There is a famous moment in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land where Michael Valentine Smith, the man from Mars, is watching three monkeys in a zoo. The first monkey bullies the second monkey, who savagely beats the third–and Smith laughs, because he finally understands the human condition.
Kick the Buddy: No Mercy sheds a similar light on humanity, but it’s not a classic science fiction novel. It’s the third monkey.
You launch the game to find a sewer set inhabited by a rag doll named Buddy. Buddy is happy-go-lucky and sassy. He bounces around like a cloth-covered Robin Williams, tossing off a stream of one-liners. He has fun until you start having fun.
Your fun is grabbing Buddy and stretching his body all over the screen. Your fun is shooting him repeatedly in the head. Your fun is setting him on fire. Your fun is listening to him scream and beg you to stop.
Of course, Buddy is a fictional character. Nobody’s getting hurt. The screams for mercy are .wav files recorded by an actor and played when bits arrange themselves into predetermined conditions. Nobody takes this stuff seriously, and it’s not like they should.
The game seems to be popular. It’s #14 on the Top Paid iPad Apps as these words are written. A more charitable Slide to Play reviewer called a previous version a “good time” and “disturbing, but fun.” Whatever Kick the Buddy: No Mercy is selling, fans are buying.
It’s not the brilliant gameplay that players are responding to. The violence is a little sloppy–the guns are invisible and the game frequently forgets how much damage they’re supposed to do. Most of the “endless” missions boil down to unlocking a new weapon and hitting Buddy about a hundred times with it.
You need in-game cash to unlock the weapons, but there’s no challenge to getting that. Just hold Buddy down with one finger and shoot him over and over again with the other. Each hit earns cash. The flamethrower is especially efficient, because it kills Buddy slowly with many hits. (Don’t shoot Buddy when he’s unconscious. You can’t earn money unless he’s “awake” to feel the virtual pain.)
There are other diversions along the way, including a slot machine and some mini-games. The Missile Command game using fireworks is almost fun enough to be a game on its own. However, none of this is truly engaging. What makes Kick the Buddy: No Mercy a hit is that you are the second monkey, taking out the frustrations of your life on the helpless third monkey.
We’re taking all this too seriously again, of course. This is a toy, not a torture device. The publisher calls it “a PERFECT METHOD OF STRESS RELIEF” and fans around the world seem to agree. But we have to wonder: how popular would Kick the Buddy: No Mercy be if the publisher called it a “cruelty simulator” instead?