I must not be alone in thinking that one of the greatest cinematic moments of my young life occurred in 1975 when I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the first of what would ultimately be many, many viewings of that indisputably classic movie. Even for a veteran viewer of the TV series, Grail broke new ground in so many ways. It’s every bit as quote-worthy as The Princess Bride; after all, who hasn’t heard someone say, “‘Tis but a flesh wound?*” For extra points, it could be followed by “Wound—you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
This all came to mind when I was first introduced to GUTS, or in its longer form, Gory Ultimate Tournament Show. I’m going to admit it right up front: I think the title GUTS came before backing into the longer version—an acronym in search of supporting words. Having seen and played the game now, it is no understatement to say that the "Gory" part is certainly an apt adjective, because there are guts literally flying all over the place. Well, to be a little more anatomically specific, it is disjointed limbs that are the most common thing to be found flying through the air, laying on the ground, or more generally, all over the place.
If you have already taken a look at the GUTS page in the Steam store, you will already know that GUTS is described as “a hilarious ultra-violent Tarantino-style over-the-top game where players must dismember each other. The fight continues even when there are just two little stumps, and it keeps going until one fighter emerges victorious after dismembering all the opponent’s four limbs!”
I would have to say that they did a pretty good job of describing this game accurately, yet succinctly. I shall now endeavor to do the opposite: I have already blown my chance at “succinct.” Let’s move on to see how badly I can dismember “accurately.” The problem, you see, is that I know a lot more about Monty Python than I do fighting games, and I am not writing an IMDb review. I’m going to have to break out of my comfort zone and actually review a fighting game, something that I am distinctly ill-equipped to do. If I’m honest, I nearly turned down the review for that very reason, but as I really hate turning down reviews, I thought I ought to at least take a look at the aforementioned Steam page. There I found a list of 15 selling points, the second of which was “Fun gameplay for every player—even if you have no skill at all.” Well then. That was simply icing on the cake, though, because the first item on the list was all I needed: “Unique dismemberment mechanics—fight with what you've got!” Could you say no to that?! But they still weren’t done! Item the third: “No need to memorize long input lists—quarter circles for the win!”
It is the third item that appealed the most, even though the term "quarter circles" is completely foreign to me. Why? Well, the fact of the matter is that I am terrible at fighting games because 1) they move at a far too frenetic pace for me to keep up with, and 2) I can’t seem to remember the various button combinations that map to sundry fighting moves, especially when the action heats up. The second reason doesn’t matter nearly as much as the first; knowing the correct button to press at any given time presupposes that you have even a glimmer of an idea as to what is happening in the fight in order to use the most appropriate attack or defense. The net result of this is that I just mash buttons as fast as I can and hope for the best. In this case, the best I could hope for was a game that found ways to make twitchy button-mashers win every now and then.
Putting the cart in front of the horse, the answer to that wish was: Sometimes.
Naturally I started with the tutorials where I learned that the four buttons on the Xbox controller I was using mapped to right hand, right foot, left hand, and left foot. Given that the game leans heavily on dismemberment, I immediately grew concerned that in my blind button-smacking I might sit there futilely pressing the button to attack with an appendage that was no longer attached to my body. Not to worry. In cases like this, the game just makes some kind of alternate attack. Not that I would know, of course. The pace is very fast and the animations are so crowded with gore, and my visual comprehension is so weak that I couldn’t really tell what was going on. I did notice that I was soon missing arms and legs, though.
The tutorial also discussed GUTS moves. These extra harsh moves are enabled when your power bar gets lit up enough, which can be accomplished as simply as throwing repeated and often ineffective punches and kicks. These GUTS moves are also selected through buttons mapped on the controller. For the GUTS moves, you use the two triggers and the two bumper buttons, which are each also mapped to the specific appendage to use for the attack. As is typical for a player of my extremely limited abilities, it felt like they sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.
If the list of hand and leg attacks wasn’t enough, there are also other attacks that can be performed by chording a couple of buttons. Naturally I struggled with that, but I did manage to learn one of the attacks that was quite useful: if you can position your fighter just right, he/she can be made to pick up a severed limb and throw it at your opponent. There was another set of combined buttons that could pick up and throw an innocent bystander as a weapon, although anyone standing that close to such a gory fight can hardly be considered innocent.
Some of the fancier attacks (and presumably defenses) are contingent upon having gained sufficient “U-points.” There are a number of ways of earning those points, the most counterintuitive being the unfortunate act of losing one of your limbs.
The final wrinkle comes in the form of the rules changing mid-fight. These changes are called “interventions,” and they come in the form of things like no healing, where the players no longer heal themselves, unlimited GUTS power for using GUTS attacks/defenses, and double dismemberment where limb-removing attacks take off two limbs at once. Monty Python didn’t even have that level of cruelty!
You may be, at this point, starting to realize something that I learned about the hard way: while it may be a simple game to pick up, there are complexities in place for those that have the ability to use them. A pair of rank amateurs or the utterly and persistently incompetent can have a great time tearing each other apart, but a more practiced and talented player will definitely rip a neophyte to shreds. To me, that is an important factor in game design. You want the game to be approachable, but if it’s too shallow players that have the ability to improve with practice will soon lose interest and move on to other things.
To prove that point, I engaged in local multiplayer with my daughter, who has extremely quick fingers and a lifetime of experience with this kind of game. The first couple of rounds were okay, but she quickly learned some of the advanced moves and proceeded to beat me so badly that I am strongly considering rewriting my will. Predictably, she soon became bored with her opponent. We tried to find her a stronger opponent to challenge online, but there were no players out there looking for a game.
Besides the fighting mechanics, GUTS also provides entertainment through over-the-top comments and teenage-ish humor (not saying that as a bad thing, mind you) and innuendo. The playable characters are differentiated in their names and the way they’re drawn, as you would expect, but they also differ in things like how many GUTS bar points are awarded for losing a specific limb. U-points are also a subject unto themselves. As mentioned previously, these points are all earned by loss of limb, which seems odd at first, but once you understand that the ‘U’ in U-points stands for ‘Underdog,’ you start to realize that they are used as a type of rubber-banding that lets a heavily wounded player have some hope of making a comeback. That, and it would seem that they also add another path for the more strategic fighter to leverage in a tough match.
GUTS probably isn’t a game for everybody. As a player that normally wouldn’t do well in a “real” fighting game, I found it to be fun for so long as I was playing with a similarly unskilled opponent. There is enough depth built in, though, that a more skilled player is very likely to win every round against a neophyte or klutz. There is also a single-player facility built in which provides that less talented player an opportunity to practice and hopefully improve. Alas, as far as I am concerned, I have probably plateaued at being able to more or less keep pace with the practice opponents, although I do lose far more rounds than I win.
* search YouTube with "holy grail flesh wound" if you don't get the reference.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.