Games have grown over the past two decades. We are more often than not presented with these wonderfully polished, huge budget games with loads of set pieces and complex animations and controls. While these games are great, and I’m a big fan of a lot of them, most mainstream releases have moved away from the classic core game play focused games we grew up with. Luckily, we have the huge influx of indie titles to fill that gap. Dead or School is a perfect example of this.
You take control of Hisako, a girl who is lost underground in a post-apocalyptic Japan that is now overrun with lots of mutants. You meet various odd characters along that way, who you work together with to get back to the surface of Akihabara. You’ll ride the subway trains and fight your way back to the open skies and to achieve her dream of attending a school. Talk about fiction! You battle against lots of mutants, from huge claw beasts, to living barrels of dynamite, along the way you’ll face a strange collection of stuff that wants to kill you.
The gameplay follows the standard 2D side-scrolling style, giving you three different weapon classes, each with two mods and changeable perks for each weapon. These mods/perks are extremely varied and plentiful. I found myself tinkering with different combinations and play-styles almost constantly. While I’m usually averse to this sort of mechanic, a la Borderlands, they seem to limit it just enough to remain fun rather than a chore.
You’ll also get to level up your character with various skills and boosts. Each skill tree is placed within a weapon class: melee, assault-type gun, and heavy weapons such as a RPG or grenade launcher. All the skills stack with the fleshed-out weapon mods and perks to allow you to really craft a style of playing that suits you and it feels very rewarding.
While the gameplay isn’t revolutionary, it feels very much like a classic shoot-em-up, albeit not as tight and polished as the classic Contra games or more recent Cuphead. It remains fun and competent enough to do its job. You can mix dodge rolls, with slowdown counter attacks to play the game as fast or as slow as you’d like. It really leaves a large amount of room for individual player preference in terms of progressing through the game. It never seems to lock you into a certain strategy to conquer the game.
Visually the game has a traditional Japanese manga or anime style. I’m no expert in this area, but what I’m trying to say is; It looks very Japanese in an acceptable way. The art pushes a bit of lewdness and fan service into the game at times, but it’s lighthearted and it’s never too over the top. The cutscenes, while clearly lower budget, are animated well and have a pleasing aesthetic to them. The same can be said about the game world itself. Mixing 3D backgrounds with 2D sprites has always been something I adore. The color palette is made up of dark blues, black, and neon presented in a gritty, bleak way that fits the tone of the game.
The weakest parts of the game I assume are attributed to the low budget. The combat animations are jerky and frankly not very pleasing, visually. If I was to compare it to games like Skullgirls or Cuphead, it wouldn’t be in the same realm. Dead or School looks more like a old school flash game rather than drawn animations. That and a few collision glitches tarnish an otherwise great experience. While none of these glitches caused me to die, they are fairly frequent and stand out more than I expected.
Overall, Dead or School is a modestly budgeted, independent, crowd-funded game that feels and very much looks the part in the best way possible. The game feels like a classic video game that isn’t trying to be anything more than an experience that’s fun to play. The characters are strange and interesting, and feel right at home in an arcade-y game. While it suffers from poor animations and a few technical bugs, it’s nothing significant enough to really effect your playthrough. If you’re in the mood for something to jump right into without having to schedule time off work to enjoy, Dead or School will scratch that classic gaming itch.