It's happened to all of us. Your digestive system disagrees with something you ate for lunch while you are out and against your better judgment you seek relief in a public restroom. Hoping for the best, you walk into a filthy room that looks and smells more like a dungeon than a men's room and you can't help but think "Who's job is it to clean this place?" Well, now the answer is you. Assuming, that is, if you choose to play Men's Room Mayhem, a new downloadable game available on the PlayStation Vita that tasks you with maintaining the cleanest facilities possible. Videogames have allowed me to be everything from a raceing driver to a bloodthirsty mercenary so its about time one has let me be a janitor.
The gameplay mechanics are simple and quite frankly ingenious. You have a top down view of a men's room and patrons will steadily stream in hoping to relieve a stream of their own. An icon above their head specifies whether they need to go for a number 1 or number 2. A patron that needs to urinate can use either a urinal or a stall. A patron that needs to move his bowels can only use a stall - though we've all been in bathrooms that contained evidence that not all people think this way in the real world. You guide them to the appropriate destination by drawing a line from their current position using the touchscreen.
Many more in depth elements build upon this gameplay foundation making Men's Room Mayhem more interesting and challenging. Your primary goal is to keep the space clean. If things get dirty it causes "mayhem". Mayhem comes in three forms: a puddle of urine left behind by a patron that didn't make it to a urinal in time, a brown puddle left by patrons unable to reach a stall in time, and a puddle of blood resulting from a fight that happens whenever two patrons come into contact with each other. It sounds crude and filthy, but somehow the game makes it work. Trust me, I was sort of freaked out when I read "Blood" in the game's ESRB classification because blood and waste are a truly horrifying combination, but thankfully it's not as bad as I initially suspected.
Gameplay takes place in waves ranging upwards from a minute. In between each wave you are given a window of a few seconds to clean the restroom using your finger to rub down the urinals, stalls, and faucets, after wiping any puddles of filth that may have appeared during the previous wave. If you are able to get rid of your mess in time you get to start the next wave with a clean slate. The mayhem gets too intense when more than five puddles accrue in a single wave and will result in your being fired from your job and a game over.
Men's Room Mayhem keeps tally of your score as you progress through successive waves. You get bonus points for guiding your patrons through certain behaviors. You get an etiquette bonus if you keep at least one open space between men using a urinal. You also get a bonus if they wash their hands before leaving the rest room. Other bonuses include one for near misses, which happens when patrons get dangerously close to one another without actually touching, and close call bonuses for those who make it to the urinal just before it's too late. Of course you can compare your score with player's across the globe through online leaderboards.
Men's Room Mayhem features a mission structure akin to Jet Pack Joyride's, whereby you are given certain objectives to complete which will unlock more levels on your way to earning bronze, silver, and gold medals. Objectives range from reaching a certain wave without incurring any mayhem, having all patrons wash their hands in a single wave, or simply achieving a certain score. This will keep you interested in playing far longer than you originally imagined.
Men's Room Mayhem is of course inspired by a real life phenomenon. It is an unspoken rule among men that, if possible, there should be a buffer zone between those using a urinal. The exceptions to this rule are in cases of emergency or if you really, really just want to compare sizes with the bloke next to you. Whether this rule stems from man's general insecurity or something more taboo to discuss, it is still interesting to play a game that reflects the world we live in. One could also take offense at the portrayal of men in Men's Room Mayhem. According to this game, men are unhygienic pigs that will start a fight just for bumping into each other. You could never make a game like this about women. Actually, to be fair I wouldn't know, because all I know about women's restrooms is that they sometimes have couches and always have long lines. Personally, I find the game's crude humor wonderfully reminiscent of games such as Conker's Bad Fur Day and the old Beavis and Butthead game on the Sega Genesis.
The game is not without real issues. Sometimes the patrons will not accurately follow the paths you draw for them which will lead to unmanageable mayhem. Additionally, while you are working your way through the available missions you really won't be all that interested in racking up a highscore, which will lead you to prematurely sabotage your efforts so you can end the round and move on to more objectives. There is an additional game mode that challenges you to take care of the facilities with a maximum number of patrons on-screen at all times but it is not nearly as rewarding as the main campaign.
The 2D visuals are clean (for a game set in a bathroom) but the animations are a bit strange, even if this does imbue the game with certain charm. The distinct design of each facility shows off the best that the art direction has to offer. The biker bar restroom is cluttered and features troughs instead of urinals, the circus restroom features a lion as its centerpiece, and the beach level is sandy and tropical. The quality of the soundtrack is a nice surprise; each level is accompanied by a thematically appropriate tune that will keep you humming along as you draw lines all over the Vita screen.
Men's Room Mayhem is available for the low and slightly offbeat price of $1.39. At that price the game's lengthy campaign becomes a real selling point. Overall you will work your way up through 7 different restroom facilities, all equipped with unique layouts and inhabited by special characters that affect the gameplay in various ways. The Hotel restroom features an Old Man that moves ultra slowly compared to the other characters, the beach features a bully that will travel on his own predetermined path and thrash anyone who gets in his way, and the club features a woman who comes with a radius shield that no male patron can enter. It all makes for a surprisingly engrossing and diverse experience. If nothing else, perhaps the novelty of being able to play a game about bathrooms while using the bathroom will persuade you to try your hand at Men's Room Mayhem. Just remember to wash your hands afterwards.
This review is based on a digital copy of Men's Room Mayhem downloaded from the PlayStation Store.