Sometimes You Die
Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This app is optimised for iPhone 5.
Age Rating: 9+
Sometimes You Die is a darkly humorous meditation on the relationship between the player and the game – and it’s also a pretty fun game in its own right. Combining elements of platforming and puzzle solving, Sometimes You Die both acknowledges and then sticks its tongue out at conventions of genre, gameplay and escapism.
A great deal of the humour and appeal of the game is best left spoiler-free, but the core concept is fairly simple. You play a little black block with an arrow on it, and your goal is to advance in the game by circumventing various razor blades, spiky pits and ledges.
The graphics are simple black-and-white on a grey background, invoking both Limbo and retro digital watch games. There’s one small caveat to all of this: each stage has both a narrative voiceover and a scrawl of text with a highlighted section. A larger narrative about the game begins to reveal itself as you advance, but the strange meta-narrative is both amusing and creepy at times, pushing you to advance while mocking you.
If that isn’t compelling enough, three additional gameplay mechanics make Sometimes You Die worthy of a spot on your smartphone’s screen:
Death is only the beginning. Sometimes You Die ensures, not surprisingly, that you will die. A ‘perfect’ death-free run on this game isn’t possible. Instead, every time you die, a shadow of your little dead block corpse remains. These are stackable, and an important game mechanic. It’s how you end up reaching ledges, avoiding razorblades and ultimately advancing. Some of the later levels require numerous, carefully placed shadow blocks stacked just so in order to succeed. So not only dying, but choosing where you die, is exceptionally important. Thankfully, the game’s sprite is a little black block and not a person or cute animal (could you imagine what would happen if the latest Mario game had a similar mechanic?), otherwise this game would be really grim.
Platforming meets puzzle solving. The game occupies the overlap between the recent slew of retro-inspired platformers (Super Meat Boy comes to mind) and puzzle games. Not only is the grey scale art style reminiscent of the creepy aesthetic of Limbo, but the combination of platforming and puzzle solving is similar as well. Here, you won’t be dealing with parasites and bear traps, but instead the placement of your block shadows, the timing of your jumps and when/if you should click the handy reset button to start the level over again. Sometimes, placing the block at the wrong place can render a puzzle impossible to solve. In other situations, you may know the solution, but stumble in executing your carefully timed jumps. Patience is a virtue here, and sometimes coming back to a level after several minutes away will make the solution that much clearer.
Metagaming. I’ve played few games in my lifetime that are as self-aware as Sometimes You Die. Each game screen addresses the player, asking them what a game is, how we approach games and what the rules are. Towards the end of the game, the unnamed narrator wonders what would happen if that contract between player and game – that expectation – is breached. This takes multiple forms, including one level when the game changes the rules and alters around the control scheme, making the platforming exceptional difficult. At other points, the solutions seem all too simple, until a new wrinkle is introduced. The game acknowledges how it’s teaching you to expect certain things, and then, just when you’re comfortable, it rips the rug right from underneath you.
by Chris Holt, TechHive