Review – Justice Sucks
When people think back to watching Home Alone, there’s a lot about the film that gets romanticized and ensures its place in the annuls of great kids movies. There’s the timeless setup of parents being so neglectful and busy they literally forget a child. There’s the element of enormous police stupidity that allows them to totally not do a real welfare check on a missing child. There’s the audacity that a pizza boy can’t tell the difference between a spoken voice and a VHS copy of a gangster movie.
But, at the core of it all, are the traps. It’s what the holders of the IP decided to emulate in every subsequent iteration of the franchise and what most people remember most clearly. Nevermind that, without Macaulay Culkin, the movies had no heart or personality and the recent Disney+ reboot was garbage. As long as we have a set of Rube Goldberg devices that inflict mayhem and maim adults, it’ll make its money back. Insanity. Now, am I saying that a robotic vacuum cleaner has the same personality as Kevin McCallister? Very nearly, and, in some cases, with greater success.
Justice Sucks is the story of Dusty McClean, a robotic vacuum that’s perfectly happy and content to keep cleaning the home to which he’s been adopted. His life is simple, content, and full of praise and love from those he calls his family. When burglars break into Dusty’s home, Dusty makes the bold decision to use his smart home integration to activate a series of defense mechanisms to defeat the threat. And by defeat, I mean Dusty murders a bunch of petty criminals. Then he consumes their bodies. A Roomba is able to completely destroy no less than six fully grown human beings.
I know we’re supposed to think that FamilyCorp, the company that made Dusty, is the bad guy for going and retrieving Dusty as “defective,” but I strongly feel they were in the right here. Anyways, FamilyCorp accidentally smashes Dusty into the television in the “Recall Event,” causing Dusty to become trapped in the TV dimension, aided only by his muscular alter ego, Sexy McClean. I promise you I haven’t made up anything, and yet we’ve only just begun in the utterly bizarre, episodic and addictingly fun world of Justice Sucks.
Set across multiple backdrops, Justice Sucks is a utterly strange little game that cannot seem to wear a single hat at a time. Each world has an initial task/mission, and completing that unlocks a series of additional missions that you can pick and choose from. Sometimes your objective is to deal with waves of enemies, preventing them from stealing your money (copying what Dusty did in the start). Sometimes you have stealth missions of retrieval and rescue. Sometimes it’s just levels of utter violence with a race against the clock to eliminate all the hostile NPCS. And, believe it or not, there are whole missions where you’re just cleaning, like a vacuum would. Each level and mission vector has a different flavor and appeal to it, and it’s a roller coaster of a ride to find where Dusty performs best.
The basics: Dusty is a vacuum, and a robotic one at that. You have two meters, one for health and one for energy. Dusty will use up energy through dashes, super-powered suctioning, and “hacking” into different objects around the stages to trigger trap damage on enemies. Trap damage varies wildly, from simple pains (an energy field from a lamp) to long time stunning (extra cold refrigerator blast) to wildly unnecessary damage (runaway butler robot knocks someone off a cruise ship). Your energy will recharge with time, and the cooldown/usage prevents you from just firing off every trap willy-nilly and cleaning house too fast.
Getting hit is a sordid affair, as, even later on, Dusty is very vulnerable and can easily go down fast without proper planning. There are no health pickups in this game, or at least not conventional ones. If you want to get your HP back, you need to suck up defeated enemies, which are consumed in a comical, grotesque way, complete with giblets being spread over the area.
As time goes on, Dusty gets more versatile, and Justice Sucks allows for a lot of customization. There are passive and active perks, with the former just existing constantly and the latter charging up through sucking up blood (enemies bleed when hit, regardless of fatality). The former can be quite helpful, with things like temporary invincibility when hit, a bit of blood as a starter bonus, and, most useful (and the first perk you start with), seeing the radius of a trap when triggered.
The active perks are on three different levels, starting with something lowkey (swap places with an enemy, spread some oil) to dangerous (electrical tripwire, proximity mines) and finally almost-guaranteed-lethal (massive battering ram, summon Sexy to punch a baddie in the face). Plus, Dusty’s sucking ability lets you inhale items around the level and then launch them at enemies, so you can, theoretically, complete an entire combative stage without needing to activate any traps. Theoretically. I love traps, so I didn’t bother finding out.
Justice Sucks does a lot of things right, and these are probably the things that initially drew TinyBuild’s attention. Dusty handles well enough while still having a bit of awkwardness that comes from being a robo vacuum. He’s charming and has a level of scary cute that comes from being hyper violent while still being tiny and loving. Every bad guy is clearly a bad guy, even if they are wild caricatures of what you’d imagine an enemy to be (the boss of FamilyCorp punches dad and mom a lot).
The way the game stacks the evolution of Dusty makes it fun to figure out what combination of perks work best for you, and also being able to swap them out allows for better approaches to certain missions. I especially loved that you have a growing amount of health or energy credits that you can freely move around, giving you versatility in either taking more hits or doing more actions (I almost always leaned towards additional energy).
