Sometimes a sentient ball of hair and dust just wants a cherry. That’s the whole point of Chuchel, the latest puzzle and exploration game from Czech indie studio Amanita Design. Its past work includes surreal point-and-click adventures such as the Samorost, Machinarium, and Botanicula. It’s slated for a release in early 2018 for PC, iOS, and Android, and the full game will have over 30 levels.
I played a demo of Chuchel at Double Fine’s indie game festival Day of the Devs. Like previous Amanita games, it focuses on interaction with your surroundings to solve puzzles. In the studio’s past works, this meant exploring floating surreal worlds and mechanical cities and tiny woodland labyrinths. Chuchel inhabits a much sparser though no less absurdist landscape, dotted with tiny colorful creatures and whimsical objects.
“It’s all about this cute little hairball thing who has an incredible, inexplicable passion for cherries,” said Lukas Kunce, a member of Amanita’s communications and marketing team, in an interview with GamesBeat. “That’s the basic plot. In the end you’re going to discover who is this douchebag who keeps stealing it from him. But there’s no philosophical story or anything. It’s just a simple story about this cherry and his passion.”
Kunce says that chuchel is a Czech word that means “a ball of hair and dust, something disgusting that you’d find in the corner of your room when you don’t clean it properly.” Chuchel’s archrival is named Kekel, which means “something super-disgusting.” So basically, it’s two gross but cute things fighting over a cherry.
It’s an absurd and funny premise that’s cohesive with its playful puzzles. At the start, you try to wake up Chuchel, and this involves clicking on the many objects and critters around him. He thwarts your many attempts until you click on things in the correct order and change what’s needed in the environment. In another scene, Chuchel tries to get a cherry down from atop a tree. There’s no puzzle here, rather just a simple interaction: click on the tree until something happens.
Amanita has been developing the title for about four or five years now, and one of its top priorities is to make sure the gameplay is accessible. It eschews complicated solutions to concentrate on the humor instead.
“Unlike the previous games, which were just based on two or three things – audio, visuals, and puzzles – this game is based on the humor and the fun of it. We’re doing our best and spending a lot of time with it,” said Kunce. He added, “We don’t want players to get stuck in any of those levels, because that completely ruins the momentum and pace of the game. Just like in—it would be like getting stuck in an animated movie, something like that. It wouldn’t make any sense.”
When Samorost first debuted in 2003, it was a free-to-play web game. Since then, Amanita has appeared on PC as well as smartphones and tablets. Kunce says it’s accrued quite a following on mobile platforms, and Chuchel is the first game it’s developed that’s optimized for mobile over PC.
“This is developed for mobile from the start,” said Kunce. “That’s why the backgrounds are a bit more minimalistic, why the characters and the objects are much bigger than in the previous games. It’s perfectly playable on a smaller screen. You can have a four-inch iPhone and it plays perfectly on that screen. This probably our way of saying thanks. We know we have this mobile audience, so we want to take care of them a bit more than we did previously.”