Thursday, May 30, 2024

Here’s why you should play Meatpunks Forever

Designed and written by Heather Flowers (programmer and assistant writer on the exceptional Genderwrecked: Post-Apocalyptic Genderpunk), Extreme Meatpunks Forever: Bound by Ash is the second season of the episodic visual novel/mech brawler series that started with Extreme Meatpunks Forever: Powered by Blood in 2018. A diverse group of queer characters embarks on a dangerous journey through a dystopic wasteland, fighting neo-nazis and uncovering the secrets of their world.

The game manages to keep the punk attitude of the first season while increasing the production value of every aspect. We have incredibly expressive character portraits by Ryan Rose Aceae (aka Gendervamp, lead writer and character artist on Genderwrecked), 3D stages and new animations for the battle parts (designed by Colin Horgan, director, designer and developer of Luca: Born of a Dream) and more colorful backgrounds, still characterized by outlines and details realized in ASCII art. There are even mini-games, new ways to explore the game locations and new interactions between visual novel and combat sections.

Bound by Ash allows those who played the first season (it was part of the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality on either to load save files from Powered by Blood or to answer a series of questions about their previous choices in order to rebuild their progression. The game even features a useful recap of the events of Powered by Blood if you haven’t played it (you should), but I think a more detailed summary may be useful, because Bound by Ash starts only two days after the end of the previous game and it picks up several subplots.

[This section contains spoilers for the first season of Extreme Meatpunks Forever]

The Extreme Meatpunks Forever series follows the adventure of four “gay disasters” in Meatworld, “a world much like our own” as the game’s narrator tells us. “The people there are like the ones here: they’re weird, they’re messy, they’re trying their best in a broken world.” But in Meatworld people don’t drive cars: they drive giant mechs made of raw meat. And fifty years before the events of the series the Sun disappeared. There’s still a day/night cycle, but there’s no Sun in the sky anymore.

At the beginning of the story the four protagonists, part of a newly funded Meatpunks group (“Meatpunks” are anti-fascist mech pilots), leave Sundown, a boring small city. They are running away: they beat the crap out of the local Sherif’s son during a fight with a group of members of “the Fash Collective,” a neo-nazi organization, and so they decide to traverse Meatworld’s madmax-ish deserts (the “Hellzone”) in order to reach Hopeville, where they know they could find another group of Meatpunks.

There’s Lianna, a lesbian ex-boxer who created the Sundown Meatpunks (that’s how the group named itself). There’s Brad, a gay man who used to work in a call center and who was educated as a member of the Sun Cult. Sun Cultists believe that the Sun didn’t disappear but hid itself because it’s a “trickster goddex” that accidentally created life and it’s now plotting to destroy it. Extra: Brad had its mouth hacked and it has full ASCII support now. There’s Sam, a black gay man who used to work as a farmer and starts sensing an unknown entity, called “Astra,” inside his mech and his head. Sam used to have a best friend, another gay man called Jason, who leaves Sundown at the beginning of the game and moves to a bigger city. And, lastly, there’s Cass, a non-binary person who used to work at a retail store with Lianna and who is the leader of the Sundown Meatpunks. Cass has always suffered from depression, and they used to be stalked by a prepper who comes back during the event of the first season as the main antagonist of the game.

During their journey, they run into a Sun Cultist (who you can temporarily welcome into the group), Brad fights against Lianna to earn her respect, Sam and Brad become romantically involved with each other and the group meets Emily, an eldritch abomination working in a refill station outside the boundaries of space and time (it’s her first day there, and Sam helps her). Then, they finally reach Hopeville and join the local Meatpunks group (June, who wears a mask, Emmy and Moss) and help them find out why the sky is flashing from day to night, like a flickering light bulb. Emmy discovered that the mysterious phenomenon could be linked to an unknown radio signal coming from Mount Refuge and, on the top of the mountain, Cass meets again their stalker, who is working for someone “with a lot of money” in order to create a fascist police state using the Sun as a weapon of mass-destruction. The group fights him, but at the end he manages to activate the Sun and a fire pillar descends from the sky and destroys Hopeville. This is the end of the first season of Extreme Meatpunks Forever: the Hopeville Meatpunks leave the four protagonists, blaming them for the loss of Hopeville, and the group decides to continue its journey to stop whoever turned the Sun into a weapon. “We’re gonna steal the motherfucking Sun” Cass says. So, in the second season, they head to Lianna’s hometown, Devil’s Teeth, where Cass knows someone who could help them.

[Spoilers end here]

As Heather Flowers explains in the Meatpunk Manifesto, Extreme Meatpunks Forever is a story about “survival in hard circumstances,” it’s about people who have no choice but to fight for their right to even exist (and it’s about people choosing not to fight because they are not affected by this struggle). Its mechs are queer, new malleable bodies with new names, bodies that “with the right tools, we can change at will” (as Brad says), bodies that are both gross and marvelous and that fights in visceral brawls. Its flawed and relatable characters, the wide range of topics explored and its unapologetically political reading of the often misogynist and not-so-queer cyberpunk genre make Extreme Meatpunks Forever an important part of the on-going conversation about queerness and queerness in art.

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