The Sweetest Meat Is Closest To The Bone
HIGH Dark subject matter. Clever controls. Very focused.
LOW This game is crying out for narrative branching.
WTF Oof, that steak table animation.
After spending two months with a huge and intense experience like Elden Ring, I needed to shift gears and get my brain in a different headspace. I was looking for something much smaller — something more manageable, more compact, and something that didn’t require me to reference a wiki every four minutes.
The perfect game? Ravenous Devils.
Essentially a loving homage to Sweeney Todd, the game is a combination horror tale/cooking sim with a married couple who’ve abandoned their previous identities and relocated in a hurry. The husband is a tailor and the wife is a cook. They buy a multi-level building in a fictional English town and set up shop… But one important thing to know about this pair? They’re murderers and cannibals.
Ravenous Devils takes place entirely within the couple’s building. It’s a four-floor affair presented in 2D ‘ant farm’ style with the kitchen in the basement, a cafe at street level, a tailor shop/killing area on the upper floor and a top level containing an atrium and storage room. Players can quickly navigate between each of the floors to perform whatever task is necessary thanks to a clever control scheme.
On each level, the cursor is represented by a glowing orange circle on the floor. Players simply guide the circle to the appropriate station, click, and the task is performed. It’s especially elegant because each floor feels self-contained, so the player doesn’t need to hassle with moving the cursor between floors — it’s already there. There’s no need to manage characters, either. Each one is assigned to specific duties, so they attend their jobs quickly and seamlessly.
For example, navigating the camera to the upper floor to greet a guest (before stabbing them in the face) takes just a few clicks, and from there it’s just as easy to jump down to the kitchen to have the wife start assembling human sausage pie. It’s all extremely straightforward, and works marvelously.
It’s a good thing, because once play begins, murdering people and turning them into food can get a little hectic!
At the start of an in-game day, customers stream in and want to buy whatever food has been prepared. However, there can only be so much made in advance, so the wife will have to cook up new dishes with meat harvested from victims and (eventually) vegetables grown in the atrium. Customers will also go into the tailor shop upstairs to buy clothing (secondhand from past victims, of course!) but every so often one will want a personal fitting, and these become the raw materials that keep the shop running — as long as the player is attentive enough to nab them when they’re vulnerable, that is.
Once things are rolling and the player gets the hang of it, daily operations soon settle into a rhythm. Check upstairs for people in the fitting room and nab them when possible, make sure the display tables in the café don’t run empty, and as the game progresses and options are unlocked, players will be able to take orders for more complex dishes from customers at tables.
Ravenous Devils is ultimately a very simple, small experience, but I loved it for a few reasons.
First, because of the clever control system I detailed, but also because it’s so focused. I came to grips with it quickly, found joy in performing the duties needed to keep the shop running, and as money rolled in, I took great satisfaction from being a successful businessman, even if the venture was based on a dark foundation. The entire thing can be finished in four or five hours — it does exactly what it needs to do and then gets out.
I also appreciated Ravenous Devils because it’s a very positive, non-punitive experience in terms of its design. If a player has a bad day and mixes up orders or just isn’t very successful for one reason or another, the reputation of the shop takes a minor hit but it’s incredibly easy to spring back from that, and there’s no real penalty for failure. Players can simply dust themselves off and try again.
I also need to call out how wonderful it was to be able to keep working after the shop had closed. After hours, players are free to spend as long as they like catching up on anything they fell behind on, in order to better prepare for the next day. The ability to do everything that needs doing at my own pace was a grace rarely afforded by this type of management experience, and I adored it.
Ravenous Devils nails what I want from a small, compact play experience, but the rotten cherry on this blood-covered sundae is that there are just enough narrative touches to tie the whole thing together.
After every few days of normal operation, a brief story event will pop up to illuminate the couple’s situation, or to share brief snatches of their personalities. The story segments are quick and they always take a back seat to play, but these interludes add just enough flavor to show that these characters are more than vacant avatars wandering around a game field.
However, if I have any criticism of Ravenous Devils, it’s that I wanted the narrative to go even further. During the course of the campaign, there are many moments that seem like natural places to offer a choice, but as far as I know, the game progresses on a single track without variation. Even a simple ‘kill him/don’t kill him’ option here and there would have been amazing, and if there were different endings, I absolutely would have played through it again.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t as much narrative as I would have wanted. That said, my fellow critic Dan Weissenberger loves that the game touches on social status and class issues, as these characters are literally eating rich, fancy people and feeding them to the poor — and honestly, in light of the current political climate, it seems like an absolutely logical and sensible thing to do. Points awarded for that, to be sure.
For those not put off by the gory subject matter — and ye gods, brace for the “steak table” animation — it’s a petite, dark delight.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Bad Vices Games and published by Troglobytes Games. It is currently available on PC,PS,XB and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, and Use of Alcohol.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The dialogue here is subtitled, but the text cannot be resized or altered. I played about half of the game with the sound off and had no issues whatsoever, and no sound is needed for successful play. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
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