There’s nothing quite like a peaceful bike ride through the local park. The sun is shining. The birds are singing in the trees. The buzzsaws are whirring. Wait? Buzzsaws?! Oh dear, you’ve just been decapitated and delimbed by a series of deadly blades bouncing down a hill. Maybe not so peaceful, then…
This is the world of Guts and Glory, a physics-based pain simulator that tasks you with guiding a hapless character (or duo) through a variety of seemingly peaceful settings that just happen to be laden with arrow-flinging turrets, saws and landmines. It’s crude, it’s gory and it’s totally throw-away in its ultraviolent slapstick, but that’s just part of its low-rent charm.
Much like Getting Over It (the PC-based hit that did the rounds on Twitch for a while, inducing rage with its physics-driven ‘man climbing a mountain while a sledgehammer’ premise), Guts and Glory is all about seeking that satisfying sweet spot between avoiding obstacles, staying on your vehicle and pulling off a leaderboard-topping time. You’ll almost certainly mess up, and almost certainly turn the air seven shades of blue, but you’ll still be having a laugh in between all those involuntary swears.
The bloody fun is broken up into nine sets of challenges, each tied together by one or more of the game’s hapless characters. These victims range from Jack and Jill (an old man riding a BMX with a lady riding passenger in a cart tied to the back, obviously) to the quad-bike-toting Mick and his love for all things camo. Each comes with their own strengths and weaknesses, making them better suited to certain challenges than others.
The Yang Family, with their open-top sedan, offer a more stable vehicle, but it’s unwieldy to control, especially when cornering. John and Debra (a couple on a bicycle, with the letter member of the duo strapped into a baby seat on the back) offer the most all-around setup, but it’s easy to lose your balance and feels back-heavy when making jumps. If you’re expecting the balanced two-wheeled rides of the Trials series - a franchise that’s clearly had a big impact on Guts and Glory’s obstacle-course nature - you’re in for a rude awakening.
Let’s be honest, this game isn’t going to win any awards for its looks - but you soon realise that’s kind of the point. The ugly character models and environments that look like they’re straight out of a crude mid-’90s foray into 3D animation are part of the game’s purposeful low-fi aesthetic. However, when your poor character gets diced by a set of buzzsaws and their blood turns into giant, solid shards of red, you know there’s clearly a few glitches that need patching out as well.
There are some technical issues that are hard to chalk up to conscious design choices, though. There’s a little too much slowdown at times, which can really impact on the more complicated challenges where you’re dodging landmines and leaping off ramps one after another. It doesn’t impact every run, but it’s frustrating enough when it does happen - the drop in frames can really affect your enjoyment.
The loading times between retries is also another issue. It simply takes far too long to refresh the game. It’s likely an issue to do with the size of each map - you can explore each one in real time, but we’d much rather have smaller, more linear maps (and have shorter loading times as a result) than sandbox designs that lead to protracted loading times. It's an issue that takes you out of the moment-to-moment fun that makes Guts and Glory such a great little indie outing.
The Switch version is also missing one of the best features found on PC - the map editor. It’s this omission that makes the handheld iteration such a hard sell over the one found on Steam, because it doesn’t boast the kind of mode that will keep you coming back for more. Being able to construct insanely difficult challenges would tie right into that same sense of community-driven longevity that’s made the likes of Super Mario Maker so timeless, but without it (and the 1,000-plus fan-made tracks you can currently play on PC) Guts and Glory remains a diminished and hollow version of itself.
Which is a shame, because there’s so much to love about Guts and Glory’s combination of slapstick silliness and physics-driven gore. HakJak Productions has promised it's working on a solution to the frame rate issues and texture issues, but considering Switch’s technical limitations almost certainly led to the removal of the map editor, you’re probably better off picking this up on PC for the foreseeable future.
Guts and Glory is a really fun little indie that’s burst out of the gates and onto Nintendo Switch, but the porting process has taken its toll. The basic rinse and repeat nature of its challenges and the madcap bloodbath of its physics are a laugh-out-loud combination while they last, but without the long-term appeal of the map editor and its library of user-generated content, the Switch version suffers as a result.