Once upon a time, there was a robot unicorn, a disgruntled employee, and an amateur surgeon. Long ago, they frolicked together in a deliciously deviant land of drunken assassins, lesbian spider-queens, and glittery clouds. It was a magical online destination for browser game fans looking for something more from their online excursions. Something decidedly more irreverent than what the competition was offering. Something more… adult.
Enter Adult Swim Games. Back then, however, the video game arm of the programming block was but an afterthought, a destination for viewers staying up for late-night marathons of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Venture Bros. Its meager yet exciting mixture of browser games acted as a viable alternative to Ebaumsworld and Newgrounds with flash-based gems like Amateur Surgeon or the irreverent Five Minutes to Kill (Yourself).
Seemingly haven risen out of nowhere, Adult Swim Games offers a cadre of tastefully offensive, addictive, hilarious games, which has only expanded further over the years and has come into its own as a publisher. It’s one of the most recognizable labels out there as a force to be reckoned with for independent video game creators.
It all started back in 2011 when Adult Swim hired on Steve Gee to completely transform what was once a modest collection of bizarre and absurd browser games into a powerful label for indie games that would eventually transcend the bonds of “typical” publishers and spotlight creators with something new and interesting to say.
Back in 2010, the rainbow wonderland of Robot Unicorn Attack made its way from the annals of Adult Swim’s then-smallish corner of the internet to mobile devices. Its sparkly, saccharine artwork belied a much more sinister tone beneath it all, and as your robot unicorn bounded through the clouds “chasing its dreams,” you could groove along to the mellow sounds of Erasure’s “Always.” Its popularity ballooned after it made its way to iPhone and Android devices across the world.
It was as if someone had opened the floodgates after the casual and hardcore gamers alike embraced the simple yet addictive gameplay of Robot Unicorn Attack, eventually spawning a sequel and a “Heavy Metal” edition that swapped out the familiar “Always” with a grungier theme song and more appropriately metal scenery like pentagrams and flying winged creatures.
At this point, you couldn’t turn on Adult Swim without seeing advertisements for the ridiculously popular game, on top of games like Monsters Ate My Condo or Super House of Dead Ninjas, which both had promising beginnings as mobile titles. In fact, Super House of Dead Ninjas marked the first game Adult Swim began publishing under its label.
It didn’t gain the same footing as the Flash-based browser games and various apps released prior to that, but the company was obviously picking up traction and finding a place for itself in the game industry after its initial push with mobile and browser offerings. It was a marked turning point for the brand and a reason for the publisher to strike out on its own as Gee had originally intended and pepper in strong, independently-created games to round things out.
Volgarr the Viking came next, an action platformer developed by Crazy Viking Studios and inspired by classics like Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It released to decent critical reviews, but went further to cement Adult Swim’s status as a more traditional publisher beyond the scope of flash games and mobile games with strange premises.
Necrophone Games’ Jazzpunk was one of the next major releases for the label, one of the strangest first-person adventure games out there with a heavy focus on exploration and humor integrated with surreal visions and one of the weirdest narratives around. Both Jazzpunk and Volgarr the Viking were decidedly meatier endeavors than the company’s previous games, and by that time, the brand was leveling out the playing field with publishers like Devolver Digital, a similar indie label with experience pushing the colorful and strange, like Hatoful Boyfriend and Hotline Miami.
Typically, licensed games aren’t the best quality. But using a show that’s universally loved among various audiences did up the ante to create something viable. That’s why we got Pocket Mortys earlier this year after Jazzpunk and a series of smaller downloadable games. The mobile game debuted to excited Rick and Morty fans, who sang the game’s praises from here to “wubba-lubba-dub-dub.” What began as a silly take on the Pokémon franchise incorporating Rick and Morty‘s unique brand of humor, the game ended up exploding into a phenomenon–so much so that it received several hefty updates to keep things fresh for its player base. It was a significant step forward for Adult Swim Games as a brand, even more so than its previous triumphs, and paved the way for even bigger and better things, including a VR title based on Rick and Morty as well.
Recently, Adult Swim released Head Lander, a strange title that captured the attention of several larger video game publications. Placing players in the shoes of an agent whose head can detach to land and control other bodies, it’s exactly the kind of weirdness and irreverence you’d expect from Adult Swim.
Though the brand had previously been content to seek out independent creations and bolster its own properties, the announcement that it would be publishing a Kickstarter-funded ToeJam & Earl sequel subtitled Back in the Groove was a massive shift. This is a cult video game favorite with attitude and funk in droves. What better company to tackle and freshen up a game that was nearly forgotten and left to languish in the annals of history?
So where’s the company going next? It seems the sky’s the limit, but there are so many avenues that have yet to be explored that it’s almost difficult to say. Battle Chef Brigade from Trinket Studios is on tap next, but judging from Adult Swim Games’ Twitter account, there could be something even bigger around the corner.
Wherever the company goes next, it’s safe to say it’s going to retain that devil-may-care snark and the off-kilter humor that popularized the channel in the first place. If you’re a creator, you might want to look into partnering up. If you’re a gamer, you may have just found your next favorite publisher.
Where do you think Adult Swim is headed next? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured image credit: Adult Swim Games
Image credits: Adult Swim Games