The work of game artist Mark Essen is marked by disorienting controls, nauseating motion, and impossible difficulty. After releasing such titles as Punishment: The Punishing and You Found The Grappling Hook, Messhof has finished what he calls his most narrative work yet… Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist. A sequence of four mini-games, Randy Balma tries players' patience and abuses their senses, yet it's far too intriguing to switch off.
When the game opens, Randy Balma, red-eyed and MS Paint-ed, is "drugged up on drugs," and he's driving a school bus he can barely control, as the arrow keys give unpredictable results. Each collision with a car causes, not a crash sound, but a drum sample, and this use of interactive audio completes the sense of losing control. The bus ride ends with a fiery crash, followed by Randy's posthumous transformation, where each scene is more confusing than the last.
In a title this chaotic, anything goes—yet the third section, which was originally slated to be Punishment 3, actually seems out of place. (Probably because you control an ordinary little guy instead of, say, a giant flying Big Ben.) Otherwise, the disjointed style is half the fun; it makes Randy Balma provocative, annoying, eerily appealing, and easily worth the migraine.
Beyond the game: Mark Essen has posted his game portfolio—which is free to download—to his website, messhof.com.
Worth playing for: While the controls are a "fuck you" and the art is a jumble, the most disturbing part of the game is the sound design, with its staticky buzzes and oscillator tones.
Frustration sets in when: Randy Balma actually gets easier as it goes along. The final chapter is simple once you figure out the trick, but that "ah-ha" moment is complicated by lobe-pounding strobe lights.
Final judgment: The no-wave movement may have found its first video game.