Monster Mania: The Cel Shaded Horrors of Void Bastards

Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.

While describing most games as “repetitive” can be the kiss of death for them critically and otherwise, for roguelites, it is essential. What allows the genre to thrive in its repetitiveness is that even in death, something is still gained, often in a meta aspect of the game’s design. 

In Hades, the player’s abilities continue to grow despite starting from square one upon dying. In Darkest Dungeon, the player’s camp retains its upgrades, making jumping back into the fray much easier. In Void Bastards from developer Blue Manchu, the players maintain their hard-earned crafted items so that their next bastard is adequately equipped to handle any and all cel-shaded baddies that stand in their way. 

Void Bastard is a stylized merger of roguelite mechanics within a first-person shooter RPG hybrid framework, with a darkly comedic take on the gig economy culture. After selecting one of several bastards (prisoners), each with unique attributes, the player traverses the stars in search of riches, boarding the various derelict spaceships and stations they discover. Though, for the most part, death is to be expected, thanks to the monsters calling these abandoned space hulks home. And while the objectives per mission amount to little more than scouring for loot, herein’ lies the beauty of Void Bastards simplicity; the horrors that await within each ship make the experience.

Void Bastards has an aesthetic all its own, as its cel-shaded monsters have a cosmic and mutant twist. There are two types of enemies: Biological (better known as Citizens) and mechanical. Mechanical enemies are robots, such as turrets, Tydybot (repurposed, killer vacuum cleaners), and Pirates (the nastiest bastards this side of the void). There are a fixed number of mechanical enemies patrolling aboard derelicts, except Pirates, who are more likely to board a derelict the more prolonged the player explores. These robotic enemies can be devastating but lack much of the singular creativity that the rest of Void Bastards has on display. 

For my money, the Citizens are the most varied in their design and exemplify Void Bastards’ singular style. These enemies are residents of the void, so they can spawn periodically throughout derelicts, making it difficult to escape with a sack full of loot. 

One of the toughest, and personal favorite designs of mine, is that of the Screw. No, I’m not being lewd; that’s actually their name, which is fitting, given their ability to screw up a player’s run completely. Screws may have the appearance of a prisoner with a smashed-in respirator, but once they approach the player, their prickly disposition becomes apparent. Screws are a close-quarters nightmare given their ability to fire illuminating bolts from their body, capable of not only high damage output but also bouncing off walls and around corners. On their own, Screws are deadly, but when paired with other Citizens: Run.

While not all of the enemies are heavy hitters, they still serve a purpose, whether that be fodder or facilitating the game’s sense of humor. For example, Juves are pint-sized little juvenile shits that, while lacking strength, can be a nuisance given their numbers and taunts. There is nothing quite like rounding a corner and facing a horde of Juves who, upon seeing you, shout in unison, “Oi, Twatface!” 

Which is rude but fair, as I am the one pillaging their newfound home.

Considering how little of a story Void Bastards has, Blue Manchu should be commended for their ability to infuse personality and humor into their monsters. Even a monster like the Zec, a clipboard and plasma shield-wielding administrative figure, can quickly jeopardize a player’s escape plan. Given the transnational (and disposable) nature of the player’s relationship with those financing their space exploration, a deadly administer skulking around corridors is a fitting enough threat. Pair her steely disposition with a front-facing shield, and Zecs prove to be an ever-lingering threat amongst the Citizen’s roster. 

And finally, there are the lowly, levitating office worker drones known as Scribes. Notable for their frighting impression of The Exorcist’s Regan, as they appear to be doing a reverse crab walk mid-air. What this enemy lacks in stopping power, it makes up for with intimidation (Again, see the Exorcism comparison above), as well as their head being awkwardly positioned, making headshots slightly more tricky than they should be. 

Void Bastards is another unfortunate case of a game whose fanfare came and went. While Blue Manchu Studios has been hush-hush on what their next project will entail, Void Bastards still stands as a highly stylized example of how to leave your distinctively creative mark on a beloved subgenre.

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