To kick things off on a personal note, I can’t help but feel nervous when having to write this review. After all, we sort of spent the entire Summer doing a retrospective on the works of Suda51, seemingly leading up to the release of his newest game here, Let It Die. And to complicate things even further, this is a roguelike game, which as mentioned before in our Wasted review, is the type of game that can be quite difficult to cover due to the huge investment of time one has to put into it just to advance beyond the initial stages. Throw in the fact that a lot of Suda’s games tend to receive polarizing reactions at first before becoming cult classics, and you have no idea what to expect quality-wise. So does Grasshopper Manufacture’s attempt at a major free-to-play action game showcase the same spark as their earlier work, or is it a dud? Pray for me, as we find out…
The setup for Let It Die is that in 2026 AD, large tectonic disturbances have disrupted the world and caused South Western Tokyo to split into an island, where further activity caused a large spire to grow out of it, eventually reaching above the clouds, covered in urban areas and known as the Tower of Barbs. Now it is said that those who brave the brutal scavengers inside and climb the tower all the way to the very top will receive a massive reward, leading several souls to tackle this wasteland with nothing but their underwear at the start…and then after a tutorial hosted by the skateboard-riding, Mexican-accented reaper known as Uncle Death ends with your demise, it’s revealed that Let It Die is just a game. As in, a game within a game you’re playing in Uncle Death’s arcade for his Death Drive 128 console. Yeah.
While quirkiness in some form is pretty much expected in a Suda51 game, with little bits like a teenager who pulls game hints out of his afro and a console powered by a giant cockroach, I have yet to see how this framing device of Let It Die being an in-universe game really comes into play, and it feels like the parts you access in the arcade could’ve easily been integrated into main game without much of an issue. Still, the colorful feel of the arcade combined with the charming characters like Uncle Death are still a definite highlight, so I guess I can’t complain much in that area.
Now, since Let It Die is a free-to-play game, we may as well begin by addressing the elephant in the room: Yes, it has microtransactions. In this case, you’re paying for two particular items to assist you in your game. The first, Death Metal, is basically a form of premium currency used to purchase some in-game elements as extra storage space, but mostly it’s used upon death to pay for your insurance after you die in order to continue right where you left off, usually one piece of metal per death. The other item is an Express Pass, which provides perks such as free decals, free elevator service, and lower cooldown times for raids, coming in versions that last for twenty-four hours or a week (although they aren’t active in the PlayStation Store yet, oddly enough). Thankfully, this is pretty much free-to-play done right, with none of the offers ever feeling intrusive, and the daily login bonuses and rewards for playing have been pretty generous in handing them out so far.
Going back to the Death Metal previously mentioned, the way Let It Die is set up almost feels like a traditional arcade game, with Direct Hell Insurance and their cute salesperson acting as the continue screen, and Death Metal as the quarters. In fact, while Uncle Death sells the game as a hack-and-slash roguelike in his arcade, it always feels like it should be approached more like a beat-’em-up arcade game. You advance from area to area, engaging mostly in melee combat as you fend off several grunts, picking up occasional food off the floor for health and weapons to battle with until you have to take down a massive boss with a lot of health. Hell, the free-to-play aspect even means that it feels like a relative taking you the arcade and giving you so many quarters, causing you to see how far you can get on a limited amount, right down to a literal Uncle bringing you in. It all sounds silly, but then again, this is a Suda51 game, and given the meta setup, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this was intentional.
But yes, getting back to the gameplay, it behaves a lot like a beat-’em-up, where you advance through each new district in search of an escalator to take you to the next floor, destroying whoever stands in your way. Combat is enjoyable and highly visceral, with each hit feeling like it leaves a notable impact, and there are even finishing moves known as “Goretastic Attacks” that can be performed by stunning an enemy and then hitting them with a Rage move by holding the triangle button, resulting in a unique splatterfest and a quip from Uncle Death courtesy of the PS4 controller’s speaker. Simplistic, but highly satisfying indeed. The levels are also nice and huge, with several hidden areas and alternate routes to unlock and hunt for.
But while the core gameplay is simple and damn fun indeed, it wouldn’t be a Suda51 game without some awkward controls that, at the least, take some time to get used to. Press square to jump instead of the traditional X? Okay, fair enough. Using the L2 and R2 buttons for left and right-handed attacks while cycling between what weapon is in which hand with the d-pad? Unorthodox, but it becomes easy to learn, even fun. But then you have something like having to throw mushrooms.
Let me set up a dilemma: Let It Die has mushrooms that you can pick up which can either be consumed in order to gain various boosts like extra health, higher attack or defense for a limited time, and so forth. But then you also have mushrooms that can be weaponized by throwing them, causing explosions, poison, sleeping effects, and more. So, given these mechanics, how would you expect the act of throwing mushrooms works? What would be the logical way to go about this?
Well, the correct answer, according to the game, is to swipe the PS4 controller’s touchpad until the mushroom you want to throw is highlighted, then press the left side of the touchpad – specifically the left, as pressing anywhere else on the touchpad causes you to eat the mushroom instead – which locks you into an over-the-shoulder view where you have to aim with the analog stick, finally pressing the X button to throw it. All in the time it takes for a psychopath wearing buzzsaw knuckles to run up to you.
