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Deadfall Tropics (PC) artwork

Deadfall Tropics (PC) review

"From whom much is expected, precious little is given."

There's a troubling trend going on where indie developers seem to be trying to make a name for their games by making them as difficult as possible, irrespective of how this challenge is achieved. Often, as is the case here with Deadfall Tropics, the Steam page itself dares you to have a go, literally warning of the likely consequence of broken controllers. Ironically, the game itself is often what is broken, and had the game been designed with accessibility in mind instead, it might have been playable -- even enjoyable. But hey, maybe it's harder to make a game like that, one that plays smoothly. Maybe indie developers create a game with faulty mechanics that lead to incessant, near-unavoidable deaths, and slap a death counter on the screen, call it hardcore, and troll the public: we meant to do this! Can't handle it? We are unapologetic -- we won't compromise our vision!

Deadfall Tropics feels like it was born of this kind of 'vision.' And full disclosure: in this last year, I saw my way through to the end of games like Cuphead and Celeste with a smile on my face. Good, hard games, even those with death counters sitting smugly in the corner of the screen someplace, are a thing that I like. Deadfall Tropics, a hard game, but not a good one, against the backdrop of a 1941 war-torn Europe, tells the tale of a Hank Hudson, a smart mouthed two-bit smuggler whose former partner's brother as well as his erstwhile boss capture a blonde damsel in distress-cum-British intelligence agent, Dr. Lydia Lang, whom Hudson feels compelled to save, not only because she's super desirable, but because she knows something. An exotic and powerful relic is rumoured to be somewhere on the island, and Dr. Lang doesn't want the Nazis getting their hands on it.

Hudson must navigate an overworld map reminiscent of the one found in Commander Keen titles. Similarly, the in game font, plethora of pseudo-witty dialogue, and slippery controls, bring to mind early 90s PC action games. The Keens, Xargons and the like always felt a little clunky and not on the level of their console contemporaries, but the ability to save anywhere always mitigated this. Unfortunately, Deadfall Tropics uses a checkpoint system within its levels, which are far enough apart to make playing for any length of time an excruciating experience.

The imprecise feel of Hudson's jumping in particular is compounded by the way Deadfall Tropics employs its run button. Like Super Mario Bros and Adventure Island, you can hold down a run button to move quickly and you'll need the momentum running facilitates to make many of the game's jumps. The first issue is that Hudson has an energy bar that depletes in criminally short order after a few seconds of running, which takes several moments to recharge. The second issue is that, in a move I've never encountered before, a normal jump can be affected when Hudson is already in midair by touching the run button. That's right: you can slingshot Hudson, already in the midst of a small hop, into a considerably longer and wilder leap by holding down the run button. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't work well.

Enemies range from jaguars to giant spiders; from rushing tribesmen to armed gunmen. But the really obnoxious foes are the immense flying bugs, rotating turrets and ubiquitous beds of spikes. Everything kills you in one hit. Bugs and spikes waylay you from offscreen. Branches you're meant to stand on break and fall away in seconds, swinging ropes have to be grabbed just so and are often, through sheer bad luck, swung away from you even as your foothold is disappearing. It's a random, unforgiving, clunky mess. You're fighting the slippery input, the unhelpful timing between this falling platform, that swinging rope, and that spitting turret, and praying that through perseverance and luck, you might make it to the next game-saving totem pole. Of course, should you exit to the game map or out of the game entirely, the checkpoints are lost.

A vitality bar or a save anywhere function wouldn't make Deadfall Tropics a good game, but either would have made it playable, even if it being too short or easy would have been a likely side effect. The developers were onto something here: the integrity of my controller was definitely in jeopardy. But that's definitely down to my having to produce this review. Were I not tasked with this thankless job, anger at having to push on in spite of everything would not exist. In its place? Disgust, at a game that while fairly pretty, is fraught with faults and devoid of fun, and characterized as hardcore in what strikes me as a most disingenuous fashion.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (May 26, 2018)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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pickhut posted May 27, 2018:

I also like playing challenging games, but as you described, this doesn't sound fun. Designing a game where you're killed in one hit is always a tricky endeavor, since you have to take into consideration a save/checkpoint system, whether to spawn or not, and the general difficulty of enemies and hazards... and this title sounds like it missed the mark in a huge way.

As for being able to leap longer using a run mechanic... I recall experiencing that in one game, but I can't remember what it was. And that's really bugging me.

But yeah, good review! This looked interesting when I saw it pop up on the front page, and I might have tried it had I scrolled by it on Steam, so this saved me the hassle.
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Masters posted May 27, 2018:

Thanks for reading, Pick. I always feel bad slighting indie games, but I would want to be warned to stay away, so it's only right that I do the warning if I'm in the position to do so.

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