About an Adult Swim Flash Game: Meowcenaries

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim is one of those rare media brands that absolutely understands its demographic.

From the nightly bump cards to the merchandise and the numerous concert series and beyond, Adult Swim has succeeded in making money by airing deranged programming to a young population of insomniacs who were tired of the same old talk shows and infomercials after midnight.

While I've been a devotee of the late-night programming block for years, I've never played one of Adult Swim's growing cadre of free Flash titles. The games portal opened on the official website a few years ago, and each title generally boils down to an example of extremely violent behavior under the guise of sick humor -- well-tuned to the network's signature style.

After watching Metalocalypse, Superjail! or Aqua Teen Hunger Force, is it that shocking to stumble upon a game where cats wearing bandannas fire at each other with Uzis and rocket launchers?

I find it slightly offensive that black cats are the enemy -- clearly, the Sphynix breed is much more evil

I vacillated between a few different titles, trying to decide which would be my first foray into the world of Adult Swim-sponsored Flash games. Browsing the list of digital diversions is amusing considering all of the games have fairly low ratings. Amateur Surgeon, the most-played title available, scores the highest with a 7.9/10 average rating, while the rest hover in the 5-7 range of scores.

I assumed that because these are free games requiring no other software outside of Flash to run, those interested would be more forgiving; maybe throw a few "ROFL, funny!" posts in the comment section and score it a 10/10. However, it seems the voracious teen-and-twenty-something appetite for free media is in fact a discerning one.

So again, where to begin?

Meowcenaries (warning: link plays sound), from British developer Mediatonic, looked like the safest bet. This is a top-down, 2D shooter where you and your team of "kitteh" commandos travel to various locations, via an overworld map, to brutally explode the furry bodies of your "badkat" enemies. I'd be an idiot to not waste my free time playing a title that combines my least-favorite Internet fad (lolcats) with the intensity of a classic action movie like First Blood.

I asked Meowcenaries, with tender sincerity, to sweep me into a world housing the diabolical Evilcat, cheezburgr health packs and intentionally misspelled lolcat lingo like "Misshun Selekt" -- how adorable and easy to understand as a hip young person with a knowledge of Internet memes!

And this is when Bob Barker's call for spaying and neutering went too far

But despite the free price tag, does the game have any redeeming qualities to warrant an investment of your time? Surprisingly, yes. Playing an hour's worth of Meowcenaries left me astounded by its unexpected competence as a shooter. Sure, it's not an Unreal Engine-licensed project, but it does what you would imagine it to: provide many, many enemies to pump full of animated lead.

To be realistic, these Flash games are meant for procrastinating students or bored businesspeople with time, and badkatz, to kill. It'd be futile to criticize Meowcenaries like it was a blockbuster release from a traditional publisher. But with so many free titles floating around the Internet today, it's fascinating to watch this specific genre grow in complexity from stick figures to murderous cats with objectives, an overworld map and a score grading system.

Expect a lot of cheese-rock guitar tracks, intended to bolster the '80s action flick vibe, along with a hefty serving of lolcat stupidity. "LOL" and "OMG" text bubbles appear when your kittehs have dispatched a badkat, a scene painted with blood, guts and pieces of cat skull. Meowcenaries, like most of Adult Swim's Flash games, is gory -- but that's the point.

Hey, all these Zs and misspelled words are hilarious; someone should turn this into a fad!

Meowcenaries also has a star-based ranking system for your squadron of four cat commandos, which is similar to unit progression systems found in RTS titles like Company of Heroes and Halo Wars. If, say, you take "Lemon" on a mission and he survives the level, he'll gain a star and his accuracy, fire rate and distance of fire will increase. Achieve three stars and you move up a medal level, from bronze to silver and finally gold. Maybe I'm easily amused, but it's hilarious when a free game has more stat growth for your squad mates than a similar title (in terms of shooting-based gameplay with a minimalistic squad mechanic) like Gears of War.

More than an hour into Meowcenaries and I'd only reached the second zone; a sprawling desert aesthetic copied from Super Mario Bros. 3. There are four different zones to travel to, including other videogame staples like snow and lava worlds.

I find it hard to believe cats that can't spell anything would know which letter grade to give your score

There's a distinct NES-era feel to the action, and it surprised me considering how absolutely dumb the concept looks based on the title screen. That may be a harsh assessment, but when it gets down to it, Meowcenaries is one of the better titles to squander hours away on, as opposed to writing TPS reports.

Adult Swim has a clear vision of how to market their online presence. Easy-to-play Flash games available for all, with no installations, is certainly an attractive aspect. The fact that, at least based on one title, the games have depth to them explains why Adult Swim's Flash portal continues to expand, adding more and more games all the time.

Then again, if you absolutely hate Meowcenaries you're more than welcome to submit a better idea to Adult Swim. Really, here's a link to their Flash game submissions page. Just no more memes, please.