Review code provided by Marvellous Inc.
Zombies, blood, the apocalypse and half naked school girls are four things that go together better than barbershops and fish stories. There is something endlessly engrossing about seeing a zombie sucker punch a katana wielding anime girl so hard, her left breast forever remains precariously covered, by her suddenly tattered clothing. Surely, there is no better formula? Well, Dead or School certainly backs this idea.
As you may have gleaned from my somewhat tongue-in-cheek introduction, Dead or School is set in a post-apocalyptic world, whereby humanity has been forced to live underground to avoid extinction. You play as a buxom lass called Hisako – a third generation ground-dweller who has dreams of reaching the surface and finding an almost mythical place known as a “school”. These “schools” are places where young people go to have fun, spend time with friends and drink copious amounts of sugary drinks. As far as stories go, this one is somewhat ludicrous. End of the world? Fine. Humanity on the brink? Awesome. Sexy teenager wanting to find a school during all of this? A plausible excuse to have a female protagonist in a skimpy schoolgirl outfit.
Shockingly, the game doesn’t seem to be self aware. Despite it’s baffling concept, the Dead or School plays the whole thing straight. Every character interaction is as serious as a motorway collision. The world is depressing, and the inhabitants are barely holding the threads of their existence together. Equally perplexing, is the random comedy – although I feel like this may be unintentional. Whenever Hisako encounters a hopeless individual looking for a swift, mutant-based demise, she will suddenly, and passionately, splurt her dream of a school life at them. The juxtaposition is real, and it made it impossible for me to get a hold on what the game was trying to be. This isn’t “so bad, it’s good”, it’s “so bad, I burst a blood vessel from rolling my eyes too hard”.
Of course, even if the story is crappy, the theme and concept could still carry this game through. Dead or School is a 2D Action Platformer with very light Metroidvania elements, and some surprisingly in-depth RPG mechanics. Hisako will tirelessly explore various environments, defeating mutants, finding collectables and solving some basic puzzles. Combat is where the game shows the most promise. Hisako can carry a melee weapon, a ranged weapon and some sort of special weapon, like a rocket launcher. Theoretically, this gives the combat a healthy dose of variety and freedom. Pop a few shells into a mutant, run in for the melee kill, leap over the horde and fire a missile. It sounds awesome, and when it works, it is.
The issue is, the combat is incredibly unpolished. If you whip out your sword and go for the melee kill, you will immediately feel a little bit sick. Your weapon’s hitbox has an unhealthy amount of jank for one, meaning you have to be much closer than you’d expect, if you actually want to make contact. Being that close to your enemy then uncovers the another issue – enemy hitboxes are equally as janky. I found myself taking damage constantly, despite standing several streetblocks away, and behind, most enemies. So far, so frustrating. Things completely fall apart when you actually manage to hit something. Your attacks have no hitstun, so enemies can, and will, attack through your swings. It distinctly feels like Hisako is swinging a wet noodle – killingany momentum, or impact, the combat could’ve had.
Ranged combat fares slightly better, although the complete lack of ‘whallop’ remains intact. Gibbing enemies with shotguns, grenades and rockets does very little in terms of selling the catastrophic power these weapons should have. Dead or School also has an ammo and durability system. Both stats are typically fairly low, only being restored upon hitting up a save station. For what it’s worth, it does encourage you to play around with all three of your weapons. However when all three weapons kinda suck, it just forces you to engage in multiple, poorly implemented systems, instead of finding one that is actually enjoyable.
When you take a peek under the hood, there is a surprising amount of depth to the unfortunately lacklustre combat. Each weapon is an amalgamation of various stats determining whether a weapon is worth using. Each weapon can also come with, or be upgraded to have, a special ability. These can be a simple critical hit buff, or genuinely interesting, like enemies exploding on deaty. Rounding it all out, are the various attachments you can slot into your weapons. These increase your weapons base stats, amongst other things. The amount of depth in creating the arsenal of your dreams, is truly staggering. Had the combat been tarted up a bit, this would have been an incredible boon.
Hisako also levels up, increasing her stats and gaining various skill points. Skill points can be invested into increase her proficiency with each weapon type, unlocking alternate attack options. Strangely enough, vital enhancements like Health, and Stamina, are locked behind your weapon specialisations, which is easy to miss. Thankfully, you can respec at any time, giving you the chance to invest, mess up, realise the errors of your ways, and then repent.
When you are not engaging in combat you are platforming. As with most things, this is rougher than the English coast. Hisako somehow manages to be both floaty, and heavy. You have an incredible amount of aerial control when jumping, however you ascend and descend like a toddler trying to hop. It is almost as if gravity is several times more potent when applied to scantily-clad women. It just feels nasty whenever you have to use it – which is literally all of the time. The game wants you to explore its dense environments for stat upgrades, weapons and parts, but doing so is a pain.
Dead or School looks as rough as it plays, sporting an almost comic book art style, that almost works. The issue being, it just looks unpleasant. Textures are ugly, character models equally so, with environments being an unflattering mix of browns and greys. When engaged in combat, there is a satisfying amount of blood, whilst explosions do look pretty nice, but as a whole, this is not a pretty game when in motion. If the game decides to throw plot at you, it will do so with low budget, minimally animated character portraits. From time to time, you will be graced with a full screen image. As to be expected, these are often saved for the lewd, fan-service scenes, that come across as juvenile attempts to keep you engaged.
The sound design doesn’t fare much better either, with very basic sound effects, music that simply exists and voice acting that has been limited to a series of orgasmic moans, groans and squeels. A lot of the game’s bugs also present as audio issues, with cutscenes being devoid of any sound on numerous occasions, sound effects not playing when they should during gameplay, and even the music cutting out for no discernible reason.
Despite all of its flaws, Dead or School never quite feels like a bad game, just an unrefined, below average one. The ingredients of a genuinely good game, supported by some fan-service, are all present and accounted for. The execution of those ideas however, really let it down big time. As a result, in its current state, I can’t recommend Dead or School to anyone but die hard Anime Schoolgirl fans…and that’s a stretch so large, that it Hisako’s uniform to shame.
Are you interested in Dead or School? Have you played it? Let me know in the comments below!
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