101 Ways to Die is a sadistically gory puzzle-platformer from UK indie devs Four Door Lemon, focused on mangling, maiming, and murdering your way towards your final goal: helping your boss Professor Ernst Splattunfuder re-obtain the lost pages of his life's work, the book named 101 Ways to Die.
The story of 101 Ways to Die is a simple one. Your boss, Professor Ernst Splattunfuder, has spent his whole life working on a book named 101 Ways to Die. After spending a lot of time ridiculed and ignored by the scientific community, the Professor finally finishes his life-affirming work. However, as fate would have it, the work is caught up in a terrible accident, destroying the pages of 101 Ways to Die, and leaving only pieces of his life's work. You have been hired as the professor's lab assistant to collect the missing data and re-tell the pages of 101 Ways to Die. How exactly are you doing that? By killing, of course!
The concept is a simple one, but this game doesn't need much of a story setup, and Four Door Lemon realizes that. They set us a basic premise quickly, showing us integral story details but not over-bearing exposition. We're told that Professor Ernst Splattunfuder is a scientific reject that has spent his entire life working on one book. Are we shown a 10 minute movie of the Professor being ridiculed and spending his time pondering over theories? No, because we don't need to be shown it. Four Door Lemon do a great job of using character design, environments, language, and direct storytelling to put these details across quickly, and with great effect. They avoid the over-exposition trap that so many other devs fall into.
101 Ways to Die definitely has a striking art style. In the opening cutscene, it hits you straight away. Each story element is shown in a comic book style format, using a black and white colour scheme mainly, but using colours to highlight important elements of the story. So many games and movies use selective colouring just for the sake of looking cool, but Four Door Lemon use it well to highlight important things. This means that someone who knows nothing about the game and isn't reading the storyboard writing can still pick up on important elements about the story regardless of prior knowledge. The black & white colour scheme is a stark one, giving an atmosphere and visual style to the game that helps to characterize the story it is trying to tell as a dark one.
When it comes to gameplay, the game ditches the black & white selective colour scheme for a deep, contrasting palette with industrial tones. The game almost feels steampunk, with a lot of metal and pipes jutting out everywhere. The game's colours are generally very dark, but not in the sense that they impede your vision or gameplay. The tones of colour used fit well with the theme.
The blood within the game also strikes a big contrast compared to the industrial metal. Blood goes EVERYWHERE in this game, splattering walls and floors with deep red fluid. The blood pops out against the dark metal used within the game, creating a wonderful contrast that makes any amateur murderer giddy with excitement. The over-the-top splatter adds wonderfully to the dark humour of the game.
Audio within the game is well designed, and game sounds are realistic. Bones crunch, gears whir, bombs explode, and blood splatters with satisfying effect, which adds well to the feel of the game. If these sounds were weak and lackluster, they would ruin the satisfaction of killing, the main focus of the game. Four Door Lemon has done a great job on sound design.
Music within the game is quite the contrast to the visuals. The music is very easy to listen to, and is often very upbeat and melancholy. Contrasting audio and visuals is a good tactic for setting mood contrary to circumstances. If the game had no music, I personally think that it would be much less entertaining. The upbeat and playful music sets almost a happy tone, meaning that players will be enticed into feeling happier and more positive. Four Door Lemon have done a good job of using contrasting elements to accentuate and alter existing themes, something often seen in 1980's music, made popular by bands such as The Smiths and Joy Division. Its clear that contrasting themes work, and Four Door Lemon have used a proven format to great effect.
The music itself is subtle. The developers could be forgiven for making the music the main focus of the sound, but having it subtly in the background makes it a lot more atmospheric, almost as if the music is playing within the game's universe itself. If the music was too loud and overbearing, the player would lose all sense of atmosphere, and the satisfying noises mentioned earlier such as the splatter of blood and clunking of machinery would be lost within the music. Again, Four Door Lemon have done a great job on this feature.
101 Ways to Die offers a puzzle platformer based around problem-solving, probably most comparable to the critically acclaimed Battleblock Theater. The game offers over 50 levels with different tiers of objectives, offering high replayability for those who wish to attain full completion. If you have this mindset of completion-ism, this is a game for you. Levels that you haven't fully completed will pull you back in until you finally complete those tantalizing master objectives. Replayability is a high factor in puzzle games, and through utilizing master objectives as hard to obtain goals, the developers achieve that factor. These master objectives get progressively harder, demanding complicated trap combinations that can be very hard to set up, though completion of these objectives gives not only satisfaction, but can do a good job at increasing player skill. However, if you are not someone that enjoys puzzle games, or finds completionist content satisfying, this game can become monotonous for you at times.
When you start the game, you are given a tutorial over the course of a few levels that run you through the basics of the game, so that you start off on the right foot. Whilst these tutorials can indeed feel quite restrictive, they last for but a few levels, allowing you to start off on the right foot and succeed in the game, though it doesn't do too much to subvert the skill gap within the game, which is a good thing. This tutorial sets you up for success well. If you're still struggling later in the game, you can receive small hints at the end of levels that can help you out.
Before the level starts you are placed into plotting mode, also called SCI-Eye, which gives visual assistance to players, showing where devices can be placed and path of trajectory where applicable. The game offers a wide variety of tools with which to kill, including Mines, Bombs, Slime, Bumpers, Turrets and more. Some tools kill directly, whereas some can be used as setups to kill with other environmental devices, such as using slime to make your test subjects slip into spikes.
After you have set up your traps, you initiate the spawn wave of your test subjects, sit back, and watch. This allows for on-the-go reflection of your strategy, including working out what works well and what went wrong. This sort of on-the-fly retrospect allows for an adaptive playstyle in working out how best to kill your test subjects.
Speaking of test subjects, what exactly are you killing in 101 Ways to Die? You are killing cloned pseudo-humanoids named Splatts; after their creator, Professor Ernst Splattunfuder. These Splatts are quite reminiscent of Frankenstein, looking like they are cobbled together from human body parts and roughly stitched together. These mindless drones lumber across the level for you to kill, although they do have some semblance of intelligence. Splatts will jump over small gaps, meaning that players must compensate for this feature, another device to increase player skill and help players to think outside the box when it comes to how best to kill Splatts and meet the different tiers of objectives.
When you finally complete the level, you are presented with a gory highlight intro, showing all of your kills in their blood-splattered glory. However, I have personally found in my playtime that these highlights are blocked by the end of screen statistics screen. This isn't a majorly annoying thing though, the highlights in the background ends up as more filler whilst you're reading your statistics, and it is still possible to watch them if you want to. However, being able to remove the statistics overlay so you can watch your highlights in all of their glory would be a nice feature.
To summarize, 101 Ways to Die is an addictive puzzle-platformer which presents a short and simple story to set up a satisfying game that offers a high skill curve with a well balanced skill ceiling. The art style is satisfying and atmospheric, and the music works well in contrasting themes and accentuating the atmosphere of the game. Gameplay is satisfying and addictive, but only if you're something of a completionist, otherwise it might not really appeal to you, and can even begin to feel monotonous sometimes.
I am personally something of a completionist myself, although not massively, but this game still pulls me in, making me strive to complete the harder objectives in levels. Overall, I would recommend this game if you enjoy similar games within the puzzle-platformer genre, and I have given this game an 8/10.
|+ Quickly and well-formed story||– Won't appeal to those who don't like puzzle games|
|+ Impressive environmental and character design||– Can feel somewhat monotonous sometimes|
|+ Subtle music score and satisfying environmental sounds|
|+ Addictive gameplay for the completionists out there|