Cookie Cutter PC Review
2023 was such a great year for video games that I was spoilt about what to play. With a limited amount of time available, I could not try all the games that I was interested in. One such title that came out bang in the middle of December 2023 was Cookie Cutter by developers Subcult Joint, which decided to drop right before the seasonal holidays. At this time, I was working hours to cover games that could potentially change the outcome of DarkZero’s Game of the Year 2023 list. Not ideal, but now the releases have slowed down for three or so weeks before it begins to get crazy again at the start of February, I managed to squeeze in a couple of games, and Cookie Cutter was one of them.
Cookie Cutter begins by introducing us to the timeline of the world it is set in. First came The Void, which became The Matter, then evolved into The Megastructure. As with anything new, people want to discover what is going on with this unknown entity, what secrets is it hiding beneath its bemusing outer shell? One person, the leader of INFONET managed to do just that, coming out of the structure with buckets worth of information that could keep people alive forever by preserving their souls within androids called Denzels. Fast forward over 200 years and it seems this promised existence living in The Golden City as an android was all a lie. Just like most things that seem too good to be true, this was one of them. Instead, the poor souls of the living became robotic slaves for INFONET. Rebels try their best to overthrow them, but they are simply too weak against an army of androids.
This is where the story touches on our main character, Cherry, an android created by rebel Doctor Shinji Fallon. We are introduced to her through the intro as a machine created by the good Doctor that gave her life meaning, they gave each other happiness until one-night INFONET attacked the household and took the Doctor away and almost annihilated Cherry into a bloody mess. This is where the player takes control, dragging the dismembered and destroyed body of Cherry towards the agents of INFONET as she screams in agony to get her beloved Doctor back. This kickstarts Cherry’s rescue mission after taking time out to repair herself with the help of a local friend, Raz. The general story goes quiet beyond this point, with some short chitchat when new characters are discovered or a major progression has been hit, but for most of Cookie Cutter, it lets the player do the talking through its entertaining violent gameplay.
Cookie Cutter takes all the key components of a metroidvania and runs with it, building a well-designed take on the genre. There are plenty of metroidvanias on the market, having a huge resurgence thanks to the rise of the indie video game market growth and with that comes plenty of unique takes on the genre, even crossing them with others to truly bring something distinct. Cookie Cutter decides to not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the traditional design of a meteroidvania and stays true to what we know of the genre. Rather, it presents some wonderful visuals and fun gameplay that keeps the player interested throughout the game’s 10+ hour campaign, easily tagging on a few more hours if wanting to 100%.
Cherry begins the game in the safety of her friend’s home, which acts as the central point of the game’s map. From here, Cherry and her AI companion Regina, who is based within her vagina (I guess that’s one way to hide something?) travel around the various biomes to eventually find a way to a place known as The Golden Tower. This is done in the typical metroidvania fashion, meaning that as the player moves through the locations, fights bosses and finds new abilities, new biomes and unreachable areas become unlocked to push forward progression. 8 biomes make up the map in Cookie Cutter, but the issue I have with them is that a few are not that distinct enough, as they blend into one. The colour scheme is what separates the biomes apart and what enemies await the player within them, but their themes are not varied enough. This could be down to the setting of the Megastructure, as their feel is very cave-centric and industrial, so you get none of the organic environments, such as mountains, snow, or forests. Thankfully, the actions you perform inside of these biomes are good, with Cherry’s movement and jumping feeling great. The game makes it easy to get around these labyrinths, more so as Cherry learns new abilities, such as double or triple jumps, air dashes, and power dash, and she is also able to grab onto ledges to pull herself up. Her animation and feel of getting around are satisfying, which makes the next element of the game, the combat, more sufficient to partake in.
Combat revolves around void energy. This is a metre that Cherry has under her life bar and using any sort of nonstandard attack will drain this metre. Performing basic attack actions against enemies will generate void. Cherry has a simple combo string assigned to a button that will perform a few hits before recycling the combo animation. One thing I like about the combat is how fluid it feels. The basic combo can be interrupted by using the dodge roll or parry button, allowing players to react to enemy actions to get out of danger. Some games have a delay or like to have a waiting period before an action can be interrupted, but Cookie Cutter ignores this and the combat between Cherry and her various enemies is made better for it.
