Life Goes On: Done to Death is an inventive and pythonesque platform puzzler that turns the conventions of the genre on their (admittedly quite dated by now) heads. You see, rather than punishing a player for dying, sacrificing members of the brave (read: utterly foolhardy) band of knights is the only way to progress.
On a quest to retrieve the Holy Grail, the knights will stop at nothing to get their hands on it, in all it’s possibly metaphorical glory. Even if they have to clamber up the corpses of their fallen brethren to get to it. No, scratch that. Especially if they have to clamber over corpses. The old adage about throwing enough shit at the wall until it sticks seems to be the guiding principle of their whole endeavour, yet in the case of the knights, it’s ‘toss enough comrade’s into a spike pit, and eventually you’ll be able to walk across it without harm’.
Each of the game’s levels are short, self-contained affairs with a simple objective; get the golden chalice. However, as with most holy relics each of these cups is defended by a series of fiendishly difficult traps. In order to get to the Mug of the Messiah (which you can never get to in a single life), you have to figure out the best way to sacrifice your knights, so that their corpses pave the way for their brethren to eventually get to it. This is done by using the weight of dead knights to depress pressure-sensitive switches, complete electrical circuits, as stepping stones over a spike pit and plenty more besides as the scale and complexity of levels ramps up at a steady pace.
Levels take on a pleasing variety of locales, taking our haphazard heroes through dank mines, volcanic mountains, ominous castles and crumbling ruins. Each stage contains a series of checkpoints that serve as a respawn point for a fresh knight to join the fray after the previous one inevitably snuffs it. Ingeniously however, these are not only a way to bypass traps you’ve circumvented, but often act as an obstacle themselves, ones that require quick reflexes and some lateral thinking to avoid having to repeat a previously completed section and needlessly sacrifice more knights.
In order to get the all three stars available for completing a stage, you need to get to the chalice in a certain amount of time while sacrificing as few knights as possible. Finally, you need to remember to feed Jeff, a bedraggled yet adorable critter who loves to feast on human flesh, and is usually situated in some hard to reach corner of each stage.
In a new addition for the PS4 version, getting better rankings (and feeding Jeff) unlock the ability to kit your knights out with increasingly ridiculous new weapons and armour like battle axes, pitch forks, party hats and Viking helmets. They don’t actually do anything, but they’re a fun little extra that add to the silly tone of the game.
After easing you into the basics, the difficulty increases by introducing a steady stream of new mechanics and contraptions to toss your legion of lemming-brained lords into. Flamethrowers and rising tides of lava incinerate cadavers previously positioned on switches, so later levels require careful planning as well as keen platforming skills if you want to get to the ending with the best rank.
You’ll also come across creatures that need to be fed, seesaws that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas that need to be weighed down with (you guessed it) dead bodies, more convoluted switch systems, cannons that fling unsuspecting squires to their doom before ricocheting them off the side of walls and onto switches or into spikes and plenty more besides. The variety and complexity of the traps found in the game is impressive to say the least. In the latter stages of the game, the complex and ridiculous nature of the death traps reach Rube Goldberg levels of absurdity, in the best possible way.
Life Goes On: Done to Death has a charming visual style, with character designs having a quirky and exaggerated and cartoonish quality that belies the morbid central conceit of the game. The 2.5D presentation is fit for purpose, thought not exactly awe-inspiring. Levels are well constructed and look pleasant enough, but feel a little samey at times as nothing really jumps out at you. Likewise, the game’s audio design is jaunty and upbeat, helping to further the fun atmosphere the game is trying to achieve, but, there are only a couple of tunes on offer, and you’ll soon grow tired of hearing the same thing ad nauseum.
On the whole, I would recommend giving Life Goes On: Done to Death a go. It’s an endearing title, chock-full of absurdist humour, from the silly names of your legion of knights to the myriad of over-the-top ways the poor sods can snuff it. The difficulty can spike at times, especially in the earlier stages when it’s still adding new contraptions to the mix, though by the end it does level out, resulting in a challenging (but not overly taxing) experience that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s not a huge game, but then again it really doesn’t need to be. If you’ve got a weekend free, and have the suitably wicked sense of humour required to get a laugh out of expired noblemen, then you could do much worse than giving this highly entertaining foray into the wonderful world of mass suicide a look.