Title: Death By Game Show
Available On: PC/Mac/Linux
Genre: Action, Strategy, Tower Defense
Official Site: http://www.oointah.com/games/
Release Date: January 22nd, 2016
Where to Buy: Steam
Death By Game Show is a frenetic amalgamation of strategy, tower defense, action, and 2D side-scrolling that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Sure, there are sprinkles of games I’ve played and ideas I’ve seen before, but the sum of Death By Game Show’s parts all work to create a piece of entertainment, that as a whole, is more original than its individual ideas. While it is easy to praise Death By Game Show for trying out a unique blend, the mixing of all these ideas results in, well…. a mixed bag.
In this whimsical adventure, you play as a human in the 26th century. In a world where the AI uprising has won, and humans are enslaved by robots. The player character has been found out to be too intelligent for humankind, and the penalty created by the machines is Death… By Game Show! This basic premise sets up the world, story, and gameplay of Death By Game Show.
Players are taken to a show stage where they select their challenges to compete for cash rewards, and the privilege to keep their life. The show stage acts as a hub, not only for selecting challenges but for using the cash to grant the player abilities and robot companions to take into the arena. One such robot companion is a hilariously conceptualized locker with eyes named G.I.M.P. Unfortunately for G.I.M.P. he is chained to the player’s leg. Much of the humor comes from the robot locker’s unwillingness to work with the human, and he’ll let it be known in his banter. This unlikely ally is used to spawn bot companions to aid in the challenge arenas. An energy meter is given to G.I.M.P to prevent overheating on spawning companions. Spawn too many, and your frenemy will amusingly fall over in exhaustion as he tries to muster up the energy to create the machine you selected. These minions are vital to success as players are largely helpless against the enemies in the arena. You have to count on G.I.M.P to create defensive and offensive bots, as well as buildings that will aid in achieving victory.
All of the action happens in real time and it gets wild, fortunately, there is a pause button where players can queue up actions. This type of gameplay was dubbed by developer’s Oointah as a “twitch-action strategy game.” The descriptor is wholly accurate as to what to expect with Death By Game Show’s play style. The strategy comes from reacting to the enemy units, by generating companions that can counter the robot combatant’s in classic strategy rock, paper, scissors. Flying droids are good against backdrop buildings, the bulldozer-like robot is good at keeping the pesky ninjas away, and it largely works well enough. The game does lack that high-level tuning most strategy games have. It’s easy enough to simply spam certain robots like the self-destructing bomber robot, to take care of a variety of scenarios.
While initially unique and challenging, the gameplay never manages to evolve or vary over the course of its fifty-odd challenges. Yes, the challenge ramps up in spurts. Yes, you’ll get a slightly different looking stage, or a new enemy to contend with, but it’s not enough to keep most gamers engaged. Many stages have similar objectives, such as earn X amount of money, survive for X amount of minutes, or destroy all buildings in X amount of time, it’s exhausting in its repetition of objectives. If you’ve played challenge 10-1 you more or less did challenge 10-7, with varying degrees of difficulty. There’s little to push you through the challenges, other than more challenges. There are cash rewards to buy single use abilities, buildings, and units to make the challenges easier, but it never feels necessary. They’re simply a slight boost to ease a particularly difficult level. The game could have benefited by having a more worthwhile use for your cash at the end of each round; some carrot on a stick to justify sticking around for 50 challenges of similar mission structure.
That carrot could have even been some more story, some more context as to why we care to survive the show, anything really. The game is simply content to set up the world and then forget about it. That’s not necessarily a problem, but when the gameplay stops grabbing you around the halfway point you begin to look elsewhere. The multitude of pop culture references, from Idiocracy to Arnold Schwarzenegger one liners doesn’t substitute for character or world building.
Death By Game Show lovingly wears it’s pop culture influences on its sleeve. This works to varying degrees of success, but ultimately it feels disjointed. The tone and world in Death By Game Show are just as mixed up as it’s gameplay mechanics, and not as successfully. Instead of cleverly paying homage to its influences, the game settles for on the nose references or quotes ripped straight from its inspirations. The games theme is “mixed bag”, and the humor matches that feeling. From the lovingly realized locker companion to some truly cringe-worthy dialogue written for both allies and enemies. Lines along the likes of “you hit softer than you kiss me, uh I mean never mind” don’t even begin to do the amount of cringe-inducing jokes justice. The game tries so hard to make you laugh, almost amicably so. You’ll want to chuckle because the effort seems genuine, but it feels forced. It’s an experience comparable to a friend trying to cheer you up, acting as goofy as they can, throwing anything that comes into their head at you to make you laugh. The problem with throwing things at the player is most of it doesn’t stick. That’s the issue with Death By Game Show’s humor, it doesn’t land for most of the time you’ll be playing. It’s largely juvenile and eye rolling. Although, to the game’s credit, I did let out a gleeful chuckle as I watched a ninja robot commit seppuku after it failed to kill one of my robots.
While the main levels of the game might not tickle your funny bones or be pinnacles of mission design, there is a level editor for people to experiment with. The editor is rather robust and offers a wide range of customization options for players to create their own challenges. I can see this adding some replay value and variety to the game, and the tool is simple enough to use. Also worth mentioning is there are leaderboards for levels to give you something to work to beat and reinforce replay-ability. These are welcome additions to the game and help add value to the already affordable price point of $9.99.
I want to applaud Death By Game Show for being delightfully weird and clearly made from the heart. This is a game that is unabashedly the vision of the developers, and you may find yourself loving it as much as they love Idiocracy. The gameplay is a unique blend, if not entirely engaging or varied, the art style is charming, and the music has a welcome southern twang to it, there’s enough good here to recommend. It does need mention again, though, that the gameplay and challenge, aren’t complex or deep enough to feel fresh or engaging for the entirety of the playtime. Which becomes further hampered by the lack of variety in its mission design, and lack of story or sense of setting. This is a game for tower defense fans who might be able to look past that for the breath of fresh air in the genre the game is.
- Gameplay: 2D “Twitch-Action Strategy”
- Graphics: Lovingly drawn sprites and animations
- Sound: Enjoyed the southern musical stylings; adds a western vibe to the proceedings
- Presentation: The whole package is disjointed, whimsical, and charming
- Unique blend of gameplay
- Juvenile humor
- Lack of variety
- The world begs to be fleshed out
Patrick McQuaid is an aspiring games and film journalist/critic looking to make his mark on the industry. He’s attempting to finish his Communications degree while juggling a variety of responsibilities… it’s proving difficult, but he has some spunk. Don’t give him a beer and ask about Silent Hill 2 in the same action or prepare to have an aggravatingly long chat about how that game transcends the art form.