Cracking Brain Jacking
So what we have is a puzzle-platformer where your scythe-warp teleportation and possession techniques can be put to use to help out the wonderfully versatile cast of life’s victims. The world is split into the living and dead realms in which you, as death’s stand-in, can freely flip between. Assisting spirits to move on often sets off a domino-like chain of events. Flipping Death’s well-crafted missions involve novel ways of solving its puzzles through use of a possession mechanic.
Possessing the living allows you to play literal puppet-master, hearing some of their thoughts and moving them around freely, but the real highlight of the mechanic can be found in the reaction of the possessed. It’s a great giggle to watch a dude try to pass off his absurd looking wonky walk as natural, or to listen to Jazz trumpeter, Miles, mumbling about losing his ‘sweet licks’. There’s a certain comic delight to be drawn from the understated, almost blasé attitude most folk adopt when being possessed.
The fact that the writing is handled by a real pro, in comic book writer Ryan North, pays off in spades. The wit carries a comedic tone straight out of the left-field with the wacky-dark humour perfectly complemented by the vivid purple-gothic cartoon pop-up book look. Bad/good puns are plentiful, and internal discussions when mind-reading provide an extra layer to character’s off-beat demeaner. A dead bear describing Penny’s obvious puns as ‘distressing’ certainly cracked a smile from me.
Sucking at Something is the First Step Towards Being Sort of Good at Something
The game offers gentle prods towards its puzzle solutions, but the lack of organic sign-posting gave me a few issues, sometimes hitting those point-and-click style dead-ends where you’re basically guessing how to proceed by throwing everything at everyone (or, as is often the case, everyone at everyone). There’s a solution at hand in the form of hints, selectable from the menu, though it kind of feels like cheating. There’s also a lot of running back-and-forth through the same locales but, fortunately, Death’s scythe has a handy magic map, which is what allows him to track down his targets. For Penny, this equates to a must-appreciated fast travel.
Making light of the whole situation is a wonderfully realised vinyl-effect soft-jazz soundtrack. The auditory transition when flipping between the dead and living world works so well, adding to an already natural and seamless ride between planes. The soundtrack also pulls the surreal atmosphere together, as does the excellent voice acting, with the cast’s consistent delivery tying the witticisms carefully to the overall comedic theme.
Artwork is extremely detailed and there’s bags of character to found in the environment, from the immediate surroundings to the dynamic, animated backdrops. Additionally, NPCs are beautifully designed with appropriately exaggerated proportions, characteristics and expressions. There were no obvious performance dips on Switch (though framerate is stable, it feels ever-so-slightly sub-30fps) and, as one can expect for this type of presentation, the graphical style really pops when in handheld mode.
Graphics & Presentation: 3.5
Overall Score: 3.6/5
Though the platforming is floaty and a tad clumsy, it’s hardly the focus. Zoink Games have created a genuinely funny, vibrant-yet-dark, thematically consistent world that feels alive. Well, dead. Well living dea… you get the point.
Formats: Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One
Price: £17.99 (Nintendo eShop)
Publisher: Zoink Games
Developer: Zoink Games
Release Date: 07/08/2018
Age Rating: PEGI 12