Mike Judge should be blushing because this new take on the strategy genre has been infused with his magical extract of vulgarity and satire. Regarding style, the game has a distinct feel. The speedy gameplay has an innovative approach. Sadly, the execution is entirely off, and everything from the mechanics to the audio comes across as muddled and half-baked. There’s simply too many missing opportunities to be recommended. Soon, “twitch strategy” becomes as impressive as combining empathy and action into a “walking shooter.” I would only recommend this game to hardcore fans, who are willing to wade through poorly implemented ideas to experience this fast-paced strategy game.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Combining Strategy with instant decision making sounds like an incredible idea.
º Three different levels and a background area makes this 2D experience feel much deeper.
º The character designs and graphics are imaginative.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Way too many underdeveloped ideas, to where the gameplay becomes a chore.
º The visuals end up muddled by things constantly popping up in the frame.
º Difficulty spikes and speed creates a game that throws strategy right out the window.
When I first heard about Death By Game Show, it was touted as a game inspired by the great film Idiocracy. I would call it a guilty pleasure film, but it deserves more than that. Then I read up on the game, discovering that the developers were also declaring this game was blending the strategy and twitch-based genres in what they coined as ‘Twitch-Strategy.’ Intrigued, I requested a copy and gave it a whirl. I’m not a huge fan of strategy games, but like speed chess, the merger of speed with critical decision making was something that greatly interested me.
The game starts in the 26th century, where your character U.H. Watt stands trial for being too smart for a human. You’re sentenced to rehabilitation, otherwise known as Death By Game Show. This is the full extent of the story. Obviously, when they said ‘inspired by’ the designers thought it meant referencing lines from the cult classic. All of the writing is borrowed dialogue from a full gamut of films, including The Dark Knight, Office Space and even Predator’s ‘get to the choppa’ line. If you still enjoy hammed up ‘Awnald’ impersonations, then you’re going to love this game’s wacky sense of humor- sadly I found it kind of grating and childish. The story is basically non-existent, so I’m going to move past it and looks towards the gameplay.
You’re transported to a planet at the beginning of every round, where you run around the planet’s surface with goals to accomplish before you can take back off on a rescue ship. Despite it being a side-scrolling experience, the developers have utilized flying enemies to use the space above, buildings behind the front row that can only be taken out with particular robots, and coins that sink underground that you can pluck out with a claw right out of Bionic Commando. You can also adjust the difficulty before a stage, with the lower the risk, the less coins your enemies will drop.
You’re strapped to The G.I.M.P. (Gameshow Intimidation Machine of Pwnage), an automatic and personified locker, that has a limited amount of energy as it shoots out your selected fighters. If you push him past his limits (indicated at the lower left by a power meter), he’ll fall over exhausted until his meter fills back up. You can still send out robots while he’s down, but it’ll be at a slower pace, and you’ll have to drag it if you decide to move. As you take out enemies and blow up buildings, you’ll collect coins and upgraddes (the extra D is for a double dose of pimpin’). Once you’ve taken out the buildings or raise enough money, you return to the studio audience, and your money continues to rack up (as long as you don’t die).
I have to say- when I first started with the tutorial levels, I understood the innovative spark behind the design. Being on a two-dimensional plane, you’re robots have a nice blend of offensive and defensive purposes, while you focus on grabbing coins that fall beneath the skirmishes. You have a mobile wall that pushes back enemies and standard troopers you can send out to swarm the opposition. There’s a fast-paced missile that blows up upon collision with an enemy building or robot, and flying robots that take out background infrastructures. Your opponents come out of lockers as well, and you can see a timer counting down until their release. It’s quite innovative.
Sadly, these ideas aren’t as developed as they need to be, and the strategy and choices evaporate as you get further along in the game. This is clearly the opposite of how it’s supposed to be. I should be getting more confident, and discovering new ways to utilize my abilities. My paths should be growing instead of narrowing down to one. Because everything starts moving at a breakneck speed with very limited resources, you’ll discover a level’s needed order of attack, and what you’ll need to defend against the pushback. You don’t spend time strategizing; you’ll just die, figure out what went wrong, adjust and try again. Eventually, you’ll ignore the coins that fall into the ground (they’re not worth the risk), and you’ll be focused on remembering the patterns. It’s more like learning an overly complicated dance fad, knowing that when you do finally nail it, it’ll be meaningless, and you’ll have to move onto the next one.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit- strategy games aren’t my usual bag. I enjoy the occasional game of Starcraft and like resource management games, but I’m by no means a regular consumer. However, I can tell when a game is tougher than it needs to be, and Death By Game Show has severe difficulty spikes; some that left me on a stage for far longer than I should admit. I even turned the difficulty bar down to the lowest level, and It still took me ten tries to get out with no time left.
The game does try to change things up; perhaps a stage will be based on points, or destroying every building on the planet. However, considering most of the time you’ll need to kill everything to get the points you need, the goal of every stage is the same- leave nothing standing. The game has particular power-ups you can only get through spinning the wheel, but they’re so far and inbetween, you’ll never have a nice reserve. What would’ve been nice is if I could’ve used my money to buy additional units, but sadly the game doesn’t offer that- making money useless outside of high scores.
Visually, the game is very imaginative with character designs, but the frame is cluttered without any mercy. The GUI just has too much going on for me to pay proper attention to any one area. When you release robots, they speak with a giant text box saying some 90’s Back To The Future reference that fills the screen. Huge black and white billboards have even more witty anecdotes, as planets rotate around the background as you move. All this sensory overload doesn’t matter too much either, as most of the time your eyes will be planted on The G.I.M.P.’s power meter as you release enemies as quickly as you can. The only time your eyes will be needed is when you look up to defend against hovering opponents or missiles. Then, occasionally you’ll get to spin a giant wheel that gives you a random perk- that ends up filling the screen while enemies continue to push towards you. Enemies can still be seen in the foreground, but there’s no contrast between the two elements which is bad news when a simple oversight can mean getting hit twice and dying with only seconds left.
The audio is very simplistic. The same upbeat and quirky tracks play at the beginning and end of every level, that when added to the central theme can be counted on one hand. It is mixed well however, but with the lack of diversity, I would be truly surprised if it wasn’t. The music isn’t bad, but listening to the same music over and over can get annoying during longplays. There’s some voice acting as well, but it’s poorly done. In an attempt to sound stupid, the voice work comes across very flat and is almost entirely incomprehensible. I even turned off all the other sounds, put on my best headphones, and I still couldn’t make out what anyone was saying.
The long and short of it is, the game has a splendid idea and decent enough setup, but it lacks the polish needed to make the repetitive gameplay from feeling boring. Oointah’s innovative approach ends up becoming a complicated game of Simon, where memorization of what worked is the only approach in such a hectic and time-crunched environment. Hardcore fans may find this spark of ingenious design worth wading through, but most gamers are going to grow as tired as the references in this game.