[25 April 2014]
Life Goes On is a puzzle platformer in which you sacrifice countless knights in shining armor in order to collect the “shiny thing” at the end of each level. Mechanically, it’s similar to a lot of other puzzle platformers that involve cloning or sacrificial bodies. The Swapper, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, Swarm, or Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time immediately come to mind. The mechanical differences are subtle: how you die, what you do with the bodies, and how many copies of yourself you’re working with at any given time. But the real difference is in the style, which contextualizes all this death in a parody of early English heroic literature.
You begin each level with a little knight, whose title is splashed across the bottom of the screen, lending him or her an air of nobility. No more than 30 seconds later that little knight will likely be dead, probably impaled on some spikes, and their name is literally crossed out. Their body sticks around though, so the next knight that comes in can use his predecessor to pass otherwise impassable obstacles.
The puzzles themselves are pleasant brain twisters. At first, you’re doing simple and straightforward things like making a bridge of bodies over a spike pit, but then the game starts throwing in complications like switches and moving respawn points. Those respawn points become a major part of the puzzles as they essentially give you the power of teleportation. Jump off a cliff to your right and you (or rather a whole new knight) spawns in on the left. Thankfully, the game never forgets its earlier straightforward puzzles, so later levels stack systems on top of systems to create some great multilayered challenges.
The story of Life Goes On is effectively summed up on the main menu. A king stands before an endless line of knights waiting their turn to enter a portal. He points to a poster behind him of a golden chalice with “Cup of Life” scrawled beneath it, and the knights give him a thumbs up as they run into portal, one by one. It evokes the heroism of early English literature: a noble knight working for a noble king searching for a noble treasure. It’s all so regal that it’s understandable that each knight would throw himself through the portal even as his predecessor’s screams of death can still be heard.
Of course, none of it is really all that noble as the king is already surrounded by piles of golden chalices. It makes sense; that’s your reward at the end of every level. The chalice is just a trinket, but it’s a shiny trinket and kings and gamers both love shiny trinkets. We’ll have every shiny trinket we can get our hands on. Body count be damned!
Life Goes On would be horribly, horrendously dark if it weren’t so damn cute. The truth is that the knights are adorable, and their titles are wonderfully tongue-in-cheek,like “The Tart Enfante Arnold,” or “Lady Alaina, last of her line,” or “The Zippy Crown Princess Theresa.” When the knights run, they charge ahead with such earnest gusto that you can’t help but cheer for them, even as you guide them into a flame thrower. They’re clearly eager for it, so you may as well oblige them.
At the end of every level, you see all the dead dropped into a cart and pushed away by the surviving knight (unless a lot died, then he’s just buried under the bodies). Again, such an image might be horribly dark, but the music swells and the screen proclaims your “VICTORY!” in big bold yellow letters. And you will feel a sense of accomplishment. But then there’s the small fine print around the proclamation that teases you: “Rapid employee turnover resulted in VICTORY!” or “You’ve got a lot a nerve calling that VICTORY!” Life Goes On confronts you with the mass death of actual named characters, yet it never loses its lighthearted tone.
Life Goes On is a clever and highly enjoyable puzzle game that strikes an impeccable balance between dark and funny. The trinket at the end of every level may not be worth all that effort and sacrifice for the knights, but the crafty puzzles, catchy soundtrack, and the particularly brilliant end credits sequence are more than enough reward themselves—for you and the king at least. The knights would probably disagree, but “Inquisitor Jim Rooker the Fourth, Son of Jim” was impaled on spikes as soon as I pressed start, so it doesn’t really matter what he thinks.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181037-life-goes-on/