It wasn’t long into 37 Days to Die (80 MSP) that I had the game’s parents pegged, making the DNA test and Maury Show appearance more of a formality. The developers claim Smash TV as an inspiration, and I can see that with the ‘televised’ aspect and huge amount of foes onscreen. The bullet-switching mechanics recall Ikaruga, and we could consider the matter settled right there, but I’m actually going to dust off an old XBLA title, Schizoid, as a more suitable genetic match. I liked that game, and the resemblance is uncanny.
Kim and Julie Brooks are sisters living in a predictably dystopian future. While on a visit to the hospital to spend time with their dying mother, older sister Kim is selected (perhaps unlawfully) by humanity’s robot overlords to face off against countless aliens and sate blood-thirsty TV viewers in The Annihilator. Tagging along for the ride, Julie finds a way to hack into communications, and helps Kim with hints at a larger conspiracy story and by sometimes altering the next arena’s foes. The story is told through text, interspersed with comic book-styled cutscenes. They’re interesting and well-done, though most of 37 Days’ personality comes via pre-match banter with unnaturally pale TV personality Kraw, whom revels in Kim’s misfortune, is an average-at-best host, and makes horrible jokes, just like a futuristic Ryan Seacrest would.
A twin-stick shooter with the aforementioned bullet-switching trick (blue tackles blue, red sinks red), 37 Days to Die tracks the increasingly tricky action over the course of, you guessed it, 37 days. Aliens of the squid / spider variety will be your most common target in the campaign, but there are many other enemy types, from the slow-moving and deadly multi-colored bosses, to the weaker, yet no mercy, exploding types that fracture into smaller threats. In addition to local co-op, there’s also a survival mode with two different arenas, P2P online leaderboards for tracking both survival and campaign scores, and unlockables… well, edgier art pieces depicting Kim and Julie in various ‘outfits’. Okay, I see your setup. I’m interested. I picked ‘Easy’ (your only chance if playing alone… read on) and settled in. Then I started progressing, and it became apparent after five to ten arenas that 37 Days didn’t like me.
Many levels start with you surrounded and / or under fire; not very fair at all. The reason for this would seem to be a rather presumptuous decision on the part of developer Namic Games; a lot of the arenas and their enemy spawns appear to have been built with co-op in mind. The challenge is obviously skewed towards such, which hurts what I’d assume will be a mostly single-player market for 37 Days. Even on ‘Easy’, with unlimited continues, you will be tested to make it the five stages required to reach a checkpoint. Suddenly the Smash TV heritage makes more sense, as that too was a game engineered for two people, and was all but impossible if you decided to, or had no choice but to, go solo.
Part of the trouble extends to enemy bullets. Anyone can appreciate explosions and particle effects, but never at the expense of being able to actually see incoming shots through the destruction. To counteract, I’d automatically dodge after every big explosion, but even that had its share of good and bad. Even worse, should you die mid-round (and you will, often), expect the going to get tougher. Dying resets your multiplier and gun upgrades (heavier fire, more spread— which increase only with score), leaving you laughably outnumbered and outgunned when you are at your most vulnerable. I realize that in shooters a penalty needs to be assessed upon death, but in arenas this hectic, it’s taken too far.
In the future, we will be forced to fight half-human, half-tank monstrosities, for sport. Note to present Humanity: Do not allow the robots to take over.
Enemy spawn points are also to blame. There’s simply too many. In smaller arenas, retreating from one group often puts you on a collision course with another that’s just materialized, making the game not so much a Bullet Hell and more of an Enemy Hell. Again, I can see how this would be less of an issue with a partner, but it should have been scaled to such, not kept as the rule. As it sits, only the most hardcore shooter fans can apply. The aliens’ spawns (and their numbers) need major re-balancing for single players.
Which pains me to say. There’s plenty of effort and material in place with 37 Days to Die. It can be fun. This should have been a good twin-sticker, but the execution and balance are lacking. It probably makes the strongest case yet for a developer either being too good at his or her own game, and / or failing to properly playtest. I gave it chance after chance, even more than my patience normally allows, made every excuse for its poor design choices.
And then, right at our most perfect moment together, seconds from yet another continue screen and quitting for the umpteenth time, the game up and crashed on me.
I took it as a sign.