Death. It has always been something that is best avoided in video games. Also real life would be the other main place. But as Life Goes On, an indie puzzle game by Infinite Monkeys shows, sometimes it can be used to solve environmental physics based puzzles.
The hook of this game is a little tricky to wrap your head around, but simple to understand once you see it in action. Basically you control an infinite number of little knights and want to get them to the golden chalice at the end of each level. To do so, you can respawn a knight whenever a death occurs and make use of the previous body to further your cause. For example, you might be faced with a spike pit which is too wide to jump over. In this case, simply jump a knight into the middle of it, respawn and use the lifeless body as a stepping stone to get to the other side (The game gives each character a name, but you'll never bother to read it).
It is a base mechanics that works extremely well. If you played the demo (and you should) you would quickly have got into the swing of using your minions to get a little bit further each life. It is clever and the initial levels make great use of the different possibilities the mechanic presents. Unfortunately, like a lot of clever ideas it runs out of steam far too quickly.
Life Goes on just doesn't have enough good variety to maintain your attention. By the end of the first set of levels you will have had your fill of the different types of puzzles and so it is a let down that the next set is more or less repeating things all over again. The levels get longer and the challenges more difficult, but really the game is just chaining the same challenges you have already faced over and over again into growing chunks. Worse, whenever a new mechanic is introduced, it tends to lean more towards frustration rather than fun, especially when compared to the very solid base (trying to avoid activating respawn points is never a fun time).
To be fair, although the 3rd "world" on drags a lot, there are still a couple of memorable stages here and there. One in particular pays homage to a popular steam themed game and the "final level" in each group represents somewhat of a boss battle, that is much more fun to play through. If only these levels had been the norm, rather than the exception this review would be a lot more glowing. As it stands the game only shows glimpses of potential and innovation, perhaps a lesson for the developers next game (quality of puzzles over quantity please!).
Mixing it up is the set challenge of beating the clock and set number of deaths for each level. You will also have a "fuzzy" creature to find in each level which will eat one of your knights. While this promises diversity, the reality is it just means you are beating the level three times with a slightly different focus. Sadly there doesn't appear to be much scope for earning all three in one run consistently and there is seemingly no payoff for doing so anyway.
The rest of the package is well put together. The graphics are functional and the sound and music is nicely done. The menus work, but are a little uninspired (think ios style) and there is basically no story to drive you on. The environments are nice though and have a lot of good touches such as moving power cables. There isn't a lot of variety in the caverns, but later levels do at least provide a slightly different colour palette.
In terms of gameplay, the knights themselves are perhaps a little inconsistent as platforms (you'll often try to jump on one and "miss") but this isn't something you can't adjust and plan for and there is a very low penalty for failure. The controls in general are tight and it is nice that the game automatically "grabs" you onto other knights so this is nowhere near as fiddly as it might have been.
Is there enough content for the asking price? I'd still suggest that there is, at a push, but it is walking a very fine line (looking at 4-5 hours I would think). The base game here is so solid that I highly recommend everybody tries it, but the lack of ideas means even the demo might just be sufficient (or waiting for a deeper sale might be the best option).
So ultimately a bit of a disappointment despite still being a solid game. But then, life always goes on.