There are those within the gaming community who feel that there’s little worth in “short puzzle games.” Unless a game’s at least ten hours, features a heavy narrative, or asks more from a player control-wise, it’s casual fare. I can say within my time as a reviewer that such a line of thinking will have players missing out on some good fun. Total Party Kill is but one example towards my argument.
Examining from within, Total Party Kill doesn’t offer too much. A simple game that asks to use your comrades as tools to reach the end of each mini-stage. Yet in this short span lies a quality that exceeds that of some AAA titles. Sporting a colorful design and many a mental teaser, Total Party Kill begs the question: Is it better to be large and inconsistent, or short but sweet?
Standard KeenGamer review format dictates I begin with “Story,” but when there’s so little to tell, why bother? Three heroes are tasked with obtaining treasure in a cavernous castle. They will kill each other if it means obtaining that marvelous reward. That’s all there is to the story, with nothing else within the same realm until the very end, when a short cutscene reveals the treasure they’ve all worked so hard for. While I generally like stories of some sort in games I play, this didn’t seem much of a drawback.
What it all amounts to is gameplay, which will either kill the party or kill the party (negatively). In Total Party Kill, one controls three characters—Knight, Mage, and Ranger—each with distinct abilities appropriate for their class. Knight is brutal, able to launch the others barreling into the wall. Mage is cool, able to freeze and use the ice cube left behind as a sliding platform. Ranger is cunning, able to shoot people into the wall and use them as stepping stones, as well as boost objects forward. This is the basic foundation for Total Party Kill‘s gameplay, a foundation that very rarely changes throughout. They will use it to get to the door to the next stage.
When playing, one may notice that not much about the game changes as the journey continues. The setting remains relatively the same, obstacles are limited to a small variety of traps via spikes and switches, and what’s expected of the player will almost always resort to the one thing each character is capable of. Occasionally, different objects will appear later on which changes up one’s expectations, albeit rarely. Some levels even take away one of the three adventurers to limit one’s options. Even with these anomalies, there’s a certain monotony that pervades Total Party Kill once the expectations are set in the player’s mind.
I think Total Party Kill is a game best played in parts, so long as it’s not one sitting. There are sixty total levels, and doing all of them took me a little over two hours. Some levels, such as the earlier ones, took me less than a minute to complete. Others are far more tricky, and the drag that permeates from these levels makes the experience all the more monotonous. An equal 30×30 level gap feels most appropriate, or perhaps even a 20x20x20 format that works best as a beginner-intermediate-expert fashion. With this, the narrow path the game sets for itself won’t feel as draining by the end.
Where the gameplay best exudes its potential is through its source character sacrifice. As stated before, the game doesn’t offer much variability in terms of what to do, but with sixty levels, there’s quite a bit more on how to do it. From my experience, there are some levels that let the player handle things in off-the-wall ways. A few levels can be conquered just by having the heroes piggyback on each other and having them all jump in quick succession. It’s not always possible, but I’ve accomplished it a few times, which was very rewarding. Flexibility in getting to the goal helps to combat the monotony of rapid-cycle puzzles with limited choices.
From a design standpoint, the levels of Total Party Kill never feel all that unfair or unclear. Little trinkets within levels, such as airborne platforms, serve as hints as to how the level should be played. Even during later levels, when the amount of obstacles outweigh the characters onscreen, it was a simple process of doing things one at a time to unearth the bigger picture. Added to the at-times flexible ways in beating levels, there’s never a point where even difficult levels feel like it expects the world. Though the small scope of the game, added by little else, doesn’t help much for replayability. Similarly to Kamiko, the puzzles being (relatively) the same makes this a potential “one and done” title.
Browsing Steam reviews for the game, one lamented that this game was too easy. I would have to disagree, as this is by no means a walk through the castle. The first twenty levels are certainly easy, and Total Party Kill excels at building the difficulty naturally. To provide a humorous anecdote, there was one level later on that I had to cheese in order to complete. I managed to perfectly balance a character on a pixel-perfect end of a spike-filled platform, boosting my way up to the doorway that led to the next level. It was the only level I needed that for, but one very difficult stage is enough to mark this “Not easy.”
And on a functional note, I had no issues whatsoever. I could perhaps mark off a smidgen for the pixel-perfect performance I did in that difficult stage, but I won’t. With a game of this caliber, a pixel left untouched is of little consequence (and a blessing). Total Party Kill never had any slowdown of any sort, and each button did exactly what I wished to do. And when the game has so little to fall back on, functionality is crucial.
Graphics & Audio
Remember a little while back when I commented on a monotony present? The graphical styling doesn’t help with that whatsoever. While in good quality on the surface, the overall setting and characters of Total Party Kill don’t change. The player will find themselves within a dark castle, complete with a blue-bricked interior and a darkened background in a compact stage that one could walk through in seconds. Even similarly-styled games in Whip! Whip! and Mochi Mochi Boy have more to look at, despite having roughly the same amount of content.
Despite this, there’s a praiseworthy amount of detail to others aspects of the art and animation. Each character has a bright and vivid hue that makes them stand out over all else, and even move fluidly when idle. Obstacles are presented clearly to dictate the limits of one’s actions and what isn’t viable. Sacrificed characters can still serve some purpose when left on the ground, which is shown through “x eyes” on their faces. One can even calculate a level’s conditions just by the placement of spikes and the structure of the stage. Key details can aid in having the experience feel more intuitive, which Total Party Kill understands.
What is likely the most forgettable aspect lies in the soundtrack, which I barely recall even thinking now. I can’t even recall if more than one track played throughout the entire game, from beginning to end. What stood out most was a sound effect rather than the soundtrack—the level complete jingle. It tingles my nostalgic senses, an upbeat ringing that echoes the sounds of my childhood arcade days. A gracious, forgiving sound that freed me from those cumbersome difficult stages. That’s what will hold true for me.