Justice Sucks has moments and ideas that evoke the sensations that I got from another TinyBuild game, Party Hard. It has the same feeling of exploring and understanding the map while figuring out how to position yourself and NPCs in order to maximize damage without getting yourself in too much trouble. However, while Party Hard often punished players who went too berserk without having exit strategies, a majority of missions of Justice Sucks seems to almost revel in these haphazard, blood-drenched sprees.
When you successfully lure three henchemen in front of a jet turbine and then flip the switch, you feel awesome. When you slam a dude in a door and then zap them with a malfunctioning light switch, it’s a great combo. And when you trigger three traps to create a room full of fire that enemies will just run into and then run out of, fully ablaze and slowly dying, it’s pure magic, if Michael Eisner also approved grindhouse films.
Plus, I sincerely love that we never turn our backs on the whole vacuum aspect. That seems like a simple enough goal to make, but there are too many times where I thought we would just abandon cleaning in favor of traps. Instead, multiple missions continue to reward and impress upon you how important it is to clean up the blood after the main mission is done. Great, you made sure no one from the airport stole any cash, but now there are about six bodies strewn everywhere, how do you think that’ll improve LaGuardia’s already tarnished reputation? It encourages you to be more creative and try to keep bodies grouped together, or, in most cases, to plan ahead.
If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to rend a human body limb from limb to fuel your chaos heart. As an aside, the missions where you just clean the areas were super satisfying as a nice decompression from the main action of it all. Getting back to your roots and just cleaning without causing the damage first was nice. Yes, I’m still cleaning up blood. I don’t see what that has to do with anything.
There are a couple of shortcomings, though, and these might be more impactful for players depending on their patience levels. For one, Justice Sucks is incredibly fickle and inaccurate with trap targeting. In “Hack Mode,” you enter a super slow motion state and have to target traps with your right joystick. The idea is that you can time it just right for enemies to move into range before setting loose a falling disco ball or a whole ceiling fan falling down.
But since the traps are all stacked quite heavily, you need to be slow and precise to get some traps targeted, and this invades the space where you are also still being hounded by people with bats, fists, guns and exploding Segways, who, yes, are moving much slower but are distinctly still moving towards you. This might even be more bearable if Joycon drift didn’t make targeting a twitchy affair, but here we are, six years in and Nintendo still not offering good solutions (and offering zero solutions for Switch Lite owners).
Also, stealth missions. I like that Dusty has stealth options, even if they are ridiculous in the main missions. Suddenly moving under a table or into a bush and you no longer have the ire or attention of anything that was literally right behind you a split second ago. But then translating that into exclusively stealth settings is a pain in the ass. Whereas you can take a hit if you fumble a damage attempt in most situations, stealth missions are a single misstep failure, sometimes with you barely being in the visible range of the enemies.
Instead of helping me perfect my stealth technique, it taught me to just double down in massive trap damage, investing more in gradual, grandscale murder instead of, say, saving my family first. Sorry, people I love, I need to utterly destroy those who would harm you before actually getting you to safety. It’s less Dishonored and more Tenchu, if that makes sense, and, at that point, why even bother being subtle?
The weirdest point that I have to complain about Justice Sucks is the vector of the entire thing. When you unlock a new scenario, you have to first do a mission that is specific to the level. For example, in the airport, you need to gather up three hacking tools and then bring them to three different terminals in order to send an SOS signal and save the civilians. Simple enough, but you can’t just do that mission target.
No matter what, every initial mission set forth by the game is infinitely easier to accomplish by first murdering as many baddies as possible before doing whatever you actually need to do. It not only devalues the over-the-top bloodiness of it all, it also defangs part of the challenges of the game.
Sure, you get a lower score because you took longer than you probably should have, but you could actually accomplish the tasks. I can’t rescue everyone on the boat if I keep getting smashed to pieces, so why not electrocute, smash and burn nearly everyone before my rescue attempt even begins? It’s like if a hostage negotiator had snipers kill everything in the first room before even making a phone call. Effective to a point, and also wildly unnecessary.
And yet I keep coming back to it. In spite of it feeling gory, overtly zany and sometimes formulaic, I keep playing and enjoying my time with Justice Sucks. The sound effects and music are ambient enough that they add to the mayhem if you listen, but you miss nothing if you opt to listen to something else instead. The graphics aren’t demanding or groundbreaking, so the Switch moves along with grace and competency. And I really, really like nailing enemies with well timed traps and the woodchipper effect when I feast on their flesh. It’s a new take on a classic idea, and I think it’s just plain fun. I was skeptical when I first picked it up, but now I’m positive: Justice Sucks is a surprising hit, and I’m glad for my time with it. Now to work out the weird vibe I’m getting from Sexy McClean…
The cartoonish design helps to make the blood and guts seem silly instead of sadistic.
It really captures the movement and form factor of a robot vacuum without the tedium of having to recharge every twenty minutes.
A good sound effects panel for chaos and explosions, but a supremely forgettable soundtrack.
The inherent joy of successfully killing multiple people with a single dropped scoreboard cannot be overstated.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Justice Sucks is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Justice Sucks was provided by the publisher.