Eesh, where to start with Bucket Detective, a humor/horror narrative video game responsible for what were decidedly 45 of the weirdest minutes of my two decades plus of playing games.
It’s a tricky one to review in much depth…
…primarily because those 45 minutes are all there is to have, and since all that you do is experience a narrative in a small building for those scant minutes, I can’t really get into much of the details of what happens without giving away basically all that your $4 (the current going rate on Steam) will get you.
What I can tell you without “ruining” Bucket Detective (we’ll get to why the idea that this game can be ruined is questionable in a moment) is that it is created by a two-man studio The Whale Husband – including not just your typical gameplay elements, but also the voice acting, music and some quite strikingly weird drawings that are on almost every wall in a game made almost entirely of walls. This title tells the story of a man who is failing in his attempts to write a novel, also called Bucket Detective, and who finds himself in a strange building where, he is told, he will receive inspiration for his book if he follows the instructions found within.
Without giving too much away, things in said building (an apparently windowless hotel-esque compound) have gone a bit, well, cult-y. You spend the duration of the game’s story walking about the compound, your exploration mostly being limited to where the game would like you to go next, and as you move about, you discover more of that story through examining documents and listening to voice-overs. Occasionally (about four times) you must “solve” a very basic puzzle, and there are moments that tie into the whole “book inspiration” thing.
So with that being all I’ll be able to say about the details of Bucket Detective without rendering it pointless to play, here’s what I can say about it that might actually be useful to you.
Bucket Detective is a game that is trying to do two things: Make you laugh, and shock you. Sometimes “shock you” gears down to “weird you out,” but overall it seems clear that the developer would very much like you to have an experience that will make you say “Oh god oh god” at least a few times over its short duration.
Now, is it actually good at doing those two things? Well, yes and no.
Mostly a pretty big, fairly angry no, but hey, I’ll give some credit. There is a bit of yes to be had.
In terms of humor, it is a fairly funny game at times. I did actually laugh, or at least chuckle, at certain moments. The intro and ending cut scenes — which for no explained reason affect a silly article-lacking patois similar to a bad Russian movie accent — are absurd in a pretty funny way. The voice-overs that come out of various speaker boxes placed around the cult compound also provide some decent absurdist humor via the game’s best character, the never-seen but often-heard Gwen Sleeveless. And I have to commend the “Shrine to the Female Reproductive System” for providing one of the most singularly strange video game moments I’ve ever experienced, one which required immediate screenshotting and sharing with the OPNoobs staff (to less than everyone’s delight).
But is Bucket Detective shocking?
Not the way it wants to be. Frankly, the only way this game shocked me was in how bad it was at being shocking. Not one of the shocking moments in this game lands. Not a single one, not a bit. That’s a lot to do with the fact that it doesn’t earn its shocking moments, and the stuff that makes those moments up is juvenile and, perhaps most offensive, boring. And it starts pretty much at the very beginning of the game, with some mostly unexplained Nazi symbology nigh endlessly repeated (the Wolfsangel, used by the SS), and with the game later quietly just going for it with one very small swastika on a book cover. I guess it was supposed to tie into ideas of eugenics and supremacy, but the connection was not much explored at all in the narrative. Later attempts at pushing the player’s boundaries hit just about every cliché of the taboo that’s out there, including psychological trauma, some stuff on race, misogyny, child abuse (including sexual), mutilation and other tortures, and homicidal gang rape.
It’s not that the game is too shocking or goes too far either, mind you. There’s little I won’t allow from my fiction, if it earns it and it serves some purpose. I’m that guy who loved Dead Leaves and who used to make parties more “fun” by putting on the weirdest porn I’d ever seen (it involved a clown and a trampoline, if you’re curious). Here, though, the shocking moments are just dumb, and it felt like I could feel the creator peeking at me through the screen like some little kid, just waiting for me to get offended. The term “edgelord” came to mind at least a couple of times, which isn’t a good thing.
My analysis of the whole mess is that Bucket Detective is confused as to what it wants to be. It’s almost like the creator has two minds, one clever one that can write dry, dark humor that mostly lands (the voice-overs, the intros), and one that’s about 14 years old, really likes torture porn, and isn’t sure if it thinks the things depicted in that genre are funnier or if watching (to use an old term) “square” people reacting to them is funnier.
What’s offensive about Bucket Detective isn’t the shocking material; it’s that it doesn’t use that material for any reason at all.
By the end of the “story,” you’ve accomplished basically nothing, learned nothing, characters haven’t changed in any way that matters, and the climactic plot points are so obviously thrown together and barely-thought-out that you’re left feeling like someone just kinda put a shocking “bow” on the thing to give it an ending so they could package it and sell it.
Even worse, somehow, is that whatever goodness this game had in its humor and semi-interesting concept is totally destroyed by how dumb the shocking stuff is. I mean, I liked the intro and the voice acting, most of the writing for Gwen was excellent, and I can get into the idea of making a humor game about a guy having to do horrible things for a monster cult in the hopes of getting magical inspiration for his novel. But offensive shock ≠ funny, not without the work and the context to make it funny (see the whole South Park vs PewDiePie convo going on right now for more on this, or better, anything Mel Brooks has ever done).
Offensiveness as a force alone without cleverness makes humor feel absolutely out of place.
Dumb shock content doesn’t just overshadow the humor in this case; it erases it from the mind, which is way too busy trying to figure out what the hell the creators were even thinking when they put these things in the game to start laughing again. The humor starts to feel so out of place that the cognitive dissonance is palpable. This is supremely annoying, because you feel like you’ve been tricked. You thought you were getting a funny game, but nope, dumb shock horror. You can’t go back to clever funny after dumb shock horror. That there are multiple endings that force you to go back and actually spend more time in this thing doing basically the same actions just slightly differently only made the experience more annoying, to the point of being torturous. I didn’t even bother with the director’s commentary; if extra-game content is needed to explain the creative choices in this title, that only underlines how poorly those choices were executed.
The nitty-gritty of it is, when a game is not pretty (which, fine, it’s a teeny team for an indie game), has desperately simple puzzles that are not helped at all by clunky-feeling controls (I almost threw up and/or threw my computer when the evil thing made me spin in circles for one puzzle), and is about as short of an experience as any game I’ve ever played, it better be good in terms of story. Bucket Detective is not. And the frustration from the lack of a good narrative is made all so much more frustrating by the fact that there is actual potential here in pockets, including the initial humor, some of the silly art, the cute music, and the fact that the graphics aren’t unspeakable.
The only way I can recommend you buying Bucket Detective, even at $4, is if you really do just want to see something weird and full of offensive content. That is something you are allowed to want to do in life, so if that’s you, have at it. You can buy it here and here. But if you actually want a decent game, story, or piece of humor, don’t buy this. It is, to be blunt, one of the most annoying games I have ever played. And from the assumptions it’s forced me to make about the creator, they’ll probably use that line in their ads. That should tell you just about all you need to know about Bucket Detective.