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Raze's Hell

Everything is perfect in the land of Kewtopia: The sun shines bright over manicured green lawns, lollipops and cotton candy appear in abundance, and it's impossible to turn a corner without being bombarded by rainbows, hearts, and smiley-faces. But these wretched little Smurfs, led by their adorable/evil princess, aren't satisfied with just one utopia: Under "Operation Free Hope," they want to expand their way of life to the grimier territories outside their kingdom, in a beautification process that involves eradicating the uglier species. It's up to you to resist this process: You take on the role of Raze, a gnarly indigent beast with a sharp spike for a left forearm and an arsenal of organic "squib" weapons, not unlike the creature in Oddworld, to which the ingenious budget game Raze's Hell owes an obvious debt.

The game can be appreciated on two levels: As a biting polemic on Gulf War II—complete with Fox News-style cheerleading, suicide bombers, and a hilariously clueless "Information Minister"—or as catharsis for anyone who ever wanted to rip the stuffing out of their little sister's Care Bears. Either way, it's a good time, though the onslaught of pint-sized, candy-colored Kewlett warriors makes it unreasonably difficult to advance from one level to the next. Raze's Hell earns its M rating through sheer over-the-top gore: The Kewletts, with their earnest chipmunk voices, appear to be composed of 1 percent skin and 99 percent blood, and they explode like sated mosquitoes. The bloodier, the better, since your oft-depleted health is restored whenever you suck up their guts. The Kewletts come in a range of cute guises, from grunts who shoot lasers out of chest-mounted jack-in-the-boxes to troops with heavy armor and rocket-launchers, many parachuting from the sky on heart-shaped balloons. Too bad it takes so much blasting and gut-sucking on dreary terrain before you reach the Oz-like gates of Kewtopia, where the scenery finally changes for the better.

Beyond the gameplay: Though diverting enough as a grisly and more chaotic Oddworld knockoff, Raze's Hell pays off in the offhand Kewlett dialogue and viciously satirical cutscenes. Especially sharp is one Kewlett's transformation from propaganda-spewing newscaster to an official Information Minister who offers reassuring platitudes to the press while Kewtopia topples like Baghdad.

Worth playing for: Among the many unexpected touches is an 18-hole mini-game golf course that pokes fun at the precision swings and realistic play-by-play featured in more austere lines like EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour. With a foul-tongued Irish announcer egging you on, you hit an oversized golf ball without clubs, which makes even tap-ins an adventure.

Frustration sets in when: No matter how many Kewletts you pulverize, the little bastards keep coming from all directions, and even on "easy" mode, those checkpoints always seem a few clicks too far for the average gamer.

Final judgment: The gameplay may seem a little rote (though it's gratifyingly destructive), but Raze's Hell makes up in endless invention what it lacks in resources, putting it ahead of many uninspired productions that retail at more than twice the cost.