Under the moonlight, the serious moonlight
Grasshopper Manufacture (GhM) has built up a reputation over the years for being “different” in ways that some love and others hate. That’s not necessarily what the studio wants though. My conversations with GhM founder Goichi Suda over the past few years have me convinced me that he isn’t satisfied with putting out games that people don’t enjoy or understand. Suda is in love with fun, and he wants everyone who plays his games to have fun along with him. He’s at a point in his career where the only place left to go is mainstream, but only wants to do so on his terms.
In that way, you could say Suda’s partnership with mega-publisher Gung Ho mirrors David Bowie’s decision to sign a $17.5 million contact with EMI back in 1983. Having already established himself as an avant garde darling in the 1970s, fans had come to take Bowie’s brand of surrealist detours from “AAA” pop music for granted by the time the 1980s had rolled around. Then they heard Let’s Dance, his debut album with EMI, and all that changed. By embracing simplicity and accessibility, Bowie challenged his existing fans to follow him down a new path. In doing so, he managed to unite fans of “high art” and “normal” music under one roof, scoring him the biggest hit in his career.
I meant to ask Suda if it was just a coincidence that his upcoming free-to-play multiplayer death sport Let It Die and Let’s Dance are just a few letters away from having the same name, but I was too distracted by all the violence, comedy, and frog fungus to remember.
In retrospect, Let It Die probably has just as much in common with the poster for Richard Dreyfuss’s magnum opus Let It Ride as it does with David Bowie’s hit tune. Why is Dreyfuss praying to God as money falls on his head? Why doesn’t he just grab the money and leave? You may ask the same thing of Let It Die‘s protagonist, who absorbs money from the bodies of fallen foes directly into his person, like biological bank vault. Travis Touchdown, the star of Suda’s most well known franchise, was also a pro at that trick. Though the Let It Die may look more gritty than prior GhM titles, the video game logic here is as in your face as ever.
Just take the game’s play on the traditional “stamina meter.” A visible, beating heart appears in the player character’s chest if you run for too long or otherwise overexert yourself. When I first saw it, I thought my character has developed a giant hole in his chest. Given how often the game casually deviates from reality, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had. In other action-survival games, stomping an animal to death might allow you to eat it. In Let It Die, stomping a frog causes it to sprout mushrooms out of its back that you can later eat for mysterious stat boosts. This new frog-born mushroom is called Frongus, and it’s just one of the many fungus-based snacks you’ll find on the battlefield. In fact, I’m pretty sure each and every kind of food in the game is some sort of fungus.
Why fungus? Probably for the same reason that death has skateboard and calls you on his cell phone every once in a while.
The need to dig into the game’s inventory screen for that sweet Frongus and other items is comes up pretty regularly. Most enemies you face will have at least one item that you can steal from their soon-to-be corpses, be it clothes, headgear, melee weapons, firearms, or grenades. You can also find plans for more power weapons, like flamethrowers, strewn about the environment, though I didn’t get to see how those plans can be put into action.
Weapons can be equipped to either the right or left hand, with the two shoulder buttons on either side mapped to slow/strong and weak/fast attacks. I’m sure there’s some combo potential there, but my attacks at this early part of the game were generally too slow for me string anything together. Combat is more in the vein of Monster Hunter or Demon’s Souls than Bayonetta or Killer is Dead.
Likewise, sneaking up on enemies might allow you to get an advantage on better equipped opponents that would otherwise murder you in a few hits. I also found that jumping around like a total moron helped to keep enemies from taking me out right away, though I doubt the foes waiting for me later in the game would let me get away with that.
There’s also a fair amount of gunplay here. Though I only managed to try out a few firearms, they definitely handled differently, with the machine gun recoiling farther upwards the longer I fired. If I had to pick one favorite weapon from the demo, it would be the hand saws. At one point I managed to get one in each hand, allowing me to lay out enemies with a version of “the old one-two” that left them in pieces.
The last competitive shooter-brawler hybrid I played at any length was Devil’s Third. While I enjoyed the game, it often felt a bit half baked, without a ton of risk vs. reward decisions to consider. Let It Die seemed to keep risk vs. reward at the forefront at all times, with bigger damage moves like running drop kicks costing much more stamina than a sneaking back-breaker, though sneaking required a lot more skill and patience.
The fact that Let It Die looks as good as many mid-budget PS3 titles while remaining free-to-play is pretty amazing. In the end, how popular the game becomes will likely depend on exactly how fair it is to players who opt to spend little or no money on the title. With a robust single player campaign, complete with wild boss fights and a gradually evolving narrative, there will be plenty here for players to potentially dig into, regardless of how much cash they’re willing to lay down.
The real question here is, will Let It Die do enough to compel players to prioritize the game over the literally thousands of other action titles on the market vying for their attention? My guess is that if it does, it won’t be because of the over-the-top violence. That kind of fun is a dime a dozen these days. No, in the end, Let It Die will likely live or die by how much curiosity it instills in the player. Working to uncover what Suda and company cooked up for us around the next corner is the main reason to keep going here, even after a candle-headed mutant has torn you apart with its ninja claws.