After years of tireless research, Professor Ernst Splattunfuder had finally completed his life’s work: “101 Ways to Die,” a manual cataloging every possible way to horrifically kill or maim an individual. Somewhat ironically, just as the tome was to be sent to the publisher, Splattunfuder’s assistant destroys all of the mad professor’s research notes, and the only copy of the book (for some reason) in a horrendous lab ‘accident’. Determined to continue his work, the professor calls the henchmen agency and hires the player as his new lab assistant in order to recreate his magnum opus.
Since this is a scientific study, the game sees you committing genocide in a nice, controlled environment. As you carry out your work in a series of testing chambers, you will attempt to find the most inventive, effective and amusing ways to murder hapless test subjects with all the scientific implements (eg. spikes, boulders, and cannons) at your disposal. Don’t worry though, the professor’s not a complete monster. you wont just be conducting experiments on random backpackers that needed to use the phone on a stormy night. Instead, you’re tasked with offing specially-bred clones, known as the Franken-Splatts (or simply splatts), designed for this particular study. They warp into existence at an entry point on one side of the map and then slowly trudge their way along toward the exit like the ugly bastard child of a lemming and a minion. It’s your job to make sure they don’t get there by diverting them head-first into a whole host of death traps that will lead to their gruesome demise. If it’s particularly weird or inventive, it will be entered into the 101 Ways to Die and form part of your research.
Before the start of each level, you are presented with an overview of the chamber along with all the possible ways you can dispose of the splatts. This phase is about planning how you are going to use the environment to maximize the carnage. Most levels will have natural hazards for you to tempt the splatts towards such as boulders, lava pits, and spike traps, and then it’s up to you to figure out how best to use these existing traps with the limited tools at your disposal to send the splatts to their doom. In early stages, this is as simple as aiming cannons at their faces or placing a springboard that will send them flying into a wall of spikes.
However, the difficulty soon ramps up, with the conditions for success getting much more complex. As a result, it’s much trickier to pull off your objectives. Your ability to complete additional side-missions also effect what rank you will receive for successfully completing a level and point you in the right direction to collect another Way To Die for the professor’s sordid compendium. In each stage, you can earn a maximum of three stars, a scoring system based on killing a certain amount of splatts and the method you used to dispatch them, with bonuses added to your score for completing side-missions. The more ridiculous the kills, the higher your score and, with it, your place on the leaderboards. Stars are also used to unlock later stages and new sets of levels in different parts of the lab in which to do your murdering, so it pays to aim for a perfect score whenever possible.
As the game gets harder and your ability to collect more stars along with it, so too do your chances to unlock new levels. This occasionally leads to the odd road-block. When this happens, it usually pays to go back and replay some earlier stages to improve your score and grab some extra stars in order to keep pushing forward. Having a surplus is also useful for when you get stuck on a level, too. Replaying earlier chambers is still quite satisfying, especially as you become more adept at the game mechanics, creating increasingly complex murder rooms. Before long, you’ll find that you’re chuckling with glee as you create elaborate contraptions that feel like the result of a Rube Goldberg/Saw cross over, where unfortunate splatts are thrown around the chamber like dice before being shot, stabbed, and then thrown into a pit of lava.
Its hard not to be reminded of Lemmings when you’re playing 101 Ways to Die as you watch the Splatts haphazardly wandering to their doom. You will tend to get the feeling that developers were the kind of lemmings players who overused the nuke button in a sudden bout of sadism (there are a lot of us). Probably the best way to describe 101 Ways to Die is as Lemmings in reverse, though you don’t have any direct control over the actions of the splats like you did the lemmings. Once you have all your hazards set in place, you simply hit play, sit back, and watch the carnage unfold, only interjecting to fire a cannon or detonate a bomb that will send a boulder tumbling onto an unwary splatt’s head. You can also watch a replay of the carnage at the end of each stage if you managed to pull off something particularly grisly or silly, or if you just want to watch some clone-monsters burn, though the allure of this does diminish rather quickly.
Graphically, 101 Ways to Die isn’t particularly flashy, but it doesn’t need to be, really. Characters and environments are well presented, looking suitably dingy, while the splatts are both cute but ugly, with their deaths being delightfully gory, cartoonish, and over the top. It’s more Happy Tree Friends than Mortal Kombat. However, the sound design is ultimately forgettable, with not a lot going on save the frightened shrieks and screams of the Splatts as they come to the shocking realization they aren’t getting out of the room alive.
101 Ways to Die’s physics-based puzzling works (for the most part) with minimal bugs. Rather impressive, when you think about the amount of elements that are tossed round the screen at one time, whether that’s a boulder, a cannonball or a splatt on his way to meet his maker. That said, there were a couple of instances when a splatt would get stuck in the environment. Considering all the potential variables, this isn’t quite a deal-breaker.
What makes 101 Ways to Die especially fun is that each puzzle has multiple solutions, which gives levels a greater sense of freedom. The fun here comes from finding inventive new ways to dispose of splatts with the tools you have to hand in an interesting new environment (though I have to confess that sometimes a successful run felt more like a fluke than judgement). Discovering new combinations, and adding new Way to Die to your collection while on your quest to complete Professor Splattunfuder’s book, never fails to impress. With over 50 stages to play through, and a veritable smorgasbord of unique and unusual punishments to inflict, 101 Ways to Die has tons of potential replay value.
101 Ways to Die is a fun and gruesome physics puzzler that is challenging enough to keep things interesting while not becoming too cheap. The contraptions you create and the comedic deaths they dish out are sure to raise more than the occasional wicked laugh or sharp intake of breath. Creative, dastardly and very funny, 101 Ways to Die’s Rube Goldberg-style antics are something that every puzzle game fan (that likes a bit of the old ultra-violence) should check out.