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Mayhem in Single Valley Review for PlayStation

Puzzle games are a genre you don’t see a lot of these days. Long gone is the era of Portal 2, Fez, and other puzzle juggernauts that have embedded themselves in gaming history-and I really don’t know where I personally stand with this shift. I’ve never been a fan of puzzle games or any games that require very serious amounts of brain power (my monkey brain wants those quick hits of dopamine-much to my chagrin), but I’ve had my outliers within the genre. Whether it be Portal 2 or Resident Evil (primarily their earlier puzzle iterations), when I’d figure out a puzzle that originally stunted me, I literally felt like God. And it’s a feeling I sort of miss, and it’s a feeling that Mayhem in Single Valley nostalgically reminds me of. But in a recoiling fashion.

Call me a picky guy-you wouldn’t be wrong-but it takes a lot for a game to catch my eye. Sometimes a witty one-liner will enthrall me for hours on end, while a long exposition will turn me away completely with nothing but bitter buyer’s remorse, and Mayhem in Single Valley has me wedged between both these feelings-in a discomforting way. Developed by Fluxscopic and published by tinyBuild, Mayhem in Single Valley is a 2.5 puzzle adventure game in which the player pilots Jack Johnson, a loving son who comes from (what appears to be) a rough home life while simultaneously trying to undo an incoming squirrel-helmed apocalypse. It’s not a bad idea-heck, it even catches your eye when you first read the game’s logline. But despite my best attempts, I just can’t get into the game aptly enough, nor commit myself to it. And I’m going to explain why.

Mayhem in Single Valley Review for PlayStation

The game’s art style is absolutely gorgeous. Quite literally, there has been no other game that I have played this that has anything close to Mayhem in Single Valley’s crisp pixel art. Not Blasphemous, not Infernax, nor any of the Lakeview games, and this isn’t meant to discredit any of those developers, its just meant for a point of reference. Mayhem in Single Valley hands down has incredible pixel art and graphics, but sometimes, it feels like it’s all it has.

The music in the game is poppy and rhythmic, funky and catchy, and it’s just overall pretty good. And there’s cassette tapes littered around the map that change the current track you’re listening to which offers new flavors of music for the player to inject into themselves depending on their mood. It is pretty good, but it is not really anything too noteworthy. And I say this to really nail down what I like about the game-now I can get into what I don’t.

The level design in the game is serviceable, but it sometimes leaves me confused due to the what seems like-arbitrary camera angles that don’t show the player where they need to go, or where they need to eventually lead around to. Its things that require a little too much troubleshooting to solve, which sort of counter what makes puzzle games so great, even if I’m not a particular fan of them. Take a game like Fez for example. Another 2.5 puzzle adventure game with a unique perspective changing mechanic. Cut the world-twisting and leave just the plain level schematic and the player should instinctively find out where they need to go. In Mayhem in Single Valley, you don’t really get that. You get a slight hint that something out of view at the top of your screen is where a clue is, or that some areas contain things that you would never guess of obtaining. This isn’t a constant though; it is just inconsistent.

Some areas do have excellent layout, while others don’t, and its whiplashing to say the least. For example, lets juxtapose two different parts of the game. In one area, you need to find a bunker hidden underneath a guy’s bed, except, at least to my knowledge, there’s no implication that it is under the bed other than you can’t go anywhere else in the house (you can leave the room and explore the living room, but nowhere else). So you run around (more so I ran around) looking for a way to find this dude’s bunker, and after about 15 minutes, I decided to hit an arbitrary candle located next to another table, but it was empty when compared to the candle table. Lo and behold, the bed flopped up and revealed a hatch. While it should’ve been obvious, and while it might be due to my overall inexperience with the puzzle genre, I feel like it wasn’t hinted at enough. And then there’s a puzzle that required me to wedge a wooden log between a turned over car and a gap. It was hinted at enough and had enough room for plausible trial and error, but even here there was some issues. While I did solve the puzzle, and I felt great for doing so, I ran into a little bit of a technical error where I couldn’t move the wooden log adequately enough to wedge it between the car and gap. In fact, it was stuck for about 5 minutes until I managed to spawn in a new log. While it didn’t ruin that specific puzzle for me, it just reinforced my feelings of inconsistency with the game.

I failed to acknowledge this before but, the game offers 3D movement across a 2.5D plane, meaning like Unsighted, Furi, and Octopath Traveler, a 2D character can run in all four directions. Its pretty cool when you consider the dodge mechanic as well. Even more so when you lump in the game’s pseudo-survival-horror element of infected animals. To the point where I stopped playing, the only enemies I encountered were pollution-infected animals that I couldn’t fight back against, but I could lure them away with their respective baits (carrots for rabbits, cheese for rats, et cetera) which was pretty cool and an interesting mechanic. But even that felt sort of grating with how much I had to do it, almost like the game itself was saturating its own uniqueness. For example, imagine if a game like Outlast gave you bottles on top of bottles every 2 seconds to distract enemies; it’d quickly devolve from being a tense scenario to simple busy work. Its not bad, it’s just serviceable.

And that’s where I land with Mayhem in Single Valley, it is not bad, but it is not great. It’s very close to getting there, it just felt like the direction it had going for itself sort of shot itself in its own foot. Even the story feels a little polarizing. It goes for that little Borderlands brand of random humor injected with very little focus on finality that it sort of just doesn’t work. For example, I found myself with a deadpan expression more than I was giving out those little innocuous nose flares/exhalations that signify that something was hilarious. The game deserves a play, I will say that. There is too much soul and heart to merit otherwise and even though I don’t personally enjoy it, it doesn’t mean other avid puzzle gamers will. So, for gamers like me that don’t really play puzzle games I’ll score Mayhem in Single Valley a solid 7/10, but for puzzle-enthusiasts itching for a new hit of thought-provoking content, I’ll give it an 8, just because I feel like that’s what it deserves from the puzzle community as a whole (and what I feel comfortable giving it). Overall, the game is beautiful and if you have some change burning a hole in your pocket, I think this game is a good purchase.

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Related: Reviews by Fabian Bautista

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Whether it be diving deep into uncharted oceanic depths, wading through knee-deep pools of demon blood, or taking a leisurely walk through a fictional western frontier, I am always eager to explore previously unknown sectors of the creative space, impatiently overturning every stone begging to be flipped over. Dabbling in both speculative and realistic fiction, with a sprinkle of journalistic fanaticism, I enjoy any game that displays narrative magnificence, or if it's just plain fun!