|Dead End Job
|Ant Workshop Limited
|December 13th, 2019
|Twin-stick shooter, Rogue
|PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
|E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence
Part of the reason I so appreciate indies and smaller publishers is that you never know quite what to expect from them. I’ve covered many games published by Headup, from Westerns to Metroidvanias to RPGs, but nothing quite like Dead End Job. I was attracted by the colorful coat of paint on the package, and only grew to appreciate the game more as I learned further details. When I found out this was a twin-stick shooter with rogue mechanics, I knew I had to tackle it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to tackle it immediately, since frankly there’s been a smorgasbord of amazing game releases since 2019, and it hasn’t let up yet. However, now that I was finally able to sit down and put some time into playing Dead End Job, was it an unparalleled experience, or did it not have a ghost of a chance?
It’s immediately clear that Dead End Job was inspired stylistically by the cartoons of the 90s. The game starts with a well animated intro that plays like the beginning of a TV show. I saw many parallels to shows like Ren & Stimpy, just based off the goofy and over the top designs of the characters. You play ghost hunter Hector Plasm who works at Ghoul-B-Gone. Think of him as a low rent ghostbuster, and you’re on the right track. He’s not the brightest bulb, and he’s a bit on the hefty side, but he’s good at his chosen profession. His mentor, Beryl Ware, died from sandwich toothpick complications, and is now haunting Hector (and generally harassing him). You’re trying to earn enough cash via ghostbusting to save her soul before it’s too late. I admit I’m not entirely sure I follow the logic of that scenario, but if nothing else it’s a solid setup to establish the framework of the game.
The flow of the game works thus. You go to various locations, bust ghosts in your way and save civilians trapped by them. Each and every civilian is coated in sticky slime, and you can only free them by defeating all the ghosts in that room. You’ll know you’ve found one when the exits lock up behind you, in case the whining of the trapped citizens doesn’t clue you in. Once you’ve saved all the civilians in your current area, you return to Ghoul-B-Gone and get paid for your work. Here you can check out records of your achievements, unlock gallery art and view side jobs available on Protoghoulnists.net. These aren’t full fledged jobs, but instead are tasks that will net you extra cash, such as clearing a certain amount of floors, busting enough ghosts and others besides. I liked the variety here, since your main jobs always have the same conditions. The only difference is how many civilians you’ll have to save and how many floors you’ll have to visit. Your goal throughout is getting enough cash, and it will take a lot to save Beryl. After reaching predetermined amounts, you’ll unlock new areas, such as Parks, Restaurants and more, and they bring with them more challenge and different ghosts. Once you’ve encountered ghosts, many will show up in other areas, meaning the game is always getting more complex and difficult (like any good rogue-like). You just need to keep in mind you’re racing the clock, since you only have 30 days to get enough money, and if you don’t get it in time, you lose. Thankfully, you’ll get to keep playing due to a silly time travel concept, but I was still a little frustrated the game didn’t signpost how important the time limit was my first go round.
As for how ghostbusting itself works in Dead End Job, that’s my favorite part of the game. It plays a bit like a mixture of the Luigi’s Mansion and Binding of Isaac series. You move around, use one stick to direct your gun and the other to move Hector around. The ZR trigger controls your plasma blast, which is used to deplete the “health” of the spooks. Once they’re depleted, they’ll get dizzy for a while, and that’s your cue to vacuum them up with ZL. If you don’t do it fast enough, the ghosts will rally, replenishing their health and getting angrier in the process. The key thing you’ll have to manage during this process is your pack’s meter. It controls both the gun and the vacuum, and if it gets too hot, it’ll overheat, meaning you have to wait til it cools down til you can act again. The gun thankfully uses less energy, but the vacuum eats it up quickly, so it’s good to be patient and time your actions carefully. You’ll also come across random secondary items that either help or hinder you, which are assigned to Z and L. Examples being cake and pizza that replenish your health, disco strobe lights that hurt foes, as well as icicles that make you slide precariously. There’s a good deal more, and it’ll behoove you to commit them to memory, since the game doesn’t indicate what these items do.
If that was all there was to the combat, I’d be disappointed, but I did mention this was a rogue game. As you bust ghosts, you’ll gain experience, and when you get promoted (level up), you can pick one from 3 random perks. These can range pretty dramatically, from basic stuff like increasing your total health or making your pack take longer to overheat, to things like making rooms explode once you’ve cleared out all the ghosts (freeing hidden dollar bills to vacuum up), and much more besides. I found these perks did a lot to make Dead End Job more satisfying, though there’s a catch. If you get defeated, you’ll lose all your acquired perks, and are set back to square one. This can be a real downer, since once you’ve promoted Hector enough, he can become a real ghostbusting machine, and it’s annoying suddenly being weakened due to fickle fate.
As you go about your jobs, you’ll encounter both basic ghosts and what I consider mini-bosses. These are more powerful specters that get a full intro when you encounter them (make sure you set that to only happening once, you can thank me later). They pack a real punch, and can ruin your day if you’re not careful. Some examples are the fierce Secrescary, the Office Assisthaunt, Grim Shady and the ZX Spectre, but there’s a lot more. Note they all have punny and comical names, but don’t let that distract you. They are more than capable of screwing you up, especially since all ghosts randomly materialize without much warning, and it’s easy to get cornered if you’re not careful. It’s also good to not take the basic ghosts for granted, since you can only take a few hits before Hector gets defeated and demoted. I will say, I absolutely loved the design of all the ghosts in the game, and my only minor complaint is that several are just rehashed versions of others. That said, they all move fluidly and look fantastic. Oh and there is one boss fight, and it was entertaining enough that I almost wish it wasn’t the only one to be found.
While I do like a lot about Dead End Job, there’s some areas it doesn’t quite achieve greatness. For one thing, it gets repetitive pretty fast, since you’ll always be doing the same thing to progress. Though I found it enjoyable, I wish there was a bit more variety. Also, while the game controls well, it seems like developer Ant Workshop purposefully made Hector’s gun tricky to control. It aims fine, but the shots often zig and zag unpredictably, even after you’ve boosted the precision of your gun. And though I find the premise enjoyable, often the writing isn’t as cute or funny as the game seems to think. It’s silly and quirky, it even breaks the 4th wall, but I never really grew to care about or fully understand any of the characters. And finally, I found the ending of the game to be surprisingly abrupt, and it left me without any satisfying resolution. You basically just get a text message that you won, and then the game loops so you can keep playing. Given how colorful and creative the rest of the experience is, I found that rather disappointing.
Visually, I found Dead End Job to be very satisfying. I’ve touched on the art earlier, and I love how it’s neon and candy colored. The designs for the various ghosts are all really humorous and inventive, such as a dumpster dog that spits up trash at you, or a possessed turkey carcass that lays explosive eggs. There’s a lot of great ideas on display, and that same attention to detail went into the designs for the folks that work at Ghoul-B-Gone. Everything is very smooth and fluid, and the only slowdown I encountered was during the load screens. Musically, the experience is also pretty great. The sound effects are loud and punchy, and the tracks themselves are Big Band style tunes that fit the action perfectly. I loved how the ghosts screech and yell as you battle and capture them especially. Overall, it’s a really attractive package.
While it didn’t quite reach perfection, Dead End Job was a very fun jaunt. I spent about 6 hours and took 2 playthroughs to save Beryl, and only managed to miss two ghosts. For $16.99, you get a creative and colorful game that’s available on pretty much every console. That said, it runs great on Nintendo Switch. If you want a simple, fun yet repetitive twin-stick rogue-like, you should definitely check this game out.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher