Published on August 18th, 2015 | by Sharang Biswas0
Sometimes You Die Review
Pick a popular game. Chances are that within the first ten minutes of playing it, you’ve shot, decapitated, crushed, or blasted apart a person, animal or humanoid supernatural being. Sure, you’ll find the odd indie game that casts you as an immigration officer or plops you inside the dream of a flower, and a few games may even explore the consequences of our unquenchable thirst for death, but it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that every digital game ever made is about killing.
Maybe we’re all just terrible people by nature, or maybe we’re just not very imaginative when it comes to game design, but the fact remains that we’ve pretty much always enjoyed watching people murder each other for fun and sport. Heck, middle-schoolers in the United States bask in gratuitous violence every time they enter a cinema (and yet, the sight of two men kissing instantly earns a movie an R rating).
So it’s pretty nifty when a game like Sometimes You Die attempts to subvert the norm, where the only entity you ever kill is yourself, and not only is your death inevitable, it’s also necessary. Were I a literalist, I would rename the game You Need to Die in Order to Finish the Game. At first glance, the game seems like an ordinary platformer (albeit with sleeker visuals): you play as a small black cube in an austere landscape of platforms, spikes and razor-sharp spinning wheels of death, jumping your way to safety. What makes the game interesting is that most obstacles are impossible to overcome in one try, and when you die, you respawn at the start of the level, with your pixel-corpse remaining exactly where you fell, a new element in the landscape with which you can interact . Suicide thus becomes an essential game mechanic. Kamikaze leaps onto deadly spikes create safe surfaces to land on for your next iteration, and staircases made of your own broken body will lead the next you to freedom. It’s a little macabre if you think about it too much, and the haunting narrator and interrogation-esque lighting (complete with dangly lightbulbs) both reinforce this mood: you are not in a happy place, and yes, sometimes you do die.
Also, I’m trying not to give away any spoilers, but you should stick with the game all the way through. It’s a pretty quick playthrough, and there’s a neat surprise waiting for you at the end. Trust me on this.
Now, Sometimes You Die isn’t entirely revolutionary as a game. Planescape: Torment (arguably one of the best RPG’s ever made) made excellent use of death as a puzzle-solving mechanic, vaulting off of past versions of yourself has been successfully done before (check out Braid), and minimalist games with cool music aren’t unheard of (see what I did there?). Nonetheless, it’s the combination of these various elements, coupled with an unsettling atmosphere of impending doom that really makes the game shine. Even if you are possessed of the sunniest of dispositions and have never harnessed thoughts of upending your sense of self-preservation, I would highly recommend this game.
“Despise not death, but welcome it…” – Marcus Aurelius
Artsy platformer with nifty game mechanics.