Pill Baby is a platformer beat ‘em up developed and published by Talha Kaya, Seyma Hatip, and Kayabros. It was released on the Steam platform on March 25, 2022. Pill Baby was also released for the Nintendo Switch and was rated M for Mature by the ESRB.
In Pill Baby, the player plays as Anna, an athletic martial artist for hire who emigrates to a new country to find work fighting monsters. Those familiar with beat ‘em ups will easily familiarize themselves with the controls. Gamepad and keyboard compatible, buttons for jump, punch, and kick are combined to create various combinations.
One further button, dash, teleports the player directly in the direction they are pointing. Any projectiles in the player’s way while they dash are eliminated. This makes it an ideal move to master when engaging in boss fights.
An initial tutorial greets the player in the beginning of the game where Anna interviews for her new position. This leads to her first day on the job where she must face the first boss of the game all on her own. Pill Baby is divided into chapters in which a seemingly deep story sandwiches action sequence beat ‘em up levels. Much like a novel that is difficult to put down, the chapters in Pill Baby end on a story revelation or cliffhanger urging the player to continue playing into the next chapter. Since the boss fights were placed in the center of these chapter stories, there is a fractionation between chaotic action and dramatic storytelling. I found myself thinking to myself, “Well, I already beat the boss, I might as well see what the next chapter is about before I save and quit for the night,” only to find myself beating another boss and doing the same thing all over again.
In between action levels and storytelling, Anna walks through her new town interacting with its town’s citizens as she is able. At first Anna is unable to understand the language most everyone is speaking, but as the game progresses the player may unlock language lessons to decrypt the speech blocks and posters encountered throughout the game. Near the middle of Anna’s walk through town is Betty’s Diner. Betty serves delicious food as well as powerups that may be purchased using the in-game currency dropped by defeated monsters. Betty’s Diner also has a juke box where the player may pay to play various tracks from the game’s soundtrack. These tracks include music from some actual albums by bands such as Radio for the Daydreamers, Tensor, and Midnight Moodswings.
Drugs play a major part in the action gameplay sequences. Anna takes a yellow pill before each battle. This pill transforms her into a fighter with special fighting gloves and special abilities. Red pills found throughout a level will provide a health boost for Anna. I was a little taken back by the need to take pills to progress given that I grew up in the days when beat ‘em up games told gamers that winners don’t do drugs. I am, however, reminded that Duke Nukem took steroids in his games, so perhaps it’s just par for the course.
That being said, Pill Baby is certainly a mature title. There is ample profanity and plenty of adult themes. It feels like a game where the artists who created it wanted to convey a story of moral virtue, especially in regard to the relationships Anna forges in her new town and the one she attempts to mend with her mother. Anna finds herself as an immigrant in a foreign country. There she encounters a new culture and feels what it is like to be the outsider, while also doing her part to assimilate and attempt to learn the language. Typically there is an intent to widen the audience to allow such moral virtues to be taught over a wide demographic, but Pill Baby seems to also want to deal with deeper themes as well, content to cater to a characteristically millennial audience.
Pill Baby is an acceptable beat ‘em up with an artistically deep storyline that is well told in serialized form throughout the chapters I’ve played. It would probably hold more of my attention if it were multiplayer. Time will tell if I get absorbed enough in its story that I seek to beat it before spending more time playing other games.