New abilities are unlocked and assigned to key buttons. The timing of introducing these are thought out as there is never a time when Cherry is left long before earning a new tool or ability. This keeps encounters and progression revitalised as players figure out how to use the new tools on enemies or to find new rooms within the map. Two elements use void for their cost, a weapon-based and an ability-based. Weapons include a giant fist, a chainsaw and even a laser gun, while abilities are skills such as shooting fireballs, an area of effect damaging blast or a ground-pounding fist attack. These weapons and abilities are also used to unlock new areas within its level design, such as the ground pound smashing weak metal grates or the laser gun activating switches to unlock doors. The game does well to incorporate these into not just combat, but environment exploration as well, giving each power its time to shine in both aspects. Weapons can be upgraded in a shop up to level 5 in exchange for enemy parts and gears, which is the game’s currency and is gained from fights and the many chests scattered around in plain sight or hidden away behind the typical secret walls that developers like to hide in metroidvanias.
Each biome comes with its unique enemies, but a few will cross over with existing enemy attack types so that not all encounters are fresh in the newly discovered zones. The early encounters allow the player to become accustomed to the combat and learn when to dodge, parry and attack. Parry is powerful in this game, but the timing must be right otherwise Cherry will take damage. The parry can counter a move when the window of opportunity is open, signalled by a blue spark on the enemy’s attack animation. When parried successfully, the enemy is put in a dazed state and can be instantly killed with a fatality finisher. These finishers can also be performed when an enemy is low on health. Finishers are good as they offer more health, void and gear drops than when enemies are defeated by a normal attack.
As the game gets closer towards its climax, the enemies become tougher, and parrying requires consecutive presses to stun the enemy as they no longer do it on the first parry. Enemies also gain more health, do more damage and become more awkward in their attacks to make it harder to predict them. I remember being in a combat zone, an area in the game that happens often, where the player is locked into a room until all the enemies are defeated. These could feature many on-screen foes at one time and of various enemy types, which means keeping the wits about or you will end up getting caught out by flying bullets that come in at the most annoying times while taking care of the melee enemies on the ground. This is probably one of the things that slightly annoyed me, as it always felt when rooms were full of enemies, one of them always managed to counter me at the right time, mainly ranged enemies, as they have a habit of perfectly shooting as you reach for them. Thankfully, one feature I do like included is the ability to use void to self-heal. It is not the fastest action, but it became such a handy tool to have. It does not feel cheap, as it takes time to activate and leaves Cherry vulnerable while healing. Plus, since it takes away void, the energy that performs the strongest actions in the game, it has a penalty for using it.
The ability to save freely is not an option in the game, as around the maps are save points that need to be activated. There are plenty of them, so I never felt there was a lot of downtime between save points and loss of progression when dying, which happens more often in the latter parts of the campaign as spikes begin to cover walls and floors that instantly kill you, but also enemies, so makes for good fun to end a combo that sends an enemy flying into them. Ryu from Street Fighter would be proud of the number of times I Shoryuken’d an enemy into the air and hit those spikes. The issue with the save points is that some are placed at the wrong points. There are areas where I died often because of instant death then the last save point before that event was a few rooms away, meaning I had to get through three or four rooms before getting back to where I was. Most of the time the save points are right before such challenging areas, but not all the time, which can be a little annoying when dealing with instant death platforming.
Presentation is in your face, brash and bloody, and it is all the better for it. Cookie Cutter is rich in colours and has no shame in being that loud bratty kid in the group of metroidvanias. Its hand-drawn visuals and animations are wonderful to see in action. This is a violent game, done in that over-the-top comical way, such as seeing Cherry rip the wings off a fly in half or pummel an enemy to the ground with spiked feet as blood splats off. It gives it that adult comic vibes as she goes on her revenge trip to save her love, it looks spectacular. I have seen comments about the main heroine not looking great or goofy, but that is nothing that should be of concern, it simply does not distract from the gameplay. Seeing how the animation and artists at Subcult Joint crafted Cherry into performing all these animations and gruesome acts of violence in this style is nothing sort of beauty, it flows pleasantly.
Cookie Cutter stays true to the tried and tested metroidvania recipe. It does not try to do anything different in that respect, meaning fans of the genre know exactly what to be expecting with the game’s level design and progression. Where Cookie Cutter does stand out is more with its eccentric and loud visual design and fluid animation. Combat is a lot of fun due to how smooth it is. There have been a few melee-focused metroidvanias in the past and Cookie Cutter is a welcome addition to that group, bringing with it a violent and bloody adventure that is full of hi-octane encounters and great platforming controls that make up for the lack of innovation, varied environments and slight frustrations it brings to the genre.