One of the biggest struggles for independently developed games is the tug-of-war between embracing novelty and originality or being referential and evoking the tried-and-true style of a classic game. Rarer still is the ability to do both and succeed equally in each pursuit. 24 Killers, by Happy Shabby Games, pulls off that difficult feat with aplomb. Taking liberally from the cult classic anti-RPGs developed by Japanese developer Love-de-Lic — moon: Remix RPG Adventure, GiFTPiA, and Chulip — in its presentation and quirky sense of humor, 24 Killers carves out its own identity through brisk, witty dialogue and a wide variety of bespoke mechanics. These elements combine to form an incredibly engrossing and endearing experience.
You play as Home, a powerful interdimensional being known as an Echo (that looks like a human hand with a big eyeball). Moon is an alien who summons you out of the abyss you are isolated in and onto a deserted military base island in the body of a dead soldier. She tells you that you are cursed and won’t be able to leave your weak, undead vessel until you’ve helped her complete her mission to revitalize the island. Her helper, Mole, knocks you out, and you wake up in an abandoned shack. After traveling to her UFO parked in the center of the island, Moon tells you the details of your mission: you must free the various monsters living inside the abandoned missile silo in the middle of the island and befriend them so that you can take their picture and scan them into her database. It’s an unconventional setup, but pretty soon, you settle into the rhythm of freeing monsters and helping them with tasks as you explore and unlock more sections of the island.
The core mechanic in 24 Killers is that Home can change into any monster whose picture you’ve taken & scanned and use their abilities. These abilities range from picking up and throwing objects, to gliding using a parachute, creating a copy of yourself, or running at high speeds. Monster abilities are integral to completing tasks for the monsters that inhabit the island and solving the environmental puzzles dotted around. Another major mechanic is collecting Whispers. Whispers are the primary source of the surreal and magical happenings on the island, but they also serve as the game’s currency. Different spots on the island have Whispers for you to find, and you can complete micro-challenges using monster abilities to gain Whispers as well. You can use them to buy items from the talking dumpster, Recycler, or other merchants who will show up after you make a certain amount of story progress.
24 Killers operates on a day-to-day schedule, but you aren’t limited by an in-game clock. Instead, your main stat to manage is Home’s energy. Energy slowly decreases as you walk around the island, and can be spent to perform specific tasks or lost when an enemy or hazard damages you. As you scan more monster photos and gain abilities, your stamina will increase, allowing you to complete more tasks per day and open up more of the island. There were a few instances while playing that I needed a large amount of Whispers to purchase an item to progress and needed to grind them out, but this rarely happened, and there are ways to increase the amount of Whispers you receive from completing tasks.
24 Killers truly shines in its dialogue and character interactions. Each monster has a unique design and personality, and each has a role to play in the world and their own backstory. Some of these are silly and mostly serve as comic relief, while others have more poignant and somber origins that will make you ponder life’s mysteries or reveal more details about the world. Some standouts include Mole, the anthropomorphic mole-man who sells you scratch-off tickets and takes you back to your shack if you pass out during the day, or Johnny Puzzle, a haughty dog-man genius who has a dungeon full of puzzles inside of a volcano and makes video game machines out of old scrap. One hidden mechanic is purchasing gachapon capsules from the shop that contain decorations for your shack. At first, I thought these were only cosmetic, but they actually unlock additional hangout scenes with the monsters on the island, so don’t neglect them when your wallet of Whispers allows.
The writing is very quirky and weird, fitting for the surreal setting of 24 Killers, but it often made me chuckle or gave me something to think about. It can switch effortlessly from goofy toilet humor into philosophical or emotional beats in a way that never feels forced or out of place. In one scene early on, Moon tells Home that his isolation in the void was the source of his curse and that by helping out and befriending the monsters, he’s slowly becoming whole. It’s quite a powerful moment and illustrates the game’s themes of companionship and social connection. Home is sardonic as he begrudgingly goes about his mission, but over time you see him begin to soften and get invested in the plight of the island.
There is some fourth-wall-breaking humor as well, but it is used sparingly and to great effect. One particular instance that stuck with me is when you find items stuck inside fishbowls. Eventually, you will find a method of freeing the items, but until then, interacting with the bowl will reveal a “developer confession.” The developer recounts to the player how, when he was a child, he had fish of his own, but he wasn’t good at taking care of them and sometimes would stir up the water, which is harmful to pet fish. As an adult, he resolved to be a good fish parent due to his guilt from his childhood transgressions. In most games, such an aside would feel abrupt and out of place, but 24 Killers blends this into the fabric of the world effortlessly, and these little moments contribute to the game’s cozy, contemplative atmosphere.
Aiding the monsters involves using their abilities or acquiring certain items for them. The monsters dressed like soldiers will have you help them stack and organize surplus military supplies, the tough monsters will challenge you to a fitness video game, and the ghost-like monsters will have you ferry them to their final resting place in a remote-controlled car (with time-limited gameplay that plays like an isometric Crazy Taxi). These challenges increase in difficulty and complexity as you free more monsters of each type, and the sheer variety of gameplay styles is very refreshing and keeps 24 Killers from feeling boring or monotonous. The game even finds clever ways to integrate bigger challenges that feel like gauntlets or boss fights despite the lack of combat mechanics. I was consistently impressed with the level of creativity in the gameplay segments.
This high bar of ingenuity also carries over into the layout and construction of the island. Even though the island is small (composed of around 20 distinct screens), it is very dense with characters and activities. There is always a puzzle to solve or someone to talk to, and the island expands at a consistent pace. 24 Killers takes about eight hours to complete, with repeat playthroughs incentivized through its unique method of handling save files. Each save file is a different “universe” with its own corresponding modifier unlocked upon completion. By finishing the game in that universe, you can carry over the modifier you earned to another playthrough, altering some dialogue and events. It’s a great way to encourage replays that ties nicely into 24 Killers’ cosmic, interdimensional narrative.
One of the 24 Killers’ greatest strengths is its atmosphere. The game adopts a visual style reminiscent of moon: Remix RPG Adventure, utilizing prerendered, Claymation-style sprites and backgrounds. The lowkey soundtrack primarily features acoustic guitar tracks with ambient sounds and the occasional frenetic track for more action-packed moments. The monster designs are incredibly creative, ranging from household objects to sentient plants and animal people, and even a human being or two. Everything combines to craft a unique and cohesive visual identity that stuck with me just as much as the quirky writing and clever gameplay concepts.
If you are a fan of any of the weird and wacky titles that came out of developer Love-de-Lic, you owe it to yourself to play 24 Killers. If you’re unfamiliar with games like moon or Chulip but enjoy adventure games or experimental RPGs, I can’t recommend 24 Killers enough. Happy Shabby Games managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of adventure game design (obtuse puzzles, unintuitive progression requirements) while preserving what makes the genre so special.