The Useful Dead

The Useful Dead is platform-puzzler where you must intentionally murder the current character you’re playing as in a way that allows the next character you get to finish the stage.  Perhaps a distant, platformer cousin of Lemmings, or maybe Voodoo Vince.  It’s a cool concept, but cool is as far as they get.  I certainly didn’t hate Useful Dead.  I like it enough to give it my seal of quality (spoiler alert).  But it ultimately felt more like a really good proof of concept than a fully realized game.

The biggest problem was the puzzles.  They were too damn easy.  Besides the “kill yourself to use your corpse as a platform and/or crate” gimmick, the difficulty hook comes from only having ten extra-expendable creatures throughout the length of the game.  In other words, if a level’s par is three creatures and you kill four before reaching the goal, you would only have nine expendable creatures left to beat the game.  I actually finished the game with thirteen expendable creatures, having finished a couple of stages under par.  Yea, that was in part by design, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I was finishing more than one stage in ways the developer didn’t have in mind.  This was especially true of the last stage, which I beat after the game glitched and one of the critters clung to a platform for no reason.

The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I was incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

This is the final stage of The Useful Dead.  The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I would have been incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

The puzzles lack in variety as well.  Most involve impaling yourself on a spike, then maneuvering your corpse in a way that activates a button that opens the door.  Sometimes you’ll have to do this in two or three different ways.  Others might involve using wind to push corpses into switches, or jumping from high ledges in a way to die and land on a switch, or kicking corpses into switches.  Again, this is where the whole “proof of concept” thing kept beating me over the head like I was a baby seal.  There are multiple different animals, but none of them have unique abilities.  Perhaps having levels use specific animals with unique traits, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or special maneuvers would have added to the complexity.  As it stands, all the puzzles have self-evident solutions and it’s just a matter of how much time you want to put into breaking the game and coming in under par.  XBLIG has been home to some of the most mind-bending puzzlers of this last console generation, such as Gateways, Spyleaks, and Pixel Blocked!  By comparison, Useful Dead is mere child’s play.  Easy to the point of being insulting.  And I really hate saying that about any indie developer’s puzzles.  I don’t know.  It feels like I’m telling someone that their child has funny ears.


PETA’s favorite game.

If you think of The Useful Dead as a bare-bones prototype, possibly something you would see if you were pitching a publisher on a concept, it does soften the blow somewhat.  I did like what I saw here, but not as much as I could have.  Yea, my recommendation is as tepid as I’m capable of giving, but I still hope you try it.  And I certainly don’t want to discourage the developer from working with this more.  In fact, I would be really disappointed if The Useful Dead was a one-off experiment.  Fuck that.  There’s a great puzzler somewhere in here.  Something with potential to short-circuit your grey matter, but absurd enough to be a big, word-of-mouth hit.  The product we have here feels like something that barely made it off the drawing board.  You know, Star Wars was originally about a search for a magical crystal.  Sonic the Hedgehog was originally going to be a clown.  Woody was originally an evil bastard trying to murder Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.  In the case of The Useful Dead, it’s like we got the early draft instead of the finished product.  So help me God, this better not be the end of this project.  If it is, I’ll demonstrate how useful the dead really are when I re-purpose the developer’s corpse as a morbid coffee table.

xboxboxartThe Useful Dead was developed by Bootdisk Revolution

IGC_Approved$1 would have entered the Name the Game Contest with “Animals: They’re Not Just for Eatin’ Anymore” in the making of this review.

The Useful Dead is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Look somewhere near the bottom.

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