Death Tales: A Game that’s more Challenging to Look at than it is to Play

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Disclosure: Death Tales was provided to us by Arcade Distillery for the purpose of review.

Death Tales comes to Nintendo Switch on the today, but should it be something to get excited about? The game presents nothing new or groundbreaking to the genre in a market that is already packed with high-quality platformers, such as Celeste. In addition, it is more explicit than a wet fish across the face that Death Tales struggles to find what it wants to be. It presses together elements of various game genres forming a cohesive, but janky, ball of drudging mash. So, why should you buy it?

When first jumping into the game I was drenched by a colourful tsunami of post processing effects, smoke, lightning and leaf fall. Which all did well at making it difficult to appreciate the pleasant colours of the world. Immediately, I was put into a level without too much information about the controls –the tutorial came after. A strange design choice, but I am actually fond of being dropped straight in the deep end and being forced to figure things out for myself – the tutorial showed me where I was going wrong as oppose to what I should be doing right.

Soon after the first few levels it became abundantly apparent that the level design lacked inspiration. The hack-job attempt at hiding square boxes of textured blockout with scant bushes and bits of grass did nothing to add any immersion or suspension of disbelief to the game. The levels look more like arts and crafts projects, where stickers and fabrics are glued onto geometric boxes in the most unconvincing way possible.

But looks aren’t everything, it’s about how the levels play! Right? Unsurprisingly, they play just as well as they look; I felt condescended to when discovering the “secret” chests, wherein the way to reach them was by using the 40+ year old platforming trick of: go left not right – the only time in the game where this ancient technique is used.

Image credit: Arcade Distillery

Moreover, the decorations on levels, which the player does not collide with, hang over the edges of the platforms, meaning the player is given false feedback on their position. So as you run to the jump off a platform, in your peripheral vision you see your character nearing the edge, but when you press the jump button you find your character has already fallen off, because what you saw in your peripheral vision was not the edge – it was just a bit of decoration getting in the way. The uncreative approach to level design leaves a lot to be desired; once you’ve played a mere handful of levels you’ve seen them all.

There are of course enemies to fight on the levels, which act as nuisances rather than threats. The combat, for the most part, can be rolled over without much thought, simply button mashing gets the job done just as well as trying to perform combos. It seems to be designed that way, as the combos, which are few in number, consist mainly of pressing or holding the Y button a different number of times.

Frustratingly, enemy attacks cancel your own attacks, but your attacks don’t cancel the enemy’s, so actually trying to perform combos takes so much precision it isn’t even worth it when you can achieve the same results from mashing Y. On top of that, killing enemies heals the player, so you rarely have to worry about consequences when engaging enemies, which is just another factor in the lack lustre challenge of Death Tales. I soon realised it was better to just skip the combat wherever possible.

Image credit: Arcade Distillery

Bosses, however, are slightly different, they actually present a challenge… at least until you figure out how to cheese them. The janky pacing of the game created a pleasant surprise when an unexpected boss appeared at the end of a level, and that fight was probably the most enjoyable part of the game. I died a fair amount of times trying to work out how to defeat it. Then I realised if I just stood in a certain place on the screen, I was invincible – the boss’s attacks could not reach me. And there in that spot the hope any of challenge fled once again.

Despite these criticisms, the game does have value, it’s not all doom and gloom. The equipment system is a compelling mechanic; at the end of a level you can choose between three random pieces of equipment that change the play of the game quite a bit, keeping the game fresh and intriguing. You can also purchase equipment with currency earned from playing levels, so you have something to strive towards.

However, by far the best part of Death Tales is the artwork. It seems to be far higher quality than the rest of the game. The borderline psychedelic colour palette, detailed characters and visceral backgrounds are a huge redeeming factor for the game, and strangely, the art contrasts so much with the quality of the game it makes it seem like it doesn’t belong, as though the art itself could do better.

Image credit: Arcade Distillery

The game has netted a good amount of positive reviews on Steam, but I am one who looks at actions over words, and for the most part these reviewers have between 0.5-4 hours on the game. And after playing Death Tales, I completely understand why – the lack of difficulty and the repetitive level design don’t do much to leave you wanting more. Once you’ve played the first world you’ve played most of the game.

Ultimately, the game presents no challenge to the player to the point where thinking is hardly necessary. If you want a decent platformer game for the Switch, then Death Tales is not for you – there are far better options out there. But, if you are a speed runner then I would absolutely recommend this game, it’s full of cheesy ways to get through levels quickly that you won’t even need a wiki to learn.

Overall, I value Death Tales at £1.99 (RRP £7.99). It would be a much better fit for the app store than the Nintendo Switch, PS4 or Steam. You’re not missing much if you don’t pick up Death Tales.

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