Bowmasters: cartoonish satire and gratuitous violence

Blood and gore have long been a point of contention in games; the use for violence is one thing, since violence and conflict often go hand in hand.  However, gore is something that has often been omitted from games and other media even in cases where it would be expected; shootouts, swordfights, etc, in an attempt to make the violence acceptable for a broader audience.  A famous example in games was the 1994 release of Mortal Combat for the SNES in Japan, which featured green blood instead of red.


(Mortal Combat uncensored and censored comparison)

Bowmasters, applies gratuitous violence to a physics shooter game; grievously wounding and even dismembering cartoonish representations of famous cultural figures or topical stereotypes, including: Fernando who throws turtle shells (Mario), Dr. Sick (Dr Rick from Rick and Morty), Redish (a nod to Deadpool with dual wielding guns and katanas), Hipster (who throws his cell phone after posing with a selfie stick), Maestro (Mr. White from Breaking Bad), the list goes on.

Each character has a unique projectile and some also have special abilities; whatever their style, the objective is always the same, aim at your opponent across the map and land a direct hit.  With each blow to the head, torso, or limbs comes a particle spray of bits and a gaping flesh wound which persists for the rest of the match.  Some projectiles may even lodge themselves in the wound for added effect.


(This game type, made famous by Bowman 2 on in the early 2000’s, also featured gore)

While the game is undoubtedly fun due to its unique mechanics, silly and recognizable characters, and their over the top reactions to being hit, it begs the question if the gore was necessary. Could its excessiveness be appreciated or enjoyed by anyone other than an adult male demographic?  Could they have used bruises instead of tearing holes in the character’s flesh? Could the strike be shown with a “whack” particle effect, and an explosion with smoke marks on the character’s clothing instead? Would it have the same effect? While I’m sure some children would enjoy the splatter of cartoon bits, this game certainly would set off red flags for gore in the minds of parents.

In reality, I don’t believe it could have gotten by with less; the gore though gratuitous, is actually part of it’s charm. It’s the stark contrast between the happy go lucky cartoon characters and their inevitable and gruesome demise that makes it comical.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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