Demons? Feminism? Fuzzy grunge and proto-riot grrrl-punk style riffs in the vein of 7 Year Bitch, Bikini Kill, and Le Tigre? I was immediately sold on the demo of Dead Pets Unleashed, from its grimy pseudo-luminescent color palette to its promise of a demonic dildo-cleaning mini-game. Recently showcased as part of the indie game event Day of The Devs, I promptly scuttled Steamwards to claw gleefully at its demo.
In Dead Pets Unleashed, you play horned demon Gordy, who loves short walks on the beach, spontaneous drunk benders, and watering her unspeakably cute potted plant Satan. When you’re not serving up burgers at the local diner — where all order numbers are snatched away by distant tentacles — you’re scheming to make it big with your band, the titular Dead Pets.
You are definitely having a quarter-life crisis. Whether that’s listlessly swiping on non-IP fringing dating app Crushr (a scenario that inevitably leads to a big box of internet wasps), considering an OnlyFangs as rent day is imminent, or cleansing your own filthy dildos under running water.
Unlike my own quarter-life crisis, it’s set in the luminescent, guitar-crunching stretches of Void City. A vivid world where canned souls, eldritch abominations, and skeletal ravens are standard. Yes, you would like a writhing tentacle topper on that hot dog. And yet, everything is more witty and whimsical and wild when it should be objectively terrifying.
“Both aesthetically and thematically adult cartoons like Bojack Horseman and Tuca and Bertie were both big inspirations for the game,” says Denmark-based developer Triple Topping, the fine feminist minds behind the delightfully chaotic Welcome to Elk and the publisher of space jammin’ bubble-hopper Ynglet.
“We love this genre for many reasons, how it can feel both very lighthearted and serious at the same time — which is what we aim for in our games. We were also inspired by their colorful, surreal worlds, long-term and complicated adult friends, and zany, offbeat humor.”
Similar to slice-of-life narrative adventure indie games Night in the Woods and Always Sometimes Monsters, Dead Pets Unleashed explores the struggle between nurturing youthful dreams and the crushing misery of the grind. I mean, we’ve all been there, right? It’s a particular breed of coming-of-age themes, with a focus on minimum wage labor, the judgment of your peers and family, and doing stupid things that will haunt you for decades to come.
Triple Topping cites Night in the Woods’ “transitional period of time in the character’s life” themes as an inspiration for Dead Pets Unleashed, and barista-sim indie game Coffee Talk’s “fantastical city reminiscent of a real-life city, and its strong focus on characters and stories” as another.
And just like these titles, gameplay in Dead Pets Unleashed revolves around mini-games and narrative options. The Dead Pets band themselves crush out dreamy grunge riffs which you swipe and jump along to in a mini-rhythm game. Colorful and chaotic, I looked forward to making it to band practice every night and crunching out wild distortion.
Work-wise, you’ll race around a diner serving food to scrape together a pittance, while distant tentacles snatch order numbers and delicately deliver tasty burgers from a swirling black void. Your success determines your ‘demoney’ in tips, making work days high-pressure and surreal much in the vein of working minimum wage. Before each shift, your beleaguered manager has a chat among the canned souls and other abominable ingredients of the kitchen.
And not unlike how Mae from Night in the Woods cruised black astral seas, you’ll also see Brody’s inner dialogue, dreams, and haphazard imaginings. I grew very fond of Brody’s trash bag antics, seeing glimmers of my own demons in her. And frustrated too, as I watched her self-destructive tendencies cycle outward into further chaos.
A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to…
Mechanically speaking your main stats are your self-esteem, your social standing, how well the band is doing, and how much of that sweet ‘demoney’ you have to spend. “Yes, Your Grace and Reigns also helped influence the game,” adds developer Triple Topping, “as we loved their management systems and took inspiration from them in creating how the choices in Dead Pets Unleashed would affect Gordy’s stats.”
And as you’d expect, there are sacrifices to be made. Dialog and action decisions affect your friends, personal stats, and the ultimate ending. Should you pretend to have a boyfriend so your parents are more likely to loan you money? Can you afford to miss work to recover from a crushing hangover?
Overall, Dead Pets Unleashed looks to be a delightfully cursed game — as spooky as it is sharp and playful — and I lustfully await its upcoming release. It reminded me of the beauty of indie games and the ways they can tell unique, alternative stories that defy the usual big buff boy and addictive-cycle mechanics so prevalent within gaming culture.
I can’t think of many games in which you play a 30-something demon trying to achieve rock n’ roll fame in a grunge-noir town squirming with otherworldly entities. But what’s to come for Dead Pets Unleashed?
“As players can probably tell from the demo, Dead Pets Unleashed is told in an episodic format, with episodes one and two released as a part of the demo,” explains the developer. “The full game will be 10 episodes long, so there’s a significant amount of the game to come! Players can look forward to different types of minigames, including themes of songwriting, reminiscing on the past, cleaning your teeth, telling a friend something hard, and making zines.”
While it currently does not have a confirmed release date, a demo of Dead Pets Unleashed is available on Steam, and footage of it was unveiled as part of this year’s Day of The Devs round two, a series of live and online events that showcase upcoming indie games. In the meantime, my housemate has created the aptly titled Kill Yr Men, a Spotify playlist inspired by the anarcho-punk feminist vibes bubbling beneath Dead Pets Unleashed and possibly, all tortured 30-something souls.