The Cleaner is a young man who cleans up crime scenes for the mob in the 1970’s. Cleaner is a confident individual who takes a lot of pride in his secretive work and passionately collects trophies from the victims. The way he conducts his business is simple: receive a phone call from a client to receive a contract and go do the job they request. Generally, no names. However, this has a tendency to get him into tight spots. Many crime scenes he is sent to are crawling with cops. As you play through the campaign, you will sneak around entire squadrons of cops while vacuuming up blood, picking up weapons and evidence, and disposing of corpses.
Serial Cleaner is a very self-conscious game which never takes itself too seriously. It includes a fair amount of satire for 1970’s stereotypes. For example, the cops are so lazy that they won’t even open up a door to catch you, and they tend to give up chasing you if you outrun them for a short time. People in the game have a tendency to interact with one another in an impersonal way, yet it feels natural to the culture established in the world of the game. One of my favorites was on a TV talk show, the host introduced their guest as simply “a psychologist”.
There is one person with whom Cleaner has a close and connected relationship: his mother. He appears to be a cold and heartless, and he lies to her about his life. However, he cares deeply about her. Cleaner is a man who has a few extra layers to observe which can be discovered through interacting with his mother and some objects in his house such as the TV. By checking it between missions, you can find out a little more about his character.
This game has a minimalistic story which is told through short but to-the-point dialogue scenes. As is the case with many of this nature, the story is not the main focus of the game. Its presence gives you more reason to play through all of the games because contracts because you want to see what kinds of situations Cleaner will find himself in.
Serial Cleaner is based in the 1970’s, and the music encapsulates that era entirely. Horns are used heavily in the score and achieve a great sense of jazziness. This is music that you can move your body with. The music team did an absolutely fantastic job writing the 23 songs found in this game. Each track has that unique 70’s jive which is sure to take you back if you were around during those times.
The music does a great job drawing you into the game and makes it an absolute joy to play. It is also easy to just sit and listen to the music. In fact, I recommend that you buy the soundtrack because these songs would sound great on any playlist.
Serial Cleaner is a game with a lot of visual flair in the intro scene and the title menu. The intro scene is fast, pretty and sets the mood. It is a series of mostly still images which flow smoothly from one to the next. No image lingers on the screen for longer than a couple seconds. It impresses upon the player the nature of the adventure they are about to embark on: a visceral, bloody mess full of close encounters with the police kind.
Once you start playing, the camera transitions into a simple top-down perspective. The environments look like cardboard cutout dioramas and certainly adds to the retro feel of the game. Every object is distinct and your goal is always clear because the blood always stands out. Just remember, where you find blood you will likely find a body!
The colors are generally hued with red and orange which alludes to the bloody nature of Cleaner’s job. The game’s color scheme conveys the concept of the game well; this is a game which is all about style, attitude and bloody messes.
The animations are smooth and the frame rate never noticeably dropped on me. Occasionally, I noticed Cleaner’s movement speed would increase noticeable, but it appeared to be part of the game design. Overall, this appears to be a stable and well-done port to the Switch.
Over a period of several years throughout the 1970’s, you will take on a multitude of contracts from the mob and an unspecified “client”. As you play through Cleaner’s campaign, you will take on dirtier and dirtier jobs until the world is clean of murder evidence! Or at least a few individual crime scenes. But I digress…
Each of Serial Cleaner’s stages takes place in a small, closed environment with several set pieces to use to your advantage as you clean up crime scenes from under the noses of present cops. There are several items which can be manipulated in each stage including boxes to hide in, cop cars which can be moved to block paths and loud speakers which can be used to distract the cops.
You will use Cleaner’s “Cleaner Senses” to maneuver around these crime scenes skillfully. This power grants you the ability to see the entire stage at once. This is great for watching the cops to see how they are moving on the stage. The other great function of Cleaner Senses is being able to clearly see every object on the stage which can be interacted with. It will clearly let you see all hiding places, body locations and everything that can be moved. Use these powers to your advantage as you look for evidence to eradicate. This can include dumping bodies and picking up “souvenirs” Just don’t forget your trusty vacuum cleaner for all your blood clean up needs!
The cops walk along set paths. A cone extends from them indicating their line of sight. The cone turns red should you enter it, and the cop will immediately begin chasing you. If the cop catches up to you, it is time for a bludgeoning from his trusty nightstick! Once a cop sees you, it isn’t an immediate loss, though. If you just outrun them and leave their line of sight, they will go back to their normal path. Also, if you make it to one of the handy hiding spots before the cop catches you, you can escape. Simply dive in even if the cop is right behind you, and he will quickly submit to your masterful presence masking.
If you are ultimately caught by the cops, it is time to restart the stage. Upon doing so, you will generally notice that the placement of the evidence, blood, bodies and hiding spots will have changed. This does a great job of encouraging players to find the best way out of each situation without relying purely upon memorizing the best path through the stages. The placement of the cops does not change and the overall layout of the stages don’t change either, so I did not encounter any issues of being unable to complete a stage due to balancing issues. Some layouts were harder than others, though.
With that said, this is a challenging game. The cops run much faster than Cleaner does, so you must be careful. Utilizing the environment to sneak by the cops is aboslutely necessary. In a game like this, patience is king. By simply trying to run in and clean everything without waiting and overserving, you are likely to be quickly caught. The fact that getting caught means restarting a stage entirely makes each encounter with the cops a harrowing experience.
To make matter even more challenging, you can play the game at night real time, and it will be night in the game. With the environment being darker, you will have to take even more care to avoid the cops. This option can be turned off in the main menu by toggling off “real world data”.
When you are in the main menu and select Story Contracts, you will be able to cycle through already completed contracts and replay them. In addition to this, there are 13 challenge modes which can be toggled on and attempted for a high score. These include a basic time trial, a stealthy cleaning which prevents you from using a hiding place while you are in a cop’s line of sight, and Drunk On The Job which distorts the visuals. Each one of these modes has a unique feel and are a great feature which add a significant amount of replayability.
There are also multiple bonus contracts which can be selected from the main menu. These are contracts inspired by movies and are unlocked by collecting film reels from within the stages. There are ten of these in total which is about half the number of the main story contracts, so get to collecting!
Serial Cleaner is at the pricier end of indie games on the Switch’s eShop at $14.99 in the US and €14.99 in Europe. It is a fun game with a lot of replay value thanks to the numerous challenges for each of the game’s 20 story contracts and 10 bonus movie contracts. If you are a completionist or have friends to compete with for the best score on the contract challenges, then the price is very much worth it. You will be able to invest a lot of time in attempting to get a high score on all of the challenges. Online leaderboards are not present, unfortunately. Leaderboards would have added an incredible amount of replay value as you would attempt to rise through the boards for each of the challenges on all of the contracts.
If you don’t care for replaying missions for better scores or doing challenges, then you will likely complete all of the game’s story contracts within three or four hours. For someone planning to play the game like that, $15 might be too high of an asking price. But, if you will delve into the game’s numerous challenge options, then $15 is a great cost for a game which you will spend a lot of time with.