Squirrel Stapler is exactly what it says on the tin. The game’s store page touts a simple premise: “Hunt squirrels, staple them to a corpse, and meet God.” It’s a terrific summation of what exactly happens in this brief but hilarious horror-themed hunting simulator.
Originally released as part of the second installment in the Dread X Collection series of horror games, Squirrel Stapler has now become a standalone release in September 2023. The game, developed and self-published by David Szymanski of Iron Lung and Dusk fame, is a deliberately simple adventure with a clear, defined goal.
You play as a nameless figure living in a remote wilderness cabin. He lives there with his wife, who is dead. Her body has been skinned from head to toe, with splatters of blood and the remnants of a strange ritual littered throughout the cabin. Taking issue with his wife’s newly-decrepit appearance, he takes things into his own hands to improve her looks. Naturally, he decides to hunt squirrels in the surrounding woods, collecting their carcasses in order to staple them onto his wife’s remains. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this brief adventure isn’t as clear-cut as it seems.
The door leading outside of the cabin carries an ominous message, declaring that “God is coming” in five days. A series of notes found in the cabin advise against our protagonist’s ambitions, with The Goat of the Wood declaring, “Thou shall not staple squirrels.” Undeterred, he continues his venture for five days, facing increasing resistance from the woods until the game’s conclusion.
Gameplay and a Morbid Goal
The actual act of playing Squirrel Stapler is fairly simple. You’re given a bolt-action rifle that needs to reload in between every shot, a handful of rifle rounds, and a map of the woods. You’re meant to skulk around the greenery, keeping your noise level down and your presence subdued until you spot a squirrel. If you take things slow, you’ll be able to train your sights on the creature, take it out, and collect its remains. Do this a set number of times — in addition to hunting the fabled “Big Squirrel” — and you’ll be able to return to your cabin. From there, you’ll staple your collection of dead rodents to your wife, fall asleep, and do it all again the next day.
You’ll have some assistance in accomplishing your morbid goal. A patch of poisoned grass outside the cabin will often contain one or two squirrel carcasses for free, and you can occasionally find a two-headed variant that counts as two separate squirrels. You can collect additional ammunition as well as energy drinks that allow you to zoom across the map. Of course, you’ll also be able to find various health packs to refill your life bar as well.
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Despite the simple premise, you can very easily die in Squirrel Stapler. As the surrounding woods catch on to your terrifying ambitions, they’ll start throwing a pair of enemies towards your hunt: the ghostly remains of squirrels you’ve already killed and the appropriately titled “Squirrel Bears.” The former are often found via a unique sound cue, and they can be easily shot before they cause you any harm. The latter, however, are gargantuan beasts that can very easily take you out in a single attack. They’ll take a good number of rifle rounds to put down, and upon death, they explode, meaning you’ll take additional damage once they’re defeated. They’re also drawn to loud noises, meaning it’s in your best interest to scout the area before firing off your rifle or using your signature squirrel call.
There’s not a lot else to do in Squirrel Stapler, though its core loop is deceptively compelling. You can explore the map to find a variety of collectibles, with a majority of them being increasingly unsettling diary entries and scientific logs that relate to the woods’ supernatural properties. You can also find various squirrel facts with a similarly decrepit set of information that grows more and more absurd as the game continues. A set of Geocaches, one of each of the five days, can also be collected to unlock a mode exclusive to the standalone version of Squirrel Stapler.
Squirrel Stapler Standalone Edition: What to Know
In fact, a lot of additions have been made to the standalone edition of Squirrel Stapler. The game has been adjusted with additional environmental objects, more graphical options, the aforementioned energy drinks and double-squirrels, additional notes, the “Shady Shack,” and other minor changes and improvements. It’s certainly a direct upgrade over the original Squirrel Stapler experience.
The game’s graphics and presentation are a deliberate homage to the low-budget, obscure hunting games of the late ’90s to the early 2000s. Textures are low-resolution, assets purposefully have a low poly-count, and animations are often stiff and simple. But this simple presentation works in Squirrel Stapler‘s favor, with the few times you’re met with a violent threat being genuinely intimidating as a result. The retro presentation also makes its legitimately unsettling ending all the more effective. Though this standalone edition does resemble the original Dread X release in a lot of ways, there are a few quality-of-life touch-ups here and there to make the player’s experience a little smoother.
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Does it justify almost eight USD? That depends. Outside of some minor adjustments and the aforementioned additional mode, this is still very much the same Squirrel Stapler experience found in the original Dread X release. The biggest difference between the two, however, you get twelve games total in The Dread X Collection 2 for just two dollars more.
Whether Squirrel Stapler justifies its price point ultimately depends on how much you get out of its novelty. It’s funny to a point, but seeing as how an initial playthrough can be cleared in as little as one hundred minutes, you’d probably feel more satisfied having grabbed it on sale instead of its full price. That’s not to say that this standalone edition isn’t worth grabbing at all. If you enjoy David Szymanki’s other games, it’s an easy way to show your support in a meaningful way. But it’s certainly something that you wouldn’t feel bad about putting off.
Squirrel Stapler is currently available on Steam for around eight USD. A version with slightly less polish is also included with the Dread X Collection 2, which is available on Steam, itch.io, and the Epic Games Store for about ten USD.
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