Mayhem in Single Valley Review (PS4) – Not Quite The Church Burner
This is the second game from Ontario-based Fluxscopic Ltd. and like the debut – You Are Not a Banana – Mayhem in Single Valley aims to fulfil that charming wonderment of the nostalgic games of the 80s and 90s. However, with modern adjustments in technology, Mayhem in Single Valley propels the retro isometric pixel look with dynamic lighting, particle effects and a lot of squirrels.
After watching the trailer before playing the game, I honestly couldn’t tell you what the game was. Snappy cuts of chaos with a blistering chiptune soundtrack, all with a red hooded sprite at the centre of it. Like a pixel art Michael Bay movie I was ready to make like an Autobot and roll out to find why Single Valley had so much mayhem.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It
You play as Jack, who awakens from a dream in which he saves a handful of lookalikes from a burning aeroplane in the sky; the real-life however is far less exciting. Jack is prepped for his trip away from Single Valley only to find out his passport is hidden and his plane ticket thrown away. You meet the overworked mum, the beer-fueled couch potato dad and the innocent doughy-eyed brother as you sift through the house for your belongings.
This is what makes for the tutorial of the game as you’ll be learning to jump, dodge, grab furniture to move and throw objects like beer to lure your dad to bed. It does a wonderful job of setting up what the core gameplay is for this adventure game and whilst your family NPCs are familiar archetypes, they do well enough to settle you in.
Once you’ve done your chores and grabbed everything to go, Jack wants to take one last look at Single Valley from his treehouse before setting off on his adventure. That is until a shadowy figure with piercing red eyes dumps an atomic green ooze into the river, infecting animals and people alike to be toxic zombies. A passerby spots the atrocities and sees that you’re the only one around so it must be you! Forcing you to be public enemy number one.
And I Feel… Just Fine
What transpires is a journey through Single Valley to find a cure that can reverse the effects of the green muck that’s plagued the city. Fourth wall breaking, meta-commentary and bizarre humour are at the forefront of the storytelling. I’m not wholly convinced that it works towards its charm, for my personal taste. There are moments when Mayhem thinks it’s smarter than it is. The twists are obvious, and the characters are incredibly one-note, all of which don’t do too much for its storytelling.
However, the playful wit and unserious approach as a whole do make my negative takeaways of the story a less piercing criticism because everything else about the game is relatively enjoyable. Along the journey to save Single Valley, you’ll be jumping platforms, dodging attacks in true adventure platforming fashion.
Most of my time controlling Jack was responsive when it came to general traversal, though I had a few instances where the platforming needed precision, which wasn’t complimented. Most instances aren’t a consequence of death, but the times it was I did get frustrated. There are a lot of secrets to uncover with collectables and clones of Jack stuck and in need of saving. There are over 60 collectables and clones alike to discover, and whilst the collectables are just trinkets, finding clones will benefit you.
A Jack of All Trades
Clones are smaller versions of Jack that tie to the story but also carry upgrade duct tape. You’ll collect duct tape to upgrade your shoes for movement, bin lids as a pseudo-HP, your slingshot and your backpack for storage. On paper, it’s a neat way to encourage you to explore. Though in practice outside of running faster and carrying more, the game’s balanced in a way that makes it feel inconsequential.
Combat isn’t in a traditional format, for the most part. Across the levels, you’ll pick up different types of food, each one attracting a different enemy type. Snakes like eggs, squirrels like acorns and humans like hotdogs. You can throw or slingshot the mukbang smorgasbord either at or near an enemy for them to eat. It’s a temporary distraction and sifting through your “ammo” can be a hassle if you have a lot of types.
Later on, you’ll find a way to reverse their zombie effects to become non-hostile once they’ve consumed, but other enemies very quickly turn them back if there’s more than one (which is always the case). This then made me ditch any efforts to engage and instead jump around and avoid. Dodging attacks never felt consistent and bin lids acting as HP were few and far between, leaving me to be one hit most of the time.
Walking Through The Valley
Mayhem in Single Valley isn’t a difficult game, so my gripes with the systems do wash over as I’m progressing the narrative at a steady pace. It just resulted in me playing in a way not conducive to the design. The physics-based puzzles on the other hand kept me engaged till I rolled credits. It utilises a lot of that grabbing of furniture I mentioned earlier. Moving trees to be a bridge or pushing cars off a bridge to be a new platform below. I was never stumped with what I had to do, but it wasn’t so easy that I got bored.
These puzzles are fun set pieces amongst a great deal of variety in the levels. Suburbs, forests, high schools and maybe some inter-dimensional travels come at a fulfilling pace. With every level, you can find cassettes that really feel like a needle drop moment by your own hand as the tape clicks in and plays a new tune every time. All of them set a great sense of atmosphere, evoking the mood that the level tries to go for, either by level design or story beat. All songs are created by Brian Cullen and are often blood-pumping chiptune earworms that had me humming them long after playing.
The great soundtrack really compliments the visuals too. As I mentioned before, Mayhem in Single Valley has taken cues from the 80s and 90s pixel style, but the engine used to develop the game affords a unique blend of modern and retro design. Although this game came out before, it’s very reminiscent of Minecraft Dungeons. The blocky environments with an emphasis on lighting effects and water physics that aim for a realism like a AAA, feeling closer to current gen.
It’s an odd pairing for sure but I really enjoyed the look that Fluxscopic went for. Some pixel art purists may disagree but it was an effective way of taking what was new and making it modern. The style lends itself to making levels feel well realised and although all the character designs were quite simplistic, it does create a good juxtaposition of the normal and the weird that is Mayhem in Single Valley.
So I’ve come away from the game with a mixed bag. During the early stages of my playtime, I was faced with playing the opening 4+ times as my saves were corrupting. This has been patched since and for those who are considering buying on day one, you won’t be met with the same fate.
However, that may be a testament to the quality of the game because I wanted to see where it ended. The game itself isn’t very long, I can imagine 4 on the short side, 6-8 if you’re trying to find everything. There’s certainly a place for games to be not so challenging, chock full of things to find and for Mayhem in particular, an absurdity that could be thoroughly entertaining. I wasn’t particularly astounded by its attempt at being a fourth-wall-breaking epic, but I had an enjoyable couple of evenings with it.
Mayhem in Single Valley’s components themselves don’t stand out. However the culmination of all the over-the-top apocalyptic retro inspired elements makes a game about saving the world a decent time. The levels are fun to explore, the comedy is bashful and the music a true highlight; there just maybe not enough mayhem.
Mayhem in Single Valley releases 30th March 2023 on PlayStation 4 (review platform), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and already out on PC via Steam.
Developer: Fluxscopic Ltd.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here. If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.
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