I always remember as a child eagerly watching cartoons, just before the News at Six. My absolute favourite were the Roadrunner cartoons where Wile E Coyote would devise insane stupid ways to kill the roadrunner, where he used all manner of equipment and weapons. 101 Ways To Die reminds me very much of the spirit of that cartoon with its deathly traps and complex killing machines – except with one difference. Unlike Wile E Coyote, the methods used in this game are very, very, successful and that’s where all the fun begins.
You play the part of the assistant to mad scientist Professor Splatunfuder. Think of yourself as a kind of Igor. You need to help the professor restore his recipe book. Now, this isn’t a recipe book that features how to cook a pan Asian curry in five minutes. No, it does however show you how to kill your foe in the most brutal, stylish and madcap way possible. The foes you are killing are like test Frankenstein monsters, which amble along from one end of the room to another trying to avoid your assassination devices. The game reminds me of Lemmings, but whereas in that game you were trying to get your subjects to safety, here it’s the complete reverse.
Gameplay wise it seems very simple to start with but the possibilities and variations can at times become very complex. You are presented with a level, and in it are an entrance for the monsters to appear and an exit for them to head to. You have to stop them reaching that exit, by killing them in the most inventive and most imaginative way possible. There may be traps in this level – lava pits, swinging spikes or boulders – and you have to find a way to guide your monster into them or trigger the death traps onto the monsters. To help you achieve this you get a number of items that you can place around the map just before the monsters are released. These range from bouncers that spring the monsters up into the direction you want them to go, mines that blow them skywards into a trap or even into something even more deadly and a-laugh-a-minute slimy floor that makes them slip and slide towards their doom. When you’ve set your traps, tools and got your plan in place, you let the monsters out and see if your diabolical scheme was successful or not.
There are main objectives for each level and further secondary objectives. These can be as simple as kill all of the monsters or try and get combination kills like mining a monster into a harpoon who then flies into a spike. You get stars at the end of each level, just like Angry Birds and the better your kills the more stars you get. With additional stars you can unlock different levels and progress through the game.
Now how does all this work as a gaming experience I hear you scream? Very well indeed is the short answer. It’s a thoughtful experience as you analyse the level carefully looking at all the deathly possibilities on offer. There are many times when you release the monsters and find your calculations to be wrong and you will have to try again. This isn’t as frustrating as you think it is because everything plays out so quickly and through trial and error you come across so many random deaths that you never could have planned.
The core purpose of 101 Ways To Die is not to have an interactive story, nor to have an ever-evolving open world environment; the core purpose for this game is to have fun while killing things. I found to my pleasure it does this in bucket loads. The pure joy of seeing your little monster bounce around the screen into the death traps is fantastic and I’ve happily witnessed it time and time again. There is nothing like the feeling you get when all the planning comes to fruition and you complete all the objectives, gaining those valuable three stars. It’s the perfect mobile phone game experience on a console, and the dip in and dip out play style is really refreshing to do, especially after spending 40 hours battling away in Far Cry.
Looks wise it is very appealing. From its nicely designed comic book opening cut scene to its colourful cartoony style level design. The small team of UK developers has produced a game that does well at everything it has aimed for. Particularly pleasing are the animations of the monsters themselves. I love the way they move, whether it be walking slowly to their doom, sliding, screaming in panic, or flying through the air. The sound is good but there is nothing that stands out here on the score front, but the effects are great. The death splats when they get run over by a boulder are very funny and weirdly satisfying. I’ve just realised that I’m starting to sound like a serial killer.
There are 101 death recipes to unlock and over 30 levels to play through in the game. There is a danger the difficulty arc is quite steep and you might be left staring at a level for ages wondering how to kill your little monster, but the beauty of the game is that when you do work it out and it works, you feel great. You’re a homicidal mad maniac, but you’re an excellent homicidal maniac and for that reason I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone who likes to play a game that is fun, quick to dip into and full of ghastly surprises.