Let It Die

PS4

EDGE - - GAMES -

This is a Grasshop­per game, all right. Let It Die is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able as the work of per­haps the only stu­dio on the planet for which the phrase ‘rough around the edges’ is not so much a slight as a mis­sion state­ment. It’s deeply weird, too, as house style dic­tates: your guide through this of­ten baf­fling yet com­pelling game is Un­cle Death, a skate­board­ing grim reaper with an im­pos­si­ble-to-place ac­cent. You hit things with a steam iron wear­ing only your pants, re­pur­pose traf­fic cones as hel­mets, and turn in craft­ing ma­te­ri­als to a chap wear­ing a space­suit and a Hitler mous­tache. So, yes, a Grasshop­per game it cer­tainly is. But it’s a GungHo game, too, a con­se­quence of the

Puz­zle & Dragons maker lev­el­ling off its swollen cof­fers (and re­duc­ing its tax li­a­bil­ity) by ac­quir­ing Grasshop­per in 2013. GungHo’s in­flu­ence is most ev­i­dent in Let It

Die’s struc­ture, and es­pe­cially its mon­eti­sa­tion: Death Met­als, the premium cur­rency that buys you con­tin­ues in this Rogue­like tower of death, bear the same rain­bow colour scheme as Puz­zle & Dragons’ Magic Stones. It’s a jar­ring meet­ing of minds, at least on pa­per: a de­vel­oper whose punk aes­thetic and mind­set means it has lit­tle in­ter­est in court­ing the mass­mar­ket mak­ing a game for a pub­lisher whose big­gest game has been down­loaded over 100 mil­lion times. Weirdly – and we do mean weirdly – it all hangs to­gether quite well.

In­deed, the GungHo in­flu­ence is a pos­i­tive one. As a maker of free-to-play RPGs, it un­der­stands how to struc­ture a game to en­gen­der re­peat vis­its, with lo­gin re­wards, wait­ing pe­ri­ods and timed bonuses. It knows how to en­cour­age re­play value, as ev­i­denced in Let It

Die’s craft­ing sys­tem, which has you re­turn to al­ready­con­quered floors in search of area- or en­emy-spe­cific ma­te­ri­als. Most cru­cially, it un­der­stands en­gage­ment and mon­eti­sa­tion strate­gies are no use un­less play­ers are in­vested in the meat and bones of the game it­self. The re­sult is one of Grasshop­per’s most me­chan­i­cally com­plex games, and it’s all the bet­ter for it.

So, yes, you start in your pants, as a fighter fresh off the train at the Tower Of Barbs, a mys­ti­cal, blood­soaked struc­ture that, so the fic­tion has it, ap­peared in south Tokyo af­ter a cat­a­clysmic event. While the com­bat, in style, dif­fi­culty and con­se­quence, owes a debt to Dark Souls, there’s a twist here: the tower’s lay­out is re­gen­er­ated ev­ery cou­ple of days, so there’ll be no com­mit­ting of level lay­outs to mem­ory. You must keep your wits about you, then, and you’ll fre­quently need to im­pro­vise. While you can equip up to six weapons at once – switched be­tween with the D-pad – the dura­bil­ity of weapons found dur­ing play is ab­so­lutely mis­er­able. Those bought from a ven­dor in the wait­ing room, your base of op­er­a­tions at the foot of the tower, will last longer, but you’ll still need to keep a watch­ful eye on how long each has left. Your fists are quick, but weedy, and mis­takes are sorely pun­ished.

Com­bat, as in the FromSoft­ware games that in­spire it, is a game of con­trol­ling space, mak­ing an open­ing and cap­i­tal­is­ing on it. Gen­er­ally, the first hit wins, but cer­tain weapons seem to af­ford stronger poise: a pick­axe, for ex­am­ple, will con­tinue its swing un­less you hit its bearer with some­thing even heav­ier. Once you’re in, an en­emy can be stun­locked un­til death, but foes are only too happy to re­turn the favour. If you’re be­ing chased by a group and one of them lands a hit, you’re done. Death is, as the game’s name sug­gests, where things get in­ter­est­ing. You’re faced with a choice: spend a Death Metal to re­vive your­self in­stantly; hand over a chunk of Kill­coins, a cur­rency earned in-game, to come back to life in the wait­ing room, the cost scal­ing with how high you were in the tower when you died; or let it die and be­come a Hater. This AI-con­trolled war­rior prowls the tower and will be yours again if you can kill it, though the trade­off for not spend­ing any­thing for its re­turn is the loss of what­ever you were car­ry­ing be­fore you died. Fail­ing that, you can sim­ply start again, us­ing el­e­va­tors you’ve dis­cov­ered to re­turn to higher floors – though you’ll be do­ing so with a level-one char­ac­ter, their un­der­wear and what­ever kit you have in stor­age or can af­ford to buy from the ven­dor, so good luck.

Start­ing out you’ll only have one char­ac­ter type, the All-Rounder, with, as ex­pected, evenly bal­anced stats. But as you climb the lev­els, you un­lock more spe­cialised vari­ants. An es­sen­tial ac­qui­si­tion is the Col­lec­tor, whose larger in­ven­tory ca­pac­ity makes it ideal for re­turn­ing to ear­lier floors to hunt down craft­ing ma­te­ri­als. The fight­ers you aren’t us­ing are stored in a freezer; you can send them off on ex­pe­di­tions or as­sign them to de­fend yours from sim­i­lar at­tacks. You can also go on sor­ties your­self, in a mode called Tokyo Death Metro that lets you pick a re­gion to fight for. You can even kidnap a knocked-out foe and bring them back to your base, but do­ing so in­vites reprisal from the en­emy’s fac­tion. Like the rest of the game, it’s sur­pris­ingly well thought through, and oddly com­pul­sive once you get go­ing.

Of course, there are prob­lems: this is, as we may have men­tioned al­ready, a Grasshop­per game, so hic­cups are sim­ply part of the fur­ni­ture. Let It Die is al­ways on­line, but its servers sadly haven’t been; if you quit the game from any­where but your wait­ing room, it counts as a death, and we’ve lost chunks of progress to servers fall­ing over. While there’s ap­peal in the way the tower lay­out changes, en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sets are reused too fre­quently, and the world is a lit­tle bor­ing as a re­sult. And the game’s love of stun­lock has seen us lose en­tire life bars, and there­fore char­ac­ters, to a sin­gle mis­take. But like ev­ery­thing Grasshop­per makes, Let It Die is cu­ri­ously lov­able de­spite its flaws. Un­der GungHo’s aus­pice it has made its deep­est game in years, and one of its most fas­ci­nat­ing, too.

You re­pur­pose traf­fic cones as hel­mets and turn in craft­ing ma­te­ri­als to a chap wear­ing a space­suit and a Hitler mous­tache

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