When you think about video game heroes, there are certain names that come to mind. Mario, Link, Samus. These are characters who will go to the greatest of lengths to defeat their foes and save the damsel/kingdom/world, and make sure their ultimate goal reaches fruition. Well, maybe I should say almost any length. How many of them would be willing to die before their task is complete and trust that another will be able to continue carrying the banner? This is the heroic premise of Life Goes On, a game where countless knights gladly lay down their lives for something greater than themselves. Or, at least, some shiny treasure.
Life Goes On is a puzzle platformer in which players control an army of knights as they traverse various stages in an effort to reach the golden grails on which their king has set his sights. Aside from that, there’s no story to speak of. Each stage of the game is littered with traps set up in such ways that, were they in other puzzle games, victory would be impossible. However, the difference in Life Goes On is that the corpses of your allies are your greatest tools. Come across a huge spike pit? Well, gather your courage and jump right in! Your impaled corpse will become a stepping stone for the next knight. See a switch that needs to be held down? Run into a saw so your body falls on it. In this (delightfully morbid) way, many traps become tools to help you advance. I’ve seen similar mechanics in other games – Braid (http://braid-game NULL.com/), The Swapper (http://facepalmgames NULL.com/the-swapper/), The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (http://www NULL.winterbottomgame NULL.com/) – but there’s something about knowing up front that you’ll be going into each level sacrificing who knows how many people to reach your goal that feels utterly unique.
Life Goes On contains several different types of traps to impede/assist players. Almost any trap can be viewed as either an obstacle or a tool to advance. Floor spikes become a bridge, while knights stuck in wall spikes will allow others to climb up safely. Flamethrowers will incinerate characters while also removing corpses from switches that need to be turned off. Ice blasts freeze knights solid, but also create moveable blocks that players can use to jump gaps and cross dangerous terrain. Knights can also jump into open electrical circuits to power various contraptions, and can be removed with the use of gravity panels. Cannons will instantly kill the knights that jump into them, but these can also be used to activate out-of-reach switches, break barriers or launch ice cubes. Lastly are green points that I dubbed “Life Orbs,” which activate certain contraptions when a knight touches them. These remain active for as long as that knight is alive. Each stage is also littered with spawn points that are activated when touched. When a knight dies, the next one will come out of whichever point was last activated. This allows players to get past earlier traps, or, if the means are available, the spawn point can be moved to reach new areas in a stage. Interestingly, aside from being told how to spawn new knights, none of the game’s mechanics are explicitly told to the player. The game applies some highly effective conveyance, allowing players to figure out how to advance on their own and, rather than trying to avoid new traps, encourages experimentation to see how they might help achieve success.
Your knights all wield swords as they explore, but, as it turns out, these are completely unnecessary since there is absolutely no combat. That doesn’t mean there aren’t monsters, though. Specifically, there is one beast that you’ll meet very often. Jeff, a cute fuzzball with a taste for knights, can be found in every stage of the game. In a single bite, Jeff can chomp up any knight that gets too close. While that would normally be grounds to give him a wide berth, players will actually want to seek out Jeff whenever possible. As it turns out, feeding Jeff is one of the three bonuses that players are awarded for each stage, alongside more traditional body count efficiency and time challenge bonuses.
Considering the macabre and dehumanizing themes revolving around Life Goes On, you’d think it’d be pretty dark in its presentation. As it turns out, though, this is not the case. The identical knights are cartoony and well-animated, and it’s especially cute to see expressions like cocked eyebrows come out of the helmets as if they were the knights’ faces. This silly aspect to the characters helps keep things light, and makes it easier to forget how horrible you are for murdering countless minions for petty treasure.
Additionally, the game’s three worlds look quite nice. From the dank, volcanic Mines to the snow-capped Mountains to the sinister Castle, environments are well-designed, with interesting happenings going on in the background to keep players interested and engaged in any given stage. Tubes that indicate powered contraptions pop out nicely, and give an interesting bit of color to stages that might otherwise look a little bland. This is especially nice in later levels where tubes are found all over, creating a nice little light show when everything’s all powered up. You’d also think that a game revolving around such violent deaths would mean that the game would be pretty gory. Far from it, as it seems your knights have no blood. No matter how many knights are eviscerated, impaled or crushed, you won’t be drowning in the red stuff, making character deaths pretty E-rated (or maybe E10+, at worst).
There isn’t much for me to say about the music. It was a good fit for the setting. With the medieval themes of the game, it was heavy on the horns and drums, which gave it a suitably epic feel. Actually, I felt that the music was a bit too loud at times, but that’s hard to pin down as a bad thing. It isn’t like there was any dialogue that I couldn’t hear. It was just overbearing every so often, which could slightly detract from the immersion. The tracks don’t always loop well, either. There was one particular stage that I got pretty well stuck on for a good ten minutes. During that time, the stage music must have reached its end, because it just stopped. There were then several seconds of complete silence before the music started up again. It wasn’t a major problem, but it was a bit jarring to have nothing to listen to other than the screams of my knights. Maybe they didn’t think it would take so long for players to complete a given stage, but you should never underestimate a dummy trying to figure out (what turned out to be) a simple puzzle.
Aside from the mildly annoying problem with the music, my only real gripe with Life Goes On is the jumping. When half of the genre that your game falls under is “platforming,” it’s important to make sure that your jumping mechanic is spot on. It isn’t as noticeable when you’re just going from floor to floor, but it’s incredibly apparent when precision jumping is required over spike pits. When jumping forward, your knights will continue to move slightly to the left or right in the air, even when you stop pushing the direction. This led me to lose more than a few extra knights while crossing spike pits and other instances when I needed to climb atop corpses, but, even so, this feels like a minor complaint. What do I really lose in the process? With unlimited lives to work with, every knight stuck in some spikes just means it’ll be all the easier for the next one to make the trip across. However, if you’re trying to beat the par on deaths for a given stage, any accidental death can be irritating.
As is generally the case with puzzle games, the time it takes to finish is intimately related to the individual player’s ability to figure the solution to each stage. I consider myself fairly average when it comes to getting through puzzle games. I usually avoid them, but I have a special fondness for puzzle platformers. However, even with my middling abilities in the puzzle-solving department, I was still able to complete the entire game in just over three hours. I’ve never faulted a game on its length, though, especially if it offers a satisfying experience throughout. Plus, this was done on a reviewer’s schedule – going through just to complete stages. If you want to finish the game while meeting the body count par, time challenges and Jeff feedings for each stage, I’m sure you’ll be able to add at least a couple more hours to your enjoyment. Plus, the game contains a couple entertaining pop culture references that got a smirk out of me.
Despite my (admittedly nitpicky) complaints, Life Goes On is a solid puzzle platformer with a novel premise behind it. With a total of 60 levels to travel through, there’s a fair bit of content to explore, though it’s a shame there are no new levels or other extras after finishing. As I said, it’s a little on the short side, but trying to get 100% completion will surely add more than a few hours to your play time. However, if you’re still hung up on getting enough bang for your buck, the $13 price tag should help assuage your fears. The puzzles might not be the most challenging I’ve ever seen, but the mechanics behind solving them were certainly entertaining enough to hold my interest from start to finish. If you’re looking for a great way to kill an afternoon, you won’t go wrong giving this minion murder simulator a shot.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Life Goes On is also available on Steam (http://store NULL.steampowered NULL.com/app/250050).