The concept of Serial Cleaner had me hooked immediately–cleaning up murder scenes in a fun 1970s aesthetic? Yes please! However, I did not expect for this to be a game I found myself coming back to over and over again.
At its core, Serial Cleaner is a challenging puzzle game. You work as Bobby (known commonly as The Cleaner), tidying up maze-like crime scenes by picking up evidence, disposing of bodies, and vacuuming up any blood on the scene while actively avoiding the police. Each level has its own theme inspired by actual 1970s murders–from violent scenes at a barbershop to a boxing joint mob job.
From the get-go, the graphics and music are fun and light–it’s clear the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, and wants you to have fun. There’s also an extra feature that will adapt the game to your timezone; if you play at night, the game will also take place at night! While it doesn’t affect any of the game mechanics, it provides a darker atmosphere. Trust me–sneaking across a bloody campground at night when alone in your apartment will give you a couple of goosebumps.
While the 1970s theme and gorgeous graphics would be enough on its own, the story adds a new level to the game as you get to know the Cleaner. The Cleaner and his mother live together in a quaint house with retro wallpaper and a pink flamingo in the yard. Our hero’s gambling debts have him in trouble with the mafia, so he has to clean up after suspicious clients to make extra cash. The story presents itself between contracts (levels) using clues from tidbits on the television, radio, and newspaper, as well as in the conversations you have with your clients. There’s a bit of a mystery hiding in all these pieces, and I greatly enjoyed picking up on the little clues left around.
In general, the game mechanics are pretty simple–you use X to pick up and put down bodies, the left trigger to enter Cleaner View (which shows you the entire map), right trigger to vacuum up blood stains, and A to do pretty much everything else. However, the levels aren’t quite as easy to decipher. I actually got an achievement for failing the same contract more than five times just on the tutorial. However, I did eventually get the hang of it and it led to hours of fun gameplay.
The team over at iFun4Allhave made sure to include new challenging features in every contract, introducing cops with random running patterns, sound decoys, and moving map elements (to name a few). After the first 10 or so levels the difficulty increases dramatically, giving you extra bodies to pick up, more cops, and a much larger map. These levels can be insanely challenging, but are always fair–you’re never completely stuck. If you love a particular level, or if you’re just looking for a new challenge, each contract comes with a list of extra challenges–from removing all hiding spots to playing the level in black and white. For the collectors out there, there’s also a series of unlockable outfits and special levels with movie themes from the era–from Taxi Driver to Monthy Python and the Holy Grail. I’ll confess that feeding the Clack Knight’s maimed body to the Killer Rabbit was a welcome twist on the traditional body disposal process.
While the game does its best to keep you going, it can start to get frustrating on some of the larger levels with more bodies. If you get caught with only one body left to drop off, you have to start all over again, and the plant you were hiding behind might be in a completely different spot. I’ll admit that it does feels fair, but I also did ragequit a couple of times after I failed to get back in my cardboard box on time.
I expected a fun murder-themed game from Serial Cleaner, but I had no idea how immersive, clever, and just overall fun this game would be to play. Whenever I have some quick free time, I find myself still returning to Serial Cleaner for some good gory fun.