A gentleman can kill and kill and kill again, but there is typically nothing personal about it. The bloodletting is bloodless. It's just business. It's simply what has to be done.
As with gentlemen, so it is for Gentlemen!, a charming and inconsequential deathmatch game from Lucky Frame. Inconsequence isn't intended as an insult either - I suspect Lucky Frame knows its latest is a papercraft confection, a clever diversion to be frowned over for five minutes on the 10.19 to Godalming as if it were a good cryptic crossword. And, like a crossword, the setup is simple: two combatants, one hunched at either end of a tablet, try to do the other in across a series of symmetrical 2D no man's lands. Why? No reason. It's business. It's what has to be done.
Gentlemen! is fast. Each game, regardless of which of the three match types you play, will likely be over within a minute. The red gentleman and the blue gentleman start at either end of the screen, and they traverse the arena's careful congregation of platforms by switching, VVVVVV-style, between the floor and the ceiling rather than jumping. A gentleman never jumps.
The best environments are fairly cluttered, so the game's often primarily concerned with narrowing the gap and getting close enough to strike. If you're close, of course, so is the other gentleman - therefore the tactical side of the whole affair tends to boil off into gleeful panic as you both stab at your weapon buttons while pushing forward and then backing away again, dancing in and out of danger until one of you is dancing no longer.
Those weapons add a welcome variety, each bringing its own problems. Take the anarchist bomb - it has a nice short fuse and you can toss it halfway across the screen, but it's an anarchist bomb and so precision was never the defining concept. The dynamite, meanwhile, can be stuck down in one spot, but is worryingly eager to kill the person who placed it. Knives come in two varieties - one is flung horizontally, which leaves your back exposed, while the other type blasts out in a quartet of fixed angles and is good for enemies who drop in diagonally. Then you've got the electrical burst, which is so localised you'll need to be on top of your foe, and the homing pigeon - my favourite - that flaps across the screen towards its target but will explode by itself after a set period of time.
These are tools made for improvisation more than foresight, and a lot of the game's tactical fun actually comes down to knowing when to hammer at the little button that jumbles both gentlemen's current weapons around, whenever it appears on the map.
Game types cover standard deathmatch (or Duel, as it's called, since that's much classier), deathmatch with the optional victory route of collecting three spawning diamonds, and a mode called Chase. Chase adds a hint of Laurel and Hardy to proceedings, as each player gets a fleeting window of time in which they can attack while their quarry cannot. It's Gentlemen!'s simple formula at its best, and it's a surprisingly effective means of generating comedy. (A recent update, meanwhile, has added crates too, making the base game even more hectic as they switch out weapons on the fly, allow for massive chain-explosions and grant invisibility or invulnerability. It's almost too much at times, although the new elements can be turned off in a menu.)
Beneath the cluster of modes and the typically stylish visuals (all sharp lines and faded colours), Gentlemen! is ultimately something of a sketch. It's Lucky Frame's thinnest game in a while, but that doesn't really matter. It's built to grip you very intently for a minute or so before retreating to the bedlam of icons on your tablet and popping out the next time you're stuck on a railway cutting with nothing to read and a friend who needs entertaining. There aren't enough two-player tablet action games knocking around; this one is clever and even-handed and, like its courtly leads, unlikely to outstay its welcome.
7 / 10