Daily Independent: Death and the Fly Worse Than Death, Flies

The Daily Independent is a recurring feature in which we shine a light into the darkened wilderness of indie gaming, illuminating both the good and the bad of what we find there.

The beginning of Death and the Fly includes a particular kind of video game hilarity. It has no tutorial, simply a sheet listing the various controls. Most are mundane — “spacebar to jump” and the like. One stands uproariously out: “When controlling Death, press Control to Devour Souls.” “Well!” I thought to myself. “Things are looking up! I am become Death, destroyer of indie platformers, and this game is going to let me devour some souls! Let’s get to it!”

One hour and exactly zero soul devourings later, I turned the game off, disappointed. Death and the Fly is boring, simplistic, and slow-paced. Walking up to enemies and pressing Control does absolutely nothing, as far as I could tell. Though I take no pleasure in deriding the efforts of two indie developers, who clearly put their life into this game, I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone play it.

Nevertheless, it does have some good qualities. The design aesthetic, simultaneously colorful and macabre, is refreshingly original, though it owes homage to Tim Burton. Unfortunately, the game’s designers saw fit to bring this art to life in either too-small windowed-mode or grainy, low-res fullscreen. Both look pretty wretched.

The music is another highlight — a jaunty, vaudevillian take on spookiness that again recalls Mr. Burton and his close collaborator Danny Elfman. That one of the game’s programmers is also responsible for the music is a testament to his versatility.

The gameplay, which purports to mix platforming and puzzle solving, ends up getting caught in an awkward purgatory between the two. Neither the platforming nor the puzzling is challenging enough to be enjoyable. The general concept works like this: You control the two eponymous characters, who each have different abilities. You have to navigate both of them from one end of the level to the other, accounting for their respective strengths and weaknesses. The Fly can, well, fly. And shoot unexplained projectiles. Death can jump, and trigger his perplexingly ineffective “Devour Souls” ability.

In practice, this amounts to flying around the level as the Fly, killing enemies, collecting pickups, and triggering switches. Then you switch to Death and play a little catch-up. Rinse, repeat. I found the Fly’s intertia-heavy controls to be a little trying, though not as aggravating as his slow speed, which tends to make the trial and error of puzzle solving take an unnecessarily long time.

There isn’t really a story to speak of. In its place, the game has an core idea, such as it is: Sonic and Tails with a lot of cartoon morbidity and hardly any fun. The game costs $19.99 — that had better include a lot of levels. Maybe they eventually let you Devour a Soul. If your own soul hasn’t been devoured by tedium first, that is.

Check out Fotonica and Crayon Physics Deluxe in the last two installments of Daily Independent.

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