I never, EVER found myself desperately wishing I could live a ‘normal’ school life when I was younger (in fact, I’d happily have never attended), but that’s the incentive behind your adventure in Dead or School – the 2.5D action-adventure from the team at Studio Nanafushi that has just made its way to the Nintendo Switch.
Dead or School takes place in a world where humans have been forced to live underground, all thanks to an invasion of mutants that struck across the land many years ago. It’s something that has generally been accepted by society, but there are those who want a bit more from their lives. Hisako, the protagonist of the tale, is one such person, and her desire to live a more normal life where she gets to attend school sees her make her way to the surface to try and take down the mutant threat.
The narrative probably isn’t going to win any awards anytime soon for originality, but it did enough to keep me invested in Hisako’s tale. She encounters plenty of interesting characters throughout her journey, many of which have different motivations, whilst the showdowns with enemies make for some intriguing spectacles too. Players probably won’t find themselves massively invested in Dead or School’s world, but that’s not to say that they won’t have fun seeing its story unfold.
Dead or School’s gameplay sees you working through a variety of open-designed 2.5D environments, completing missions, and killing plenty of monstrous baddies. A lot of your encounters with enemies are wave-based and simply challenge you to kill every foe that comes your way, with tricky platforming kept to a minimum for the most part. Dead or School might look a LOT like a Metroidvania, but it’s much more straight-forward in design for the most part.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything out there to discover if you do go exploring, with collectibles and challenges aplenty throughout your adventure. These challenges offer Dead and School’s more unique moments in-game and can prove pretty tricky to get through, but they’re all definitely worth checking out whilst scouring through the dangerous environments.
Combat is certainly at the forefront of Dead or School, so I’m happy to report that it’s very satisfying to kill enemies with your mixed selection of weaponry. You have three different weapon types to switch between from the get-go: your melee weapon is great for up-close kills, your guns let you pick off enemies from afar, whilst your launcher causes plenty of damage but at a slower pace. You’ll find plenty of different variations of these weapon types as you progress too, with each offering something a little different to spice up the many ways you can kill your foes.
You can even customise your weapons as you go through the game, with accessories and add-ons making minor improvements that can go a long way in helping you take out some of Dead or School’s trickier enemies. I found myself drawn to the blade more often than not just because it was more satisfying to use, but different situations call for different weapon types so it’s certainly worth playing around with. It only takes a quick button press to switch between weapon types too, so they’re all easy to access and flow together nicely when stringing together a mixture of attacks from all of your weapons. It’s good fun and the combat definitely stood out as one of the game’s best aspects.
There are also some RPG-like mechanics tied into Dead or School, with Hisako levelling up as you progress and kill enemies. Levelling up increases her stats, but it also unlocks skill points which can be invested into each of the weapon’s different skill trees. These skill trees offer plenty of different perks and make each weapon all the more powerful, which can be especially useful if you find yourself drawn to one weapon type – some of the skills will also unlock stat boosts too, so you’re getting additional benefits along the way. In fairness, there was quite a bit of depth on offer with these skill trees, so it’s easy to find yourself carefully considering what you invest in just to make sure you’re raising Hisako’s abilities to best suit your playstyle.
All of the hard work in levelling is worth it too, because Dead or School has some pretty epic boss fights that will really push your skills to their limit. These encounters utilise neat mechanics that force you to think a little differently when compared to battles with standard enemies, so it’s easy to find yourself dying a lot as you try to figure out the best way to exploit their attacks. That being said, Dead or School can be a tricky game anyway, so you’ll probably find yourself grinding a fair bit just to make yourself powerful enough to get through these showdowns in the first place.
This was actually a bit of a shame. Whilst I enjoyed playing through Dead or School, having to replay some areas over and over again to grind could get a little bit too repetitive. Whilst I appreciate a challenge in a game, it took away from the sense of progress and left me a little bit frustrated that I wasn’t always able to move to the next area without having to kill the same enemies over and over again first.
Performance-wise, Dead or School could be a bit of a mixed bag on the Nintendo Switch. Whilst the visuals themselves are decent enough, I couldn’t help but to find that a lot of the action felt a little sluggish – this wasn’t helped by the somewhat choppy frame rate, which never went so low that it felt unplayable but was mostly inconsistent throughout. Load times could be a little long too, so you can expect to be out of the action for some time when waiting for areas to load in.
It’s disappointing that Dead or School has so many imperfections as far as the performance is concerned. It by no means ever feels unplayable, but I couldn’t help but to wish that it ran a little bit better on the Nintendo Switch. It might not be a deal-breaker for some (especially those eager to play on the console’s handheld mode), but it might encourage others to pick the game up on the PlayStation 4 or PC where it performs a bit better.
Dead or School offers an enjoyable and action-packed adventure, but some technical issues and a strong focus on grinding do hold it back a little.
The variety of weapons and deep levelling up mechanics will certainly do enough to keep you invested in the game though, and there it certainly has a lot more pros than cons – it’s just a shame that the (sometimes repetitive) action can be a little bit too janky to fully appreciate on the Nintendo Switch at times.
Developer: Studio Nanafushi
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC