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Hands on: Deadlings (iOS)

updated 05:35 pm EDT, Sun March 16, 2014

A platform puzzler which encourages the use and disposal of the undead

If ever there has been a desire for gamers to control a small undead army across platforms, spike pits and saw blades, now is the time that those wishes have been addressed. Deadlings, a mobile game on iOS, Android and Windows Phone from Artifex Mundi, tasks gamers with navigating the undead through Death's lab -- which is littered with traps laid out by the master reaper for his "Deadling Project." Will the game offer a resurrecting experience for players? Or will it shamble to the end of an unnatural existence?

Deadlings features platform navigation and puzzles elements inspired from the classic game Lemmings. Players must work through more than 100 levels across four phases, using four different types of zombies in order to teach the undead to be productive members of society. When a level starts, the user selects from the available undead minions and in which they will travel from the starting point.

The only way to change their direction afterwards is to either use a device that is on the map, such as a wall mounted springboard or a teleportation beam, or for them to meet the end of their unnatural life. Players get bonuses for time of completion, as well as the collection of the floating brains scattered along the map.

Much like Lemmings, there are specialized types of undead, each of which has a specific purpose and use in a map. "Bonesack" is the platform jumper. "Creep" sticks and slides, even upside down, on surfaces. "Stencher" utilizes flight by passing gas. "Lazybrain" slowly makes his way, unwilling to run headfirst into traps unlike his counterparts. Each puzzle offers a different number of undead to complete it, and not necessarily every type will be available for every situation.

This makes using the undead to their full potential important, sometimes using them in the correct order or trying to teleport them back to your entry point for use later part of the puzzle. The game even offers a way to revive minions that have met their eternal end at the point they were exterminated or an option to remove troublesome traps. However, doing so comes at a price.

On top of the bonuses for clearing maps, players are rewarded with a currency based on skulls. Deadlings makes extensive use of this in-game currency, as well as the ability to purchase of extra minions and reanimation and trap removal tokens. Players don't need to use these options to make it through the game, as currency earned can be used along the way. However, it does open up a situation that players could simply buy ways to defeat the level if it is too hard by either throwing enough minions at it, removing enough traps or paying to bypass the level entirely.

This doesn't necessarily break the game though, as it offers players a way to enjoy it at their own level. It can certainly be seen as a ploy to have gamers spend more money, but it is a positive thing for the most part. Rather than have a player frustrated at a certain level that causes them to give up on the game, they can find another way to beat it and continue to enjoy it. The game also features an arcade mode, giving players more leniency to win rather than focusing solely on completion in the correct manner.

Perhaps the strongest feature of Deadlings is the simple-yet-effective control scheme for using the undead minions. The game promotes a reactionary approach to the touchscreen, requiring nothing more than a tap almost anywhere on the screen at the right time. No button overlays or odd tilt controls are used, making the controls straightforward. It feels snappy to the touch without any significant amount of lag to it.

The artwork of the game looks good, and downright comical when examining the undead minions themselves. For instance the "Bonesack" minion gets an odd expression on its face whenever it jumps up in the air. The game was clearly going for whimsical approach, illustrated in the cartoon style of graphics. Running on an iPhone 4S, the game looks clean and smooth, with the exception of some of the insert frames which appear to have rough line work as a stylistic choice. It even has some very bad puns as loading-screen material.

By being tied into Game Center, Deadlings is able to provide gamers with small achievements to mark their progress along the way. However, because of that it can also tie into notifications which can become somewhat irritating if the game isn't played after 24 hours. At one point during our look at the game, our reviewer was getting a notification that the Deadlings were lonely at intervals as short 15 minutes. Sets of these notices happened twice in one day, with one set having notifications pop up in as little as three seconds apart at times.

Deadlings offers an entertaining experience without having to expend too much energy or focus on playing the game. It is perfect for casual gamers who are looking to pass a little bit of time without having to worry about save points or having keep pushing at a puzzle if it is too difficult. The game's intent is to encourage players to have fun with minimal levels of frustration.

However, the idea that credits can be used to bypass a level or that more undead minions can be bought with currency to complete a level can be seen as a drawback to players, but is actually used in a way which acts as a boon for the title. The simple controls and variety of puzzles override the in-app purchase come-on to offer a little bit of fun for only $2 on iOS, Android or Windows Phone.

Who is Deadlings for?
Players looking for a game that is easy to jump into, but offers something different than the standard platform experience.

Who is Deadlings not for?
Players bored by a puzzle game based around platform jumping, or those that dislike the idea of buying or using currency to win.

By Jordan Anderson

by MacNN Staff



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