Let It Die
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