In most games, death is often something to avoid; it sets you back, makes you lose resources or inflicts some form of disadvantage onto you in a bid to make you act more carefully in the future. This isn’t the case in Peace 2d’s puzzle-platformer Death Slave: You Need to Master Death. In fact in Death Slave, you must die many times to complete it. But, before you say ‘ah yes, finally a game I can play’, be warned that purposely killing off your character isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

In Death Slave, you’re an immortal who, when they discover that they can awaken new powers by killing themselves in certain ways, decides to embark on a journey to save someone important to them. I did feel like Death Slave lacked a compelling story, in fact, I had completely forgotten that we were even fighting to save someone in the first place until the end segment when you reach your destination and are quickly reminded of where you’re travelling to. That being said, the gameplay is fulfilling enough that a fully detailed and fledged-out plot isn’t really required, but it would have been nice to have picked up a bit more information throughout the game about your character’s circumstances and backstory. There is a backbone for a really touching plot about your character’s obsession to bring someone back from the dead, but it would have been a little better for this theme to have been brought up throughout the game.

Death Slave’s gameplay reminds me very much of Hollow Knight, especially with its gruelling platforming, tricky variety of enemies and selection puzzle-solving powers which you will pick up along the way. It’s incredibly challenging, though has an evenly-paced difficulty climb which weens you in gently to the harder platforming and puzzles.

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The challenging platforming sections reminded me very much of Hollow Knight.

Death Slave comes with a plentiful range of creative enemies which will keep you on your toes throughout your journey, ensuring that you never get too bored or comfortable with its obstacles. My favourite enemy type was the mimicking ‘shadow’ enemies, which appear as a shadowed copy of yourself and will mirror where ‘you intend to move’, this means that they don’t copy your actual movements, but the keys that you press. So, if you run into a wall, your shadow will continue walking in the mirrored direction unless they come across a wall too. I love this idea as not only is this enemy tricky to manoeuvre around if you come face to face with it (it will kill you if you come into contact), but they can also be used to solve puzzles by tricking them into pressing buttons and later on, you come across a power which allows you to swap bodies with the shadows to get over obstacles that you physically can’t work around yourself.

As mentioned above, Death Slave has a unique gameplay mechanic of using death to make your way through the game. Your character must die in order to switch through their powers, the way they die determines which power you select. There are eight powers in total which you will pick up as you progress and you need to kill yourself with the correct method to access certain powers.

You start off with high jump, which basically does what it says on the tin. To walk on water and pass through certain obstacles such as pipes and grates, you can drown to use a power which turns you into liquid. Set yourself on fire to throw flameballs. By getting crushed under an industrial piston, you will not only become heavy enough to press large buttons, but you can also move heavy objects and become magnetic as magnets are included in a lot of the puzzles. If you get struck by lightning, you can harness the power of the storm and use it to run quickly or attack enemies with bursts of electricity. There are coffins in some levels which will turn you to dust, giving you the power to throw skulls at enemies and swap bodies with the mirroring ‘shadow’ enemies. Getting impaled on spikes will allow you to latch onto certain walls. And finally, you’ll obtain a knife in the final level of the game which can be equipped with another power, but if you use it then you die and can traverse the afterlife in order to access certain platforms or awaken slumbering enemies to move them out of the way.

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Death Slave really does make the most out of the pixel graphics.

As you progress, each level will get trickier in that you’ll need to use more and more powers to complete each puzzle, this usually involves not only figuring out a way to unlock the puzzle with your available powers, but also how you’re going to die to get these powers in the correct order. When you die, you’ll respawn next to an orange flower which is placed throughout each puzzle. Not only do you need to consider how you’re going to die to switch to the needed power, but you’ll also need to think about where you’re going to respawn, as one puzzle will often have multiple flowers to spawn from in the later levels of Death Slave.

I have nothing but high praise for the gameplay mechanics and level design in Death Slave. Some of the puzzles and platforming segments are pleasantly challenging and I was thoroughly engaged throughout, especially with the heavy variety of enemies and the different powers which will change the way you traverse each puzzle. At first, I thought Death Slave’s estimated total playtime of 12 to 15 hours was a bit long, but upon playing it I believe it’s paced well enough with plenty of diversity in enemy types and level obstacles that this isn’t the case.

On top of this, Death Slave looks and sounds gorgeous. It has a strong range of level designs despite the limitations of the graphics style, each representing a different theme and look from a factory to a flower field. To match this array of level designs is a soundtrack with a wide enough mix of tunes that they don’t grow too repetitive or annoying. The only times that I found myself muting the music was if I was stuck on a level and needed to focus or had been on it long enough for the music to start being tedious.

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There was a great variety in level designs, from factories to pretty flower fields.

Had there not been several technical hiccups along the way, Death Slave would have easily scored higher in its review rating and this is unfortunately where my praise ends.

The majority of my criticisms of Death Slave could have been considered nitpicks if there wasn’t the case of one overwhelming issue: the autosaves. Each level is broken up into two or more segments, which take a minimum of roughly five minutes to complete, much longer if it’s a difficult section in the later game areas. The only time Death Slave saves is at the start of each segment. This means if your computer turns off, if you have to suddenly leave, or, most annoyingly of all, if you have to restart the game due to a glitch or level design error, then you have to restart that segment.

There is no good reason to restrict the progress saving this way; even Dark Souls will pick up from where you left off. I shouldn’t have to spend the next 30 minutes on a puzzle that I’m stuck on out of fear that I’ll lose my progress from the rest of the segment if I have to go to bed or leave the house. And, believe me, you can spend a very long time on some tricky puzzles or platforming sections. One part actually took me an hour and a half to complete, because I found the puzzles very difficult, but the thing that hindered my progress the most was the fact that I got stuck down a hole that I couldn’t manoeuvre out of or kill myself to respawn TWICE, and had to restart the game and then spend ages figuring out the puzzles again and making my way back to where I was. In fact, at one point this happened when I was literally inches away from the end of the segment where I could have saved.

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Hmm, got to find some spikes to impale myself on in order to stick to this red wall.

Accidentally getting stuck down a hole is one thing, a bit annoying but happens in most games, but what is ridiculous is having to spend 20 minutes getting back up to that point again because there aren’t enough autosaves provided. It’s a simple fix, just put the autosaves where the orange flowers are. It doesn’t make the game any easier or take away the fun challenge to it, it just makes it more bearable to play if for any reason you need to close the game. Unfortunately, this stressful error really brought down my experience of Death Slave and left a bad enough taste in my mouth that it affected my overview of it.

I also encountered several occasions when the side-scrolling camera blocked off something that I needed to see. Sometimes this would be the flying blue enemies that drop down from the sky if they fly over you; they would often be flying out of the camera and I would end up being killed by an enemy randomly dropping from out of view and instantly killing me. I noticed this was also an issue in some of the sections with the mirroring shadows when you need them to switch a button for you; sometimes the button or the shadow would be off-screen, so you cannot see what you’re doing. Sometimes, you would need to press a button to maybe remove spikes, but upon dying you can’t remember if the button has been toggled on or off, and you would progress with the puzzle, only to realise that the button has not been pressed and you need to go back. A lot of the time, these faults would end with the player having to backtrack and reset the puzzle.

My other criticisms are mostly minor bugs and glitches that may be patched after release. I did notice that the spike power doesn’t work very well. When you’re using it to cling to the wall, you need to either press the down key to drop off the wall, or the space bar to push off it. Unfortunately, the space bar action can be sometimes unresponsive or delayed, which gets a bit annoying later on in the game when you need to quickly move up and down the walls to avoid an enemy.

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…and rest.

I also spotted some frame rate issues during certain scenarios, such as when the character is walking over a piston, riding a boat or travelling through a stream. The piston thing could be a little annoying as it would slow the character’s movements during times when you need to act quickly. On top of this, the enemy hitboxes are a little broad which can be bothersome if you have little room to manoeuvre away from them. There are also occasional delays in the death animation, which can sometimes lead you to thinking you’ve made a close call and gotten away with it, only for the death to suddenly happen and you’ve respawned next to the flower. I also noticed that sometimes, if something was coded to spawn at a certain time, this would be delayed, which was only noticeable in later levels when time is more of the essence and sometimes you have seconds to make it across the level to avoid an enemy.

An odd detail that I noticed once I had reached the end of Death Slave is that you can’t just restart the game once you have finished. When you have defeated the final boss and played through the ending, the game window just closes and when you boot it back up again, you’ll be back at the start of the boss fight. You’ll have to go into the game files and delete your progress if you want to play again. I found this really strange considering that Death Slave does have a strong level of replayability considering there’s a hidden ending for those who collected all the blue orbs throughout the game, in fact, you’re encouraged to play it again to see what really happens to your character.

Death Slave has all the ingredients for a fantastic puzzle platformer that is not only excitingly challenging, but is also stunning in both visuals and audio. In total, it took me ten hours to complete, though it has a predicted playtime of 12 to 15 hours. Despite this seeming like a long playthrough for a puzzle platformer, I found that it was well-paced and had a good climb in both difficulty and gameplay variety. Without its faults, I would have happily rated Death Slave an 8/10. Unfortunately, its glaring lack of autosaves really dragged down my playthrough and made my experience incredibly frustrating at times, especially with the added bugs and glitches.

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