when you encounter a new foe.

The other hook is the presentation, which blends punk rock aesthetics with a sci-fi setting. The music is moody until you reach a big fight where it plays loudly enough to drown out some of the sound effects. The voices aren't all present, but what's available is acted well with the right amount of attitude and seriousness. Graphically, everything from the characters to the backgrounds shine because of the hand-drawn aesthetics. The animation is also a standout. Almost every background has something going on, like the assembly line for Denzels in the factory, but the character animations stand out the most. The finishing moves have a ton of flourish, complete with some exaggerated movements for effect, but even the walk has a swagger, Cherry's standing pose indicates a readiness to fight, and every enemy's standing animations elevate the game's punk status. It really is a good-looking game.

Considering that this is still a preview build, some bugs are expected on a Steam Deck, and hopefully, they'll get addressed before release. Scrolling through the map feels sluggish, and zooming out doesn't alleviate things, which discourages players from using the essential tool. Hitboxes can also be strange; landing close to the mud boss from behind while he's doing an overhand swing attack registers as a hit, even though the arm isn't anywhere near you. That also leads to a lack of invincibility once you're hit. Until you hit the ground or get hit while on the ground, temporary invincibility never kicks in, so you are susceptible to being juggled. Depending on who you're fighting, that can mean instant death. While the aforementioned lack of load screens eases frustrations a bit, there will be some cheap deaths.

Even at this stage, Cookie Cutter doesn't resemble its namesake. The genre basics are nailed down perfectly, while the fast-paced action makes for some frantic and fun action. The presentation is gorgeous, given the arresting appearance and pounding soundtrack; the pacing feels fine since there's very little downtime. There are still a few things that need polishing, but genre fans need to look out for Cookie Cutter when it eventually releases.

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