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Preview: Sludge Life 2

23 Mar 2023

Ask any modern gamer about the trajectory of titles in certain franchises, and you’re more than likely going to hear similar things about the most popular franchises. On one end, you’ll have the Call of Duty or Maddens of the world pumping out endless sequels that are picked up year after year. On the other, you’ll get the people who cling to the more niche or forgotten franchises that receive entries on a pretty inconsistent basis. But you’ll also have those games that seem to be more of a form of free expression than something you’d want to follow up on at all.

Back in 2020, I reviewed Terri Vellman’s/Doseone’s open-world game Sludge Life. I found the gross and grimy aesthetics and matching humor to be something of a one-off experience that marched to the beat of its own weird drum. Terri and Doseone just wanted people to goof around in the muck and mire, and I figured that was that. It looks like my assumption was totally off, as publisher Devolver Digital just announced the sequel to this hazy and offbeat world. With this preview, I was given unfettered access to Ciggy City, but with the caveat of it being time limited to an hour.

While the environments here are usually limited to one specific area, to begin with, it’s honestly pretty generous to have that kind of time to goof around and get the feel for the denizens of the area on top of the usual shenanigans that came with the first title. Projected to be released “later in 2023,” Sludge Life 2 will drop on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store when a date is announced. The Steam version was played for this preview.

Makin’ it Big

So there’s a little bit more story than there was in the previous game, but not by much. Turns out the resident human-sized frog emcee Big Mud finally got out of that shipping crate and was able to snag himself a recording contract. With it comes just enough notoriety to where he can shoot his own music video. The game opens up with you eventually finding out that Big Mud has gone missing right before having to record said music video for his new album. Now the onus is on Ghost to go seek him out and also get a feel for Ciggy City while he’s at it.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this is the most story content you’ll get here, as half of the fun of Sludge Life was running around and getting the vibe of the locals and just generally goofing around. Sure, you’re tasked with figuring out what happened to Big Mud, but you’ll find it best to go out and find out everyone else’s story while you’re out and about.

I can’t say I wasn’t amused with the fact that there is even a loose story here at all. Ghost finds himself following the trail of what happened to Big Mud, and obtaining the needed intel was almost Shenmue-esque at times. Mostly because interacting with Mud’s fans and the locals did help to some extent. It doesn’t really surprise me that they would take a light touch to any sort of story content, but it’s nice that there’s even a slight lean in that direction.

Half the fun of this game, though, is still just finding out what the locals are doing and just basking in their weirdness. Ciggy City definitely has no shortage of weird moments to find, and toes the line of weird gross-out humor that the prior game wore like a badge of honor. If it isn’t an actual dog eating from a snake-like hot dog dispenser, it’s a kid who lost his soiled diaper going down a dry waterslide at the ashtray-shaped beach. There’s plenty more trademark weirdness to find on your own.

Much like the last game, the bulk of the adventure is left up to you. I’m sure some new players might find it a little weird that there isn’t much of a story here, but that’s part of the charm of these games. It’s partially aesthetics over an overarching narrative, but finding those micro-moments is what I found myself enjoying the last time around. I doubt that there will be much more in the way of meaty story content when the game hits its final release, but as it stands right now in line with what came before it.

Bigger City, Same Vibe

With the game having slightly more direction than last time with being tasked with finding the phattest frog in the sludge, it kinda didn’t surprise me that the overall gameplay started to branch out in small ways that made sense for the open area Ciggy City is. There’s definitely a lot more to explore, that much is certain.

But the core gameplay of goofing around, finding places to tag, stumbling around and finding the previous games pickups like “zooms” and such, and finding secret stuff for your laptop is all here. You’re welcome to goof around to your heart’s content and see all the sights of the city. There are a couple of new pickups like the Double J’s that give you the ability to double jump and run faster, as well as the Portable Launcher that’s really just there to throw yourself around like a jackass or access out-of-reach platforms.

Some of the other pickups are best discovered yourself, but the exploration factor is what makes it for me, honestly. The discovery and subsequent experimentation are always a pretty fun factor with this sort of game. The demo using a time limit makes sense in a preview context, but the open sandbox element of the game doesn’t stop you from trying to critical path your way to the credits.

This is what I found myself doing, and I spent a fair amount of time goofing around and sussing out the vibe in between hitting the story points to get Big Mud to the studio. Given that the prior game didn’t stop you from just walking up and triggering one of the endings, it doesn’t really surprise me all that much. But even with that, I definitely got the vibe that the sequel is doing the “expand where it makes sense, but retain the core gameplay” trajectory for this sequel.

Honestly, that’s all I can ask for with a game like this. It knows what it is and just gives you enough new toys and entertaining NPCs to interact with to maintain its offbeat status quo. You’ll still be platforming around and exploring as much as you want to here, but adding the arbitrary time limit seems a little silly for a game that some could speedrun in five minutes if they really wanted to. You can replay it as often as you’d like, but I think the overall build is pretty solid as it is at the moment. Given that this was just announced, I’m hoping that there’s going to be a little more refinement on the way, mostly for polishing reasons more than anything.

Drop Those Muddy Beats and Vibes

If you have any concerns about Terri going in a different art direction for Sludge Life 2, you shouldn’t worry too much about it. That aspect alone was what brought me the most enjoyment in the first game, and this was left largely unchanged in the sequel. It may be a different environment, but the vibes remain the same. The art style is still the weird, trippy, and exaggerated presentation from before with all the filters and visual effects you’re used to. Like before, you can toggle these on and off at your leisure. I appreciate this, as I turned these off in my playthrough of the prior game.

Thankfully, there is some more support for more modern hardware in the sequel. People with 1440p displays and up with higher refresh rates are supported here, and it ran at a consistently smooth framerate for my build in particular. I generally wasn’t all that concerned with getting the sharpest and smoothest gameplay with this game, but it’s nice that it’s optimized well enough at this stage in development to get this kind of performance. I’m sure those with older builds might have to scale back the settings to get to a playable state, but this isn’t the most graphically intensive game to begin with. With the prior game being on the Switch, I’m sure that was scaled down and somehow still playable.

Much like the last game, the sound design is superb here. Denizens of Ciggy City still speak in the Simlish/Banjo-Kazooie-esque kinda language, and the trippy vibes in the musical presentation are still present here as well. What’s more, you can seek out new tracks from Big Mud himself. I still find myself queuing up “Bubble Up” from time to time, so the fact that there are more tracks from him is a nice follow-up to its hazy predecessor.

Really, I’m just happy that Terri held the line with the presentation. It was what I enjoyed most about the prior game, and it serves the sequel quite well as a result. It loves being unabashedly trippy, gross, and absolutely weird. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who’s glad that Terri stuck to their guns here because I find it to be the defining feature of both games.

Re-Embrace the Sludge Life

While I’m glad I got the chance to vibe out in yet another hazy experience from Terri and Doseone, I’m glad that they felt like they had enough in the tank to push out another self-paced adventure at all. While the game is still in development, I feel like what I played here is pretty solid already. It may be more of the same in a different environment, but the vibes here are enough for me to excuse some of it.

Hopefully, by the time this drops proper, we’ll get some more refinements and the usual tweaks that come with the development process. Regardless, I’m looking forward to what this eventually becomes. Because we could use a lot more weird and wacky games in our lives, and I’m glad that either of these games prefers not to shy away from what makes them unique.

Preview copy provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots and featured image courtesy of Devolver Digital.