Developer: Psydra Games
Publisher: Psydra Games
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Platformer
Platform: Switch (also available on PC/Steam)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 25/02/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Into the Void
What’s in a name? Some games just refer to their setting, like Battlefield (have a look at our retrospective here). Others take a more somewhat more complicated route, such as Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth (check my review here).
Mike Dies accurately describes itself in just two words. You can expect to die plenty in this game – that’s essentially the core gameplay loop. Over my time playing, I died over 1500 times, though admittedly I sometimes ran poor old Mike to his death out of frustration…
All By Myself
Let’s start off with the general setting and vibe. You’re a lone astronaut on a spaceship, and something seems to have gone a bit wrong with your journey. Following the guidance of an angelic figure, Mike tries to elude the unwelcome attentions of several hostile entities. Unfortunately, even without those opponents to worry about, the ship itself is a collection of deathtraps.
The story is smoothly told through dialogue as you play, with the occasional break for Mike to share his thoughts. There’s something almost Twilight Zone about the delivery – I got similar vibes to Alan Wake’s oversharing stream of consciousness in the game that shares his name.
The villains are a lot of fun. Despite the unsettling atmosphere, there’s a sharp sense of humour running underneath everything. There’s one enemy in particular who makes your victories twice as fun – anyone who’s played it before will probably know who I’m talking about!
As for the soundtrack, it’s pacey, spacey, and keeps things energetic even when you may be at your most exhausted. It’s no surprise that the Steam edition of the game features the soundtrack as an optional purchase.
Mike Dies… a Lot
Similar to games like Super Meat Boy, Mike Dies is based around completing short sections of unforgiving gameplay. Death will instantly return you to the beginning of the area, but you’re probably looking at between 10-30 seconds of gameplay to re-attempt.
It bears some resemblance to another game I played recently, Spitlings. Each time you die, the game leaves a patch of blood where you died, so you can easily see just how much you have suffered.
Mike Dies is all about avoiding traps. As you don’t carry a weapon, you can’t really fight back against the foes who stalk you. Instead, you need to learn to navigate the ship and understand the nature of the various environmental hazards you encounter.
The ship you’re exploring is host to a variety of different energy sources. One type will immediately kill you if so much as a pixel of your body touches it. Another will teleport you to another part of the ship if you stand in it long enough. Just make sure you’re keeping your hands and arms inside at all times, though. Otherwise, check the name of the game again to find out what will happen…
Lost in Space
Speaking of exploring the ship, that’s actually a rather important part of the game’s structure. Where some platformers go for simply completing levels in order, Mike Dies takes more of a Metroidvania route. Finding your way around the ship can be tricky, though there is a certain logic to its arrangement, and you can use the angel statues to teleport around if you need to check somewhere again.
I’ll admit that I did find it a tad difficult to work out where to go at times, but in the end I was able to get the hang of it. Just remember that you won’t have a map, though each section of the ship is divided into smaller areas that you can check at the teleporters.
So, structurally, Mike Dies is sound, but how does it actually play? In short, pretty smoothly. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite in the mindset to repeatedly bash my face against a wall trying to overcome unforgiving traps, but Mike Dies is pretty addictive. The size of each room is just right to avoid it getting too overwhelming, and there’s a definite sense of satisfaction in overcoming each obstacle.
Mike himself handles well. You have a limited set of tools at your disposal, but getting the hang of using his jetpack felt natural, and his movement feels just right. Some games can feel a bit floaty, or in the case of the Crash Bandicoot remake, the character’s collision might not fully match their appearance in-game. Mike Dies avoids both of these issues, so that most deaths don’t feel unfair.
The main stages of the game were a lot of fun, and once I’d worked out the best way of getting around the ship, I had a blast. Throughout, the game kept up a good pace, and despite planning to only do an hour at a time, I ended up clearing the entire thing in two sessions.
Working As Intended
I played the Switch edition of the game, and while I haven’t experienced the PC version to be able to compare them, I had almost no technical issues at all. The game handled and ran fine, and I generally had no slowdown to affect my gameplay.
One of the sequences, involving boulders chasing me around a series of corridors, seemed to have inconsistent physics, though. I’m not sure if it was something I was doing wrong, but I would seem to get different results trying to outrun the boulders even if I held the joystick in exactly the same way. I’d be moving at full speed and get run down on one attempt, only to do exactly the same thing and outrun them on the next.
Prepare to Die
While I’m touching on issues, I should go through my full list. For the most part, I don’t consider them major, but they’re worth noting, just to be fair. Firstly, of course, the game is punishing, so if you’re looking for something relaxing, you probably won’t find that here!
Secondly, since you’re restricted to the ship for the entire game, there isn’t much variety in the scenery. Each area of the ship tends to include metal corridors, patches of energy (dangerous or otherwise), and starry backgrounds through windows.
The story, while nice enough, is very limited. A few interesting themes are brought up, and the occasional moral dilemma, but nothing really goes anywhere. You really need to attach your sense of satisfaction to overcoming the challenges in the gameplay, because the different endings are particularly abrupt.
I also recommend knowing when to quit, and which battles to fight. A couple of the optional side challenges felt about five times as difficult as anything else in the game, but I was stubborn and ended up clearing them. I’m not sure either was worth all the extra suffering I went through…
If you’re feeling a bit beaten down, it might be a bit much, but it could also be just the thing to make you feel more confident again. Certainly, for me, it caught me off-guard with how engaging it was.
The Die is Cast
All in all, Mike Dies is a worthwhile investment that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s addictive, satisfying, and occasionally quite funny too. While it’s the kind of game that probably won’t change your life, it’s definitely a lot of fun while you’re playing it.
Just don’t rub it in when you finish the game with much fewer deaths than me, okay?
Rapid Reviews Rating
4 out of 5
You can buy Mike Dies on the Nintendo eShop
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.