Suffice it to say, I have have not thrown a single mushroom in my play sessions so far.
In fact, I got some flashbacks to the Dead Rising games in that not only do ranged weapons in general mostly feel inferior unless required and are less fun to use in general, but you also have notable weapon degradation. Unlike Dead Rising, though, weapons here seem to only last an absurdly short amount of time, with a lot only being able to withstand a few enemies. The same goes for the clothing and armor you can equip as well, so get used to seeing that image of your character in their underwear a lot. Yes, it’s meant to be a difficult game, but it almost feels absurd in how easily breakable things are. Thankfully, you have the option to collect blueprints you find to take down to the Waiting Room, then mix them with crafting materials to build more durable stuff.
Speaking of, the Waiting Room is where all of the Kill Coins you collect during the game come in, allowing you to purchase said weapons you develop, along with new fighters, mushroom stew, and decals you can slap on your body for certain gameplay effects. You can also level up, store items for later use/after a permanent death, purchase and choose new types of fighters, select new side quests and goals to tackle, and more, with a nice and wide variety of options to explore. Getting back to the waiting room requires the use of an elevator, either with the previously mentioned Express Pass or the non-Express way down that costs a few Kill Coins.
It’s a great system, having you decide whether or not to head down and beef up at the ever-increasing cost of your hard-earned coins or to push forward for more with the risk of dying, although sometimes having to get to the elevator is a hassle. Why you don’t have an in-game map to at least show you where you’ve already been so that you don’t get lost is beyond me. Also, as others have noted, any attempts to quit outside of the Waiting Room are treated as your character dying for good, making you start over, so you may find yourself desperately trying to hunt for the next elevator when you’re in a rush to do something else. Not helping is that disconnects from the online game kill you as well, though I personally have yet to come across this flaw.
The other issue with trying to get to the elevators is that enemy levels tend to ramp up quite quickly. While it’s still easy to trade blows with one or two enemies, sometimes you get groups of three, and those with melee weapons will always try to rush you when possible, so the wrong combination leads to a quick death. Again, that’s the fickle finger of fate with roguelikes and their randomized elements, but it’s still an annoyance. And even some of the regular enemies are a complete pain, like a hovering machine that always seems to be able to kill with one attack.
One type of tough enemy that is an interesting addition, though, are Haters, the reanimated corpses of previous players. The deal is that whenever you die, the body of your previous character becomes a hyper-aggressive, tough enemy lurking where they died that you have to defeat in order to earn them back as another fighter you can switch to, along with earning SPLithium, used to expand your bank and fighter storage. Or you can just run past them, and let your Hater stay and kill other players (who appears in their games with your gamer tag and everything) for rewards. Its a neat idea, though I did begin to notice several Haters over Level 25 starting to appear in the second floor, or even the first. If I had to take a guess, methinks some trolls are deliberately dying early on to create high-level haters and earn said rewards.
Getting to some big guns in the enemies, the bosses in Let It Die put up quite the challenge, keeping you on your toes and relying on you to watch for certain patterns to determine. They also provide some of the best visual treats in the game, as massive, towering hulks made of multiple bodies straight out of a Cronenberg film. Encountering one allows you to check out a video in the arcade revealing their story involving the Tower of Barbs, which also gets filled up more and more with each set of floors. It’s an intriguing universe indeed, highlighting Suda51’s surreal take on a post-apocalyptic world, which does take a while before you get to the more interesting and colorful areas. But to be fair, even the early grimy parts are still pulled off quite well, and juxtaposed a bit with the mix-and-match wasteland outfits and offbeats weapons, such as traffic cone helmets and scalding irons to shove in someone’s face.
Let It Die also has a bit of an intriguing approach to online multiplayer. By taking a subway train, you can travel to another player’s Waiting Room, then proceed to beat up their fighters, rob their Kill Coin and SPLithium banks, and then kidnap one of the defeated fighters to add to your own arsenal, all while trying to do so within a time limit. Of course, the catch is that your Waiting Room is open for attack as well, so you have to work on building up your own fighters in order to set up a proper defense. The paranoia factor may come into play there during that last part, but it is still a fun addition, with an original twist.
Oh, and did we mention that the soundtrack kicks ass? Our own Chris Shive wrote an entire article already about how impressive the amount of Japanese metal is, so yeah, the soundtrack kicks ass, in case you needed a reminder.
A lot of what I’ve just written may sound like I didn’t enjoy Let It Die that much, but no, I did enjoy it quite a lot indeed. It has an old-school feel to it that brings to mind the days of scrambling for quarters blended with some good old-fashioned ultraviolence, simple yet effective combat, surreal dystopian horror and some surprisingly deep gameplay elements. It’s just that it has a bit of a difficulty spike and a few annoying combat elements holding it back from true greatness. For those willing to put some time into it, though, you may find a truly addictive brawler on your hands, and one that’s completely free at that. Suda51’s signature style results in a another winner (albeit a slightly flawed one), so our Summer was indeed spent waiting for another worthy addition to his library.