I still have no idea where the title comes from, but Mouth Sweet is a fairly small game packed with combat inspired by Killer7, pitch black humor, some legitimately disturbing scenes, and a surprisingly strong and positive message. Games which take place in modern-day office environments have been very slowly on the rise, but, with the exception of I Get This Call Every Day and potentially a very small handful of others, most focus on wacky comedic hijinks (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you) and none that I know of are more heartfelt than this one.
Combat and the basic flow of progression are linked hand in hand here. As a new temporary employee at Chalfont, Chalfont, & Chalfont, Incorporated, you are given tasks via a one-way PDA to complete before you return to your small office. You are also given a gun which can only hold six bullets at a time in order to defend yourself against the murderous invisible ‘Bugs’ which roam the office hallways. The layout of the hallways outside your office changes with each assignment, and it is often different on the way back, but it is generally linear with a few rooms off to the sides. You can tell when an enemy is nearby by listening for footsteps and at this point you have one of two options. First, you can try to find another room to enter because Bugs do not follow you across rooms and are only ever specifically in the hallways. Bugs also are not, technically speaking, actually patrolling around as invisible enemies and are actually tied to an invisible timer; moving to another room, even another hallway containing Bugs, resets this timer and you always receive a message mentioning that you felt something invisible brush past you a few seconds before you are caught and end up with a Game Over.
The second way to defend against Bugs is to make use of your revolver. Pressing a button allows you to enter into a first-person perspective where you can pan your gun left and right across the screen. As this perspective is more of a combat screen than a literal first person view of what the character is currently looking at (though the backgrounds do change frequently), you can always kill a Bug from within this screen if one is present. The actual location of the Bug in this combat view is randomized and, since they are invisible, you must rely on hearing to locate the exact point where its footsteps are the loudest. Successfully shooting an enemy will result in seeing a vague white silhouette followed by a satisfying blood splatter, but the penalty for missing is high because, on top of your limited ammo, the actual act of shooting takes up valuable seconds between the aiming animation and your character bringing the gun back into position after the recoil from the shot. As time is counting down, the amount of time you have to actually locate and kill an enemy while on the combat screen is inevitably lower the longer you wait and this creates an experience where you are constantly weighing risks against each other; do you take aim the moment you hear footsteps even though ammo is limited and there are almost certainly more enemies up ahead or do you take a gamble and press onward in the hopes of being able to reach a safe haven which may contain an ammo refill and/or a save point? I do wish Mouth Sweet had a little bit more in the way of enemy variety because there only seem to be two different types, the first of which seems to have at least some variance in terms of how difficult it is to determine the ‘loudest’ point and the second type makes a different noise and takes two shots to kill, but the game is short enough and engaging enough that it can get away with the enemies it has and more enemy types would simply be a bonus. Regardless of if you choose to run or fight, your journeys through the hallways of C.C. & C. are always tense affairs.
Mouth Sweet takes on the task of thrusting some of the most toxic and dehumanizing aspects of corporate culture into the spotlight and, while it does so with a heaping helping of surrealism, it holds on to a stark and very sharp sliver of reality which stops it from diving down into the land of melodrama and pretentiousness. ‘Loss of self’ seems like the best way to describe the primary theme here and it’s one which comes into play as far back as during character creation. You start off by choosing a male or a female rabbit-person, each of which come in a variety of colors, and afterwards you make another choice between two doors to determine if you are playing on Normal or Easy, the latter of which doesn’t contain any danger of getting a Game Over and exists if you only care about the story. However, things take a turn for the worse once you step through either of the doors as you are told by a disembodied voice that the way you dress would make the company lose credibility and, regardless of which character you chose, your character’s sprite is changed to match the greenish-grey Game Boy-esque color scheme of the rest of the game and there seems to be a 50% chance that your character’s sprite will be swapped to the one for the opposite gender, making every aspect of your initial choice utterly meaningless. The opening isn’t through with robbing your character of their identity yet though as it next proceeds to ask for your name only to correct you by stating that your legal name is indicated to be Haas or Alice, depending on which gender you ended up as.
This process of stripping the protagonist of their identity and their sense of purpose is continued throughout the entire game via the dialogue, the aesthetics, and the objectives. Whether you are tasked with pointlessly pushing boxes around in a room or traveling through time to put a barcode sticker on a baby, the things which are asked of you never make much, if any, sense and become increasingly ridiculous and disturbing as time goes on. Regardless of how dedicated you are to completing these nonsensical tasks you will only ever be rewarded by being told how much of a failure you are, either by being an inexperienced newbie or by not meeting performance standards and not being happy enough in your work. The C.E.O., who is represented by a computer at an office desk and something which could either be a person or an empty office chair in an otherwise utterly dark room, is a fittingly disturbing character whose dialogue consists of a schizophrenic amalgamation of blatantly false joviality, threats both veiled and aggressively blunt, and a complete and utter lack of interest in anything remotely resembling human interaction; you are frequently given choices for how to respond to the C.E.O., but their dialogue refuses to change regardless of your decisions. It’s an astonishingly unpleasant and repulsive character to interact with (however one-sidedly) and these meetings are made all the more grim through the fact that at least a portion of the C.E.O.’s cobbled together lines of dialogue come from things which were actually said to the developer.
There are also more subtle elements of storytelling at work here. As your character’s sense of self and deteriorates, so too does the identity of the office as its clean and professional, if occasionally bloodstained, halls gradually transform into increasingly bizarre and surreal surroundings, such as an upside down bathroom, and doors and passages appear in the darkness completely disconnected from everything else. The music also becomes significantly more aggressive and oppressing as you go farther into the game with some extremely disconcerting noises taking center stage in the later tracks. There’s also the presence of the Exit door, which starts to appear along the way to each of your tasks relatively early in the game. Attempting to make use of this door the first time you see it only takes you to a parking area with a nonfunctional elevator and, indeed, it will serve no purpose at all until much later on unless you perform some thorough searching, making it a seemingly easy answer to the protagonist’s problems which remains infuriatingly and depressingly out of reach. There is also a clever and strikingly authentic arc to the narrative as a whole; in a game where your choices as the player and the protagonist’s sense of self are ruthlessly, systematically, and deliberately cast aside and stripped of value, it is only when the meaningless tasks assigned to the protagonist go far beyond the limits of tolerance and begin to stretch the bounds of reprehensibility that the protagonist at last begins to reclaim their sense of self. It’s a narrative which sounds paradoxical, yet ultimately rings surprisingly true in execution.
If there are any flaws in Mouth Sweet, they come in the form of a handful of bugs of the more mundane variety. Most notably, there were a few instances where I got stuck in the transition screen after entering a door. The screen became completely black and I couldn’t see my character, but I could open the menu and the only option I could take was to reload my save. I was not able to reliably replicate this bug, but it happened exclusively with doors in the very early parts of the game and never popped up again after that. There is also a bug where you can still get a Game Over even while playing on the Easy difficulty. This one only happened to me a single time, but it resulted in the animation playing for being caught by a Bug and then tossed me into the Game Over screen without ever having displayed the standard warning message that something brushed past you. The first of these issues occurred a bit too frequently for my liking and seemed to particularly common with, though not exclusive to, the first door you must enter after leaving your room on your way to deliver a sandwich to Vivienne. Though these issues can lead to some unexpected reloading, and they can be frustrating to encounter, everything else is so well done and save points are so frequent that they are minor issues rather than major ones.
Mouth Sweet is simultaneously thrilling, humorous, (deliberately) miserable, somewhat scary, and surprisingly honest and personal in its writing and themes. It’s fun without being mindless, carries an important message without being pretentious or juvenile, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.