Breaking stuff in games is one of those concepts that never gets old. Tunnelling through the world in Minecraft, smashing pots in Zelda, throwing a holy hand grenade in Worms: These actions are satisfying in and of themselves, with any gameplay benefit only a bonus to the cathartic destruction. Perfect Vermin taps into that desire to crush everything by tasking the player with finding vermin — monsters that disguise themselves as office furniture. As the free game progresses, however, the seemingly average office building twists and contorts, leading the narrative in an unexpected direction.
The mechanics of Perfect Vermin are simple. The protagonist steps out of an elevator, only able to interact with the environment via a sledgehammer. All the player can do is smash, and all the hidden vermin must be smashed. A counter in the top corner keeps track of how many monsters are left hidden on the floor, all of which must be killed before the player can progress.
The vermin consider themselves masters of disguise, looking exactly like a chair or desk, but their placement is usually a little off. A toilet bowl might be placed in the middle of the kitchen, or a door may sit at a 45-degree angle next to the frame. Find all the imposters and the player will be instructed to kill them again, but with more skill. Each floor brings a new challenge: A time limit is introduced, or the perspective is forced into a tiny picture-in-picture of a news report, or everything is flipped upside down. All the while, the reporter who has been issuing these commands appears increasingly ill, his requests becoming more garbled with every floor.
The complexity of each task in Perfect Vermin ramps up perfectly without losing the free-form fun of smashing things. Vermin have a handful of set locations, so the extra pressure of the timer is more about finding the most efficient route through the office than breaking everything in sight. By the end of the game the challenge is quite high — in particular, running through two versions of the world at the same time was pretty rough — but victory never seems unattainable. An option to turn the timers off is available for those who just want to enjoy the story, but the simple gameplay is approachable enough that most players should be able to complete the game.
A story-focused run is not something one would expect from Perfect Vermin, but this game where the only mechanic is swinging a hammer has a surprising level of narrative depth. I won’t go into specifics, as I do not wish to spoil the experience for future players, but themes of overwork, denial, and desire for a legacy are all interwoven beautifully.
The impactful story is backed up with excellent visual and sound design. A fuzzy filter over the graphics softens the sharp edges, adding to the feel of the game taking place in another era. The highly detailed pixel art of the reporter is delightfully grotesque, his condition diminishing rapidly between levels. Offices are stocked with chunky CRT monitors and reams of dot matrix printer paper, which makes a wonderfully fluttery sound as the hammer scatters the pages. Each item has a unique sound effect for being broken — a cacophony of smashes, crashes, and the delicate “blip” of a light switch falling down. The result is a world that is fun to explore, even when the edges of reality become blurry.
I began Perfect Vermin expecting an arcade experience but discovered a really fascinating narrative game that uses few words. Along with providing a solid gameplay loop, each repetition of said loop brought an extra twist in the mechanics and piece of information for the story. The game is brilliantly paced, and I urge anyone with a spare 20 minutes to try it. For more playful weirdness, developer ItstheMaceo has more free games available on itch.io.
Next week we will be playing Dungeon Pest Control, a puzzle game where monsters are defeated via organization. The game can be downloaded on itch.io. If you would like to share your thoughts, discussions will be happening on the Discord server.