Review: Total Party Kill

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Review copy provided by developer

You’d think by now that every possible platformer premise would have been made by now, but games still come along that can surprise you. I’m so used to world-switching and gravity-flipping and clone-creating in puzzle platformers that games like Total Party Kill are really quite exciting to play. The drawback is that it’s a game of very small scope, one that really introduces its gimmick, does a few things with it, and then ends. And I’m not sure it’s even a gimmick that could carry a larger game, but it’s definitely fun while it lasts and just the kind of variety this genre could use more of.

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A knight, a ranger, and a mage enter a dungeon, and… wait, you’ve heard this one? No you haven’t, because they kill the hell out of each other as soon as they get there. Total Party Kill was created as part of Ludum Dare 43 under the theme “sacrifices must be made”, and sacrificing your party is the only way to solve the game’s otherwise innocuous puzzles. Instead of helpful blocks or tools or keys, you face each of the game’s 60 single-screen rooms with just three heroes whose corpses can become stepping stones or platforms or weights depending on how you off them. As long as one hero survives to reach the exit, that’s considered a victory, and your buddies come back good as new and not the least bit bitter for the next room.

Each party member has exactly one way to kill the others, so puzzles boil down to identifying which way is needed for a specific challenge. The knight hacks things with his sword which sends them flying in an arc, the ranger can pin people to walls with his arrows, and the mage turns his buddies into ice blocks which can be pushed around. With each puzzle being only a single screen, it’s not hard to figure out what sequence of kills and moves are necessary to get someone to the exit. The only challenges are when new aspects of these limited capabilities are explored, but again the puzzles themselves are so small that you tend to stumble over the solution while exhausting your options.

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This all means that Total Party Kill is a fun, novel challenge that’s going to last you about an hour. It certainly won’t wear out its welcome but you may be left wanting more, even after you entirely explore the limits of what your characters can do. It’s got an ideal look for a game like this, with bright, bold pixel art an adorably stubby characters with Xs for eyes when they get whacked. The sound design is lovely too, except for the not-subtle-enough footstep sounds which started to annoy me not long into the game’s run. It’s not a long game to begin with, though, so any irritation you may experience will be fleeting. I wish this one wasn’t so fleeting overall, but for what there is, it’s a bloody good time.

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