I’m really not sure what to make of AvoCuddle. I’ve never been more confused after playing the first hour of a game.
Is it a work of genius or a confusing mess? Emotional love story or wacky comedy? What appeared to be a standard, functional action platformer turned out to be one of the strangest and most intriguing games I’ve played all year.
Almost everything I saw of AvoCuddle before I played the game advertised it as a twee, arty platformer about love conquering all; it even starts with an overlong monologue expressing that exact sentiment about 13 different ways. So I went in expecting Ori and the Blind Forest, but then ten minutes into the game Ori pulled out a submachine gun and started massacring woodland creatures.
In AvoCuddle you play as Avora, an avocado man with an avocado girlfriend that gets avocado kidnapped. Everything in your life is love, sunshine and waterfalls until you make your girlfriend Avoln mad by telling her she should eat some chocolate (yes, seriously). Then while you’re out collecting apology roses, she gets yeeted into the sky by a spaceship.
If it was at precisely this point that the game switched from soppy love story to violent rampage, then I would have said it was deliberate. You guessed the game was going to be cute and innocent, but you were wrong; the classic bait and switch. But the truth is more complicated. You see, you find your first gun during the flower-collecting quest, before your girlfriend has even been abducted. The sprites for the weapons are also weirdly realistic compared to the rest of the cartoony art style, which is jarring in a quite comical way. There is definitely something funny about a cartoon avocado holding a laser rifle with a big goofy grin, but I’m not sure if that was the intention.
All the sickly emotional dialogue is played completely straight and genuine, and when things turn violent, it isn’t exaggerated enough to provide a significant comedic contrast. If the game wanted to sincerely explore the theme of love’s triumph over adversity in a heartfelt way, then the protagonist cannot be armed with a jetpack and bazooka. This is what Ori and the Blind Forest did well; Ori remains innocent and vulnerable, while the “weapons” in the game are all based around spirit, magic and purity. I played this game to learn about the power of love, gosh darn it. If I wanted to learn about the power of assault rifles I would play DOOM, or move to the USA.
Maybe I’m looking at this in the wrong way. Maybe AvoCuddle is the darkest, most ingenious satirical allegory I’ve experienced in my lifetime. The story is told from the perspective of an abusive partner/stalker; an incel-like figure, insistent that he’s a nice guy despite his violent behaviour. In his mind, the object of his affection ending up with someone else is like she’s been stolen away from him, abducted by a malevolent actor. This is what he uses to justify his brutal crusade to get her back. He can never be the bad guy, he’s just a cute harmless little avocado.
Either that or AvoCuddle is a tonally inconsistent mess.
If you want to break it down technically, the shooting and platforming are basic but mostly functional. You unlock items as you progress, including a jetpack and parachute, but they add little to the experience. Wall jumping and rope swinging can also sometimes feel clunky. The cartoon art style generally looks really nice, apart from the aforementioned weapon sprites, which are jarringly realistic and also look weirdly pixelated; as if they were drawn larger, then had to be shrunk down to fit.
It seems that AvoCuddle was completely designed by a single individual, Ramez Al Tabbaa, and that doesn’t surprise me. This is the kind of weird and wonderful thing that you can find coming from independent solo developers, and to me, that makes it more endearing. The game has huge flaws, but at least it’s somebody’s vision; and while I have no idea what’s going on in that guy’s head, I can’t say it’s not interesting. Though we might need to consider putting him on a watchlist.