Carrion (Switch) Review
You awake in fright, trapped. You reach out with long, wormlike tendrils that attach to the walls of your prison. Something assaults your senses, a biological smell, a vibration in the air. You grab hold of it and draw it to you. It crunches inside one of your mouths, tasting of blood, bone, metal and more. You need more, crave more. You must eat and grow. The walls they never end, even as you squeeze through doors and discover more areas and devour more screaming snacks. You have to escape!
Welcome to Carrion, a reverse Metroid game where you are the monster and your sole goal is to escape from the facility that holds you. Your food is anything biological, which increases your mass. You can also absorb biological samples (presumably taken from whatever alien thing you used to be), unlocking new skills to aid in your escape.
There is no map to help you keep track of where you are, where you’ve been or where you’re meant to go. This is deliberate. At first this feels a bit frustrating, but the more you play, the more it becomes clear that this is done to incite in the player the same feeling of containment and confusion that the creature would presumably feel.
As your mass increases, so too do your skills, which are mapped to the trigger buttons. Each time you encounter a biological container, you must grab hold of it (by directing the right thumb-stick and holding in R) and crack it open, then crawl inside to unlock a new skill. These skills then invariably allow you to get past previously closed sections of the map. At first, you can do simple things like shoot out a web-like mass to trap people (handy if they are armed) or flick switches that are otherwise out of reach.
Later, you’ll learn to turn invisible, break through tough barriers, grow spikes at will, turn yourself into lots of tiny worms to get through underwater grates, and even take parasitic control of humans to flick switches and then burst from their body like The Thing and Alien combined. Some skills only work when you are of a lesser mass, while others require you to be a replete creature in order to progress. You can find pools to deposit biomass if you need to downsize to use a certain skill. You can then any save point to reclaim your full biomass. Or, the more fun way, you can just eat lots of people.
Sticking with its newborn design philosophy, the game tells you nothing. You are as clueless as the creature itself. This works wonderfully, and while at first you may crave a map or mission marker to give you a clue where to go next and what to do, the more you play and come to understand the nuances of gameplay, the more things fall into a smooth rhythm of natural progression. There is usually only one way to keep going, you just might need to revisit some of your blood-dripping kill rooms to find it.
The creature itself controls wonderfully, reacting to your left thumb-stick direction prompts as if truly alive, swinging its tendrils out, up and about in order to react to your inputs. This feels very satisfying, especially when trying to outwit human enemies with shields, automatic weapons and flamethrowers. If you do catch fire, you quickly lose biomass, so it’s a race to reach a pool of water to douse yourself, then ponder how you might get around behind that bastard who got you. You’re never really at much of a disadvantage. Death just means a few-seconds wait for a respawn and a gruesome fate for any human who gets in your way.
Carrion’s visuals look fantastic, especially in handheld mode. The pixel art style, combined with lighting that perfectly captures a creature horror film, really pops. Wherever you go, gore drips from your gelatinous body, and after you’ve killed a room full of scientists the environment looks like a blood-spattered slaughterhouse. The sound design is also fantastic, with humans constantly screaming in fear as you slither around. You almost feel bad for grabbing them and chomping them in half. Almost. This is supported by all manner of squelching, dripping effects and dramatic aural stabs during action moments.
Carrion lets you live out the creature fantasy you never knew you desired. A series of escape situations and tense standoffs with humans where you have the upper tentacle every time. A gruesome experience, but one well worth having.
+ Responsive controls
+ Excellent sound design
+ Unique flipping of the genre
- Fairly short and little replay value
- No map can lead to confusion