Imagine, if you will, the final bosses of the original Donkey Kong Country series. What did it take to defeat them? Memorization, close-quarter movement execution, quick wits, and loads of patience. They were fun for the challenge, for testing the player’s ability to follow a pattern and stick with it until the very end of a long and desolate path of avoiding certain death. This ultimate test, however, was provided in its most unforgiving fashion within the final boss’s stage. In Deadfall Tropics, it is the entire game.
Level after level, the most insane trials awaiting the player provide enough trial and error to push the game’s length to almost double its actual content. It is labeled by its own developer as a “difficult” game for good reason: the player will die and die and die and die and die some more. All the dying may be too much for some, which is something necessary to note beforehand, but for those willing to test their patience, their fingers, and their soul, Deadfall Tropics is a trip to tropical hell and back.
Deadfall Tropics is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Play as Hank Hudson, a strapping young smuggler who find himself at the mercy of a bunch of dirty criminals hungry for power and wealth. The setting: the merciless Isla Demoníaca, where snakes and spiders and locusts reign, and don’t take kindly to human faces. Along with the natural appear the supernatural, with floating tiki platforms and tropical voodoo running amok seemingly out of spite. Hudson must find his way off the island for the sake of his own survival, and he’ll need all the help he can get.
A few other details about this game, along with the imagery present, may ring a few bells: the game takes place in 1941, references Nazis, is loaded with collectible treasures, and features an anthemic soundtrack that’s sure to pump up the energy of action and adventure. It sounds a lot like some popular movie franchise, particularly one starring Harrison Ford with a signature cap and whip. Indeed, Deadfall Tropics seems to take heavy inspiration from Indiana Jones, and its story seems to mirror some of its rowdy yet fun tones. Its writing consists of many one-liners, running gags, and Hudson being a charming dude just roped into a bad situation. It’s straightforward to a fault, with an overarching story progressing at the end of each playable stage. Progress through the island beat up some bad guys, save some folks, call a big guy “Pickle” eighty times. A formula for success as far as Hollywood’s concerned.
One may wonder if this self-aware dialogue necessarily works in the context of a video game inspired by a film, rather than just a film (franchise). I would say yes, but only so much that it serves to make the characters more than placeholders. The game didn’t have to include any type of in-depth story, nor did it have to give the characters as much dialogue as it does. For what’s included, there’s a nice array of personality that comes through without seeming overbearing. Hank is a perfectly suitable lead for an adventure/platformer game, with wit, logical bearings, and a sense of humor. Bad guys are painted a tad more as a joke than anything, but their dialogue nonetheless gave a sense of personality appreciated from a story standpoint.
If nothing else, the story is by no means deep. It’s nice Deadfall Tropics included one at all—as I don’t think the Indiana Jones homage would be really complete without it—but also makes a nice foundation for motivation to continue through its torture (more on this a little later). Without this, it’s little more than going from Point A to Point B for bragging rights.
This game is pretty frustrating. What’s nice about this is that it tests how well the game manages on its own in a different capacity: gauging my desire to return to it after getting stuck. Fortunately, I have beaten this game before reviewing it, though there was a period of time where I wondered if I really wanted to.
That initial comparison to Donkey Kong Country was no accident; the stages of Deadfall Tropics takes on a guided path that a player is almost required to abide by in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One wrong move means possible death, pixel-perfect maneuvers are required, especially later on. Intuition, experimentation, and trial-and-error are handy tools to have when trying to get Hank home in one piece. Enemy patterns are predicated and (occasionally) adjust to Hank’s position. The number of times I found myself dying somewhere between save points (Thank you, developer, for including save points) only to go through the process of getting back by doing the exact same things had effectively lulled me into a robotic state of familiarity. Is this roboticism, faced with the prospect of numerous deaths ahead, fun? That ended up being the most integral question of the playthrough.
Upon beating the game, the ensuing emotional feedback was that of relief. Within that was appreciation, within that a lack of desire to go through it again. One of the issues with these games that rely so heavily on the difficulty is that they only really appeal to a certain demographic of gamers, with casual players getting fed up with the difficulty and leave the game to sit in time forever. With Deadfall Tropics, I feel the game isn’t polished enough in other aspects to compensate for the overwhelming negativity that is caused by its extreme difficulty. Is a game good when the player is more interested in beating the game to prove to themselves that they can or because they genuinely enjoy the experience? Should the game be less straightforward and offer other things to do aside from its main objective, or try to develop more of its music or characters, it would likely not be so noticeable a blemish when its difficulty becomes its only selling point.
Another thing that’s disappointing is that in the time that we currently reside, there are great opportunities to improve games that were released decades ago. These retro-inspired games are good for a challenge, but what else do they become in a modern world full of heightened expectations for hardware and versatility? Simply making a game with all the right looks, difficulty, and (in)conveniences limit the potential of what could be possible with a game like Deadfall Tropics. Aside from the basic movement controls, all one can do as Hank is run, jump, and shoot, should he have ammo. Why not add the capacity for different weapons? Different items to use to progress further? What about including a shop at the starting area to acquire different things? Sure, these things are all superficial, but it would at least be something to work towards aside from just going from one place to another.
My desire for variety aside, if difficulty is the game, this is another notable addition to the pain train of increasingly difficult titles. Defeating the final boss of the game (which is a cakewalk compared to the stage before), I died about 750 times prior to its downfall. Deaths accumulate, shown as a badge of honor at the bottom-right corner of the screen. Its craft is solely dedicated to testing the strength of your controller—and it shows. With controls already being a little finicky, and holding onto vines being the bane of my existence, it is a painful experience of going for the gold in a sport where you aren’t acclimated until you’re soaked in blood. If there should be praise put forth towards this game, it’s how effectively and creatively it expands upon what can and will put Hank in his grave.
Graphics and Audio
Ah, and the pixel work. That should absolutely be praised because it’s the best part of Deadfall Tropics. Everything looks absolutely beautiful, from the darkened jungles of a spooky island to a fiery pit of tangible hell from a mystical monster’s hideout. The scenery is beautiful, not that one will be looking at it much, and the distinctions between enemies, friends, secret conditions, and otherwise are all wonderfully broadcast and easy to follow. To be honest, it was the look of the game, which feels so professional despite its relative indie status, that drew me to researching the game for review. If looks could kill, Deadfall Tropics could cost other two-hundred deaths to my counter just from booting up a level.
Its sound quality, however, doesn’t match up to its visual counterpart. It’s not so much that it’s anything outright disastrous, only that it’s so quiet in comparison to the sound effects and the flow of the game that one hardly comprehends it’s even there. When they do, they’ll realize it’s little more than stock adventure music, which doesn’t do much outside the most tense moments… which is basically every second of a level, so the feeling wears off quickly. To some extent, it meshes well with the straightforward premise and progression of its narrative, but the part of me that wishes for more only craves a soundtrack as fulfilling as its colorful visual appeal.