If you’re a fan of early 2000’s 3D platform games you’ll be interested in Hell Pie… well, as long as you don’t take offence easily. Coming from Sluggerfly and published by Headup Games, the self-styled obscene title has reached the end of its 4 year development and is now out on PC, PlayStation and Xbox, and will be on Switch soon once the niggles are worked out. Wanting to simultaneously be outlandish, crass, gross and a homage to the plethora of collect-a-thon games of the recent past, it’s been shaping up to deliver something just a tad different to the average cartoonish run, jump and bash action adventures that inspired it. Will it get the thumbs up and end up being gaming heaven, thumbs down and have to serve out its time in the underworld, or just need to live its existence out in purgatory?
Being a whacky platformer there needs to be an outlandish tale to get things started, so you’re plonked in the hooves of Nate, a non-descript demon of bad taste who inadvertently gets a call from the boss. Satan might have rung the wrong little devil, but that doesn’t mean you can refuse the dark lord and Nate is tasked with sorting out Beelzebub’s birthday cake. Of course, it’s not going to be as simple as throwing some flour and eggs in a bowl and baking for 50 minutes, this needs to be the foulest cake ever created. Fortunately, Chef knows what’s needed and sends Nate off on his travels around several worlds to seek out the nastiest ingredients to bake into this nightmarish concoction. Not wanting to make the job too hard, Chef pairs Nate up with a chatty cherub called Nugget who is a companion, weapon and traversal system all in one. Here begins a romp around some of the strangest, sickest and rudest lands to grace a platform game in years, and if you’re squeamish, prudish or afraid of jumping you might as well give up here.
In true 3D platformer style, Hell Pie is a hub world linking several other vastly different worlds together that you’ll need to fully explore to get the most out of the game. The mission itself it relatively simple – find all the ingredients and make the cake – though to be successful it’ll require thorough exploration and a mastery of the different abilities of both Nate and Nugget. Nugget is attached to Nate by a chain which makes him the perfect swinging weapon for despatching the wide variety of evil creatures encountered, as well as a useful object smasher, but he also doubles as a way of getting further and higher when jumping. Whilst in the air Nugget flaps his wings and acts as an anchor point meaning that Nate can use him to swing out repeatedly, and it’s a neat little method of locomotion. Initially it doesn’t take you very far, yet find special cans of food and you can level up Nugget’s skills which gives him extra stamina so the moves can be done more often, amongst other improvements like more health chips. Yes… this is old skool enough to use a health system with 4 hits being all that stands between Nate and restarting at a checkpoint. These are dotted around liberally enough, and come in a couple of different forms depending which type of level you’re in.
Hell’s head office is the main hub and where you return the collected ingredients to Chef, who will then open links to several different worlds that need exploring, and these are broken into a central free-roam area with a few linear levels to tackle for goodies. Every area has collectables to find – canned food, ingredients and horn upgrades – and whilst not massive, these are not small areas either. Across the hubs there are teleporters that allow Nate to get around the area to points of interest without trekking, as well as acting as a checkpoint in the very, very likely event of death. In the embedded more linear sections these become standard checkpoints for respawning, and even though the health system works to limited hits, coming back through a checkpoint portal is unlimited with just a minor deduction of any collected gems which litter the place and act as currency. Graphically this is not going to be mistaken with a game from 20 years ago, though the structure and principles of the content are classic 3D platformer through and through.
Nugget isn’t the only one that can level up, Nate gets the chance to upgrade his horns as well. In one of the sickest twists I think I’ve ever come across in a game, you can purchase new abilities through sacrificing Unilambs that are scattered around the levels. These cute Unicorn x Lambs have big eyes, small bodies and big horns that in a fairly horrific way get taken in payment. You really do have to suffer for the upgrades, and that’s not just in spending time hunting for the hidden little creatures. With Hell Pie’s selling point being obscene, you’ll not at all be surprised that it’s covered in blood, gore, rotten flesh, weird sex, violence, scatological humour and bad language at every turn. Granted, it’s all cartoonish and so over the top that it’s practically impossible not to smirk at most of it, but best not play it around anyone with delicate sensibilities. It’s also strangely not particularly offensive, there’s a decent balance to how it handles characters and situations so that mostly they’re simply distasteful in an amusing way. Spending a lot of time in each of the worlds you do get a touch desensitised, though there’s usually something to stumble across that assaults your gag reflex. I give it props for coupling ideas that get my stomach churning with some truly inspired level design that made me nauseous and appreciative at the same time. It has a playfulness with game genres where it manages to subvert your expectations with surprise changes in style, that counteract some of the grosser material.
Being a big open world platform title with a focus on traversal means that you’d expect all the mechanics to be tight, and that’s the thing that I’ve struggled with the most. Combat isn’t an issue, and it’s satisfying to swipe Nugget across multiple enemies or get the timing right to reflect projectiles. Using him to jump around big open spaces can be pretty exciting too, but the camera has a habit of getting in the way. Even though you fully control the view, there’s a bit of auto-centering in play, and in sections that need precise movement I had the camera zip back behind which changes Nate’s direction. There’s also a bit of imprecision in jumping and swinging, possibly due to quite a wide FOV, which mean it takes a while to figure out exactly where you’re going to land. It doesn’t instil confidence and acts as a mental barrier to feeling in control. Add onto that some of the later levels where elements glitched (along with trophies) and blocked progression and Hell Pie can switch from being a fairly joyful romp to a lesson in frustration and having to reboot the game to run sections from scratch. I also can’t fathom why Nugget’s incessant chatter is put in a speech bubble that needs to hover over where you’re trying to focus on the screen… especially in combat.
It’s got its quirks in movement, which if I’m honest, was probably rife in the hordes of games I played like this in the early 2000’s; there’s a lot of small collectible things to find that aren’t always easy to see; some of the horn powers promise a lot and deliver little; and the odd checkpoint is really in the wrong place. These things don’t detract and make it a terrible experience though, they just take the sheen of it. Given it’s an indie game on a budget then it’s understandable not every thing is polished to an unrealistically high level, and some of my gripes are likely to get wiped out with a patch… maybe even before you’ve read this. Mostly though, Hell Pie is a fun game that does what it sets out to do – bring a largely forgotten genre up to date and demonstrate that calling it obscene wasn’t just PR blurb.
A PS5 review copy of Hell Pie was provided by Headup Games’ PR team, and the game is available now on PC, Xbox, Switch and PlayStation for around £25, depending on platform.