When I first heard of Gun Monkeys, I salivated like a starving Saint Bernard. Throwing randomized multiplayer madness, adorable trigger-happy chimps and the warm glow of Kevin Eldon’s soothing voice into one punch bowl seems like the perfect recipe for a smashing good time. Indeed, there were moments when the stars aligned and I gleefully blew the other simian’s hide to kingdom come. Sadly, the player has to jump intimidating hurdles to get the most out of Gun Monkeys, and the reward isn’t always as sweet as it should be.
For Size Five Games, the word of the day is “minimalism.” Aside from options to paint your monkey or equip up to four perks (none of which seemed to have a huge impact on the game itself), you only have one training and one multiplayer mode at your disposal. Even the story surrounding the lean package dismisses itself in service of highlighting the action; though these monkeys are trying to harvest energy from the post-apocalyptic wasteland and return it to their own time, the energy expended through operating these devices negates whatever they bring back. This nihilistic approach garners a few laughs but only highlights the emptiness of the action; it’s one thing to craft a consequence-free world, and quite another to rub it in our noses.
After teleporting into your randomly-generated, scorched-earth arena, you and one opponent must collect falling energy cubes and return them to your base while reducing each other to small, bloody mists. Your three tools of the trade are guns, bombs, and time. The gun is rather self-explanatory, while the bomb’s radius mimics that of a ridiculously-overpowered explosive in Bomberman; it’s easy to avoid if you’re paying attention and often backfires, but like everything else in the game, the rare occasions when it does work are glorious. While time is the least readily quantifiable weapon, it is the deadliest. Your glowing base-tank ticks down over time, and if your opponent keeps you out of the action while hogging all the luscious energy for himself, it won’t be long before you drop to zero and lose the match.
Throwing well-timed powerup drops (these provide anything from heat-seeking rocket launchers to slow-motion traps for your adversary) and Kevin Eldon’s cheeky quips into the mix turns Gun Monkeys into a chaotic dash for energy while bullets, bombs and other nonsense flies through the air at a ridiculous pace. Since this breakneck speed requires utmost platforming precision, it’s all the more frustrating when traversal occasionally devolves into a hit-or-miss affair. The moments when my chimp couldn’t connect to ladders or walls that appeared to be well within my grasp drove me crazy.
By stripping away the fluff, Size Five Games molded madness into easily-digestible 3-5 minute chunks, and taken in moderation, they can be quite satisfying. However, the sheer lack of gameplay variety or other content to explore makes it difficult to play for more than 20 minutes at a time before growing dreadfully bored. An additional mode or the option for more players in bigger environments could do wonders, but as it stands, there’s little to keep you occupied for long stretches of time.
Unfortunately, Gun Monkeys’ online lobbies make it difficult to even squeeze in short bursts of play. All too often, I spent 10-15 minutes searching garish menus for a lobby that wasn’t a ghost town, and even then, only 3-4 players were hanging around. Though it’s possible that there aren’t many people looking for a match, I wouldn’t be surprised if allowing Steam Groups to serve as private lobbies severely fragmented the playerbase. Unless you have friends ready to play on the same PC, be prepared to spend more time idling in empty rooms instead of playing the game.
With more variety, several tweaks and a matchmaking system that isn’t fundamentally broken, Gun Monkeys could turn into quite the multiplayer mainstay. It’s not hard to see the ideal one-on-one arena madness that Size Five Games wanted to craft, and after “Ben There, Dan That!” and “Time Gentleman, Please!,” I know they can take insane ideas and make them shine. Unfortunately, the lack of content and rough package make Gun Monkeys feel more like a rough draft than a finished product, and no matter how great that draft can feel at times, it’s decidedly hard to recommend.
Disclaimer: Review codes were provided by Size Five Games.