101 Ways To Die – Review

Having a strategy game be just as comfortable to play on a controller as with a mouse and keyboard makes a refreshing change.

Available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, developer Four Door Lemon’s 101 Ways To Die is a challenging and satisfying puzzle game that will appeal to your inner sadist and strategist. Featuring a wide range of mechanics, tools and open-ended levels, 101 Ways To Die provides you with the freedom to flex your creative muscles but ultimately the game’s inconsistent physics and temperamental gameplay may deter those who are easily frustrated.

Mad scientist Professor Ernst Splattunfuder has spent years in an underground lab constructing grisly contraptions and performing tests on thousands of subjects known as Tue_Mar_29_14-54-06_UTC%2B0100_2016Splatts. As a result of a freak accident his years of research end up getting destroyed so he hires you, his assistant, to rediscover the 101 ways to die across four different laboratories and fifty-one levels. The aim of 101 Ways To Die is essentially the antithesis to that of Lemmings, the series that popularised this specific genre of game. Instead of leading a troop of clones to safety across a 2D single-screen plain, you are plotting their early demise. Your main objective is to prevent the Splatts from reaching their destination point by strategically placing traps in a tower defence-like manner.

Just like in Lemmings, before sequences are set in motion you’re able to view the level as a whole and envisage your plan of attack. Pressing the left bumper will initiate the planning process wherein you’re able to position the specific set of traps at your disposal. The number and type of traps assigned will differ each level and you can choose how many traps you use in order to eliminate the Splatts. Once you’re comfortable with your plan, you press the ‘Y’ button to release the Splatts and see how events play out.

Each level has two sets of objectives; Graduate and Master; and these can be viewed on the level selection screen and also in-game by clicking the right joystick. In order to complete a level, you must fulfil all Graduate objectives and the number of Master objectives completed will then determine how many stars (out of a possible three)Tue_Mar_29_16-27-22_UTC%2B0100_2016you get for the level. New laboratories are opened by accumulating a certain number of stars so multiple attempts will sometimes be necessary. Fortunately, 101 Ways To Die encourages a trial and error mentality and starting afresh in order to achieve a perfect score is simply done by pressing the menu button and clicking on either the reset or restart option. If you want to make minor tweaks then the reset option is the best solution however, if you want to start completely anew and make wholesale changes then it’s recommended that you opt for the restart option. Once traps have been removed by pressing the ‘B’ button, a blue outline of where that trap was previously positioned will appear which helps to ensure that you don’t place it in the same location.

The tutorial at the beginning of the game does a good job of steadily introducing you to the planning process and controls. Although the controls are more extensive than most games and almost every button is mapped to an action, it never becomes overwhelming. Having a strategy game be just as comfortable to play on a controller as with a mouse and keyboard makes a refreshing change.

Tue_Mar_29_16-27-59_UTC%2B0100_2016New elements such as different traps, types of Splatts (for example Rapids that are quicker but are more prone to damage and Tanks that are more resilient but move slower) and environmental elements (teleporters, conveyor belts and whatnot) are gradually added in order to keep things interesting and prevent the game from lulling into monotony. As these are introduced throughout the course of the game, they are accompanied by a brief explanation so you are continually educated on the game’s mechanics.

Setting up combos or ‘WTDs’ (ways to die) as their known in the game is encouraged and is one of the game’s most shining attributes. Combinations can range from the small and simple to the complex and elaborate. An example of a simple combination would be to place slime on a downward slope and watch as a Splatt slides down into an adjacent lava pit. A complex combo could be firing a canon at a boulder, which then catapults into a teleporter, transporting it to the other side of the level, through a fan that guides it into the path of a few Splatts causing them to run in the opposite direction into a wall of spikes. Sometimes a predetermined solution is required in order to complete a level’s Graduate and Master objectives but many levels are open enough for you to be as creative and inventive as possible. You can keep track of the number of WTDs you’ve discover and other stats in a vault accessed via the main menu (I would have liked it if you could view these whilst in a level by pressing the option button).

One thing that lets 101 Ways To Die down is the inconsistency of its physics. As you progress through the game you form an understanding of the movement, reactions and properties of all of the elements in play, however oftentimes they can be somewhat unpredictable. For instance, on a few occasions I would unleash the Splatts and two out of three of them would be annihilated but on a subsequent try all three Splatts would be Tue_Mar_29_14-55-59_UTC%2B0100_2016killed without tinkering with any of traps I had laid down. I found that in the last two laboratories the positioning and timing of traps had to be incredibly precise to even achieve the minimum objectives required to complete the level. There was no room for error and this coupled with the erraticism of the physics led to much frustration. Even following a guide would produce varying results and stumbling upon a correct solution brought a sense of relief rather than that of accomplishment and satisfaction. Also there would be times when I was denied of a three-star score despite fulfilling all of the Graduate and Master objectives and it was only until I had killed the Splatts in a different way that wasn’t specified did I manage to get the three stars. So whilst 101 Ways To Die encourages you to be inventive, these hiccups will cause you to curb your creativity.

Due to these grievances, not everyone will see 101 Ways To Die to its conclusion and personally they stymied my overall enjoyment of the game. That being said, when it felt like the physics of the game were working with me instead of against me, 101 Ways To Die is a satisfying puzzle game and slaughtering Splatts in the most gruesome and gory of ways becomes a guilty pleasure. If you’re willing to stick with it and overcome the odd tricky level, then you may well fulfil Professor Ernst Splattunfuder’s lifelong mission and uncover the 101 ways to die.

Many thanks to Four Door Lemon for providing Indie Marathon with an Xbox One copy of 101 Ways To Die for review!

101 Ways To Die
101 Ways To Die
The Good
  • Wide Range of Traps & Tools
  • Encourages Trial & Error and Creativity
  • Easy-to-Learn Control Scheme
The Bad
  • Basic Visuals
  • Inconsistent Physics
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Lucy "Queen of the Indies" Yearwood was born into nobility. Never learning the value of a pound, she once paid £190 for a glass of milk. Sits upon a throne of broken dreams and ridiculous opinions but she sure does know her indie games.
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