[Review] Death and Taxes – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: Placeholder Gameworks
  • Publisher: Pineapple Works
  • Release date: 10/9/2020
  • Price: £11.69 / $12.99
  • Review code provided by Pineapple Works

Introducing Death and Taxes Switch Review

I’ve stated before that I am a big fan of when more comedic games take the time to have something funny going on in their Eshop descriptions or list silly features. For The Unholy Society, I was sold by the feature of having the pope on speed dial, but for Death and Taxes it was “Don’t let the existential dread set in… DON’T LET IT SET IN” With that, I was pretty much sold, but it was really the game giving me the impression of bureaucratic work with more going on under the surface that had me desperate to give it a shot. After all, Papers, Please had made paperwork so much fun before so it might be fun to see another game give it a shot.

Only Two Things in Life Are Certain…

In Death and Taxes, you take on the role of a newborn grim reaper created by Fate. Fate is your boss, as well as the person who you report to at the end of every day to have your progress checked and who will hand you down instructions for your work. He’s a somewhat enigmatic fellow and seems to both have faith in the system and despise it. Sure, his role is to check your work, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t have a philosophical conversation or two with you. And there is always his cat to talk to whenever he’s out of the office. Just be a good little reaper and kill at your quota and follow the instructions. Or not.

Your daily conversations with Fate are where most of your story is going to come from, but that’s not the only place. Who you choose to kill does matter and does effect the world of the humans. You’re able to see this in a selection of news headlines that you will also get on your phone daily in response to how the death of a human from the day before effected the world. This is one of the aspects that lead to the many endings that the game has. While your conversations with Fate are interesting, they don’t effect the end of the game at all, it’s all about who you kill and who you don’t, or how rebellious you are without breaking the rules too much.

The endings are made up from a series of four panels that you see at the end of the game and which are an indication of how well things have turned out for both humanity and for you personally. While it is accurate to say there are a plethora of endings, it is also true that all the endings are made up of the same building blocks. However, getting them is not as simple as killing everyone or saving everyone, because that will get you fired. There are a few things you do to determine your personal fate, mostly related to following instructions. The fate of the humans, however is much trickier. Their fate is determined by four invisible values that go up and down based on who lives and dies each day. There are a few things that you can get to help you out with this in later runs though of the game, though. There’s a snow globe you can purchase with your wages that will show you the state of the world at the moment and which stats are going up and down in response to your actions, even turning red when things are most dire. There’s also a lamp, the reveals the hidden values on the files and which way killing or sparing the person will cause those values to go, however this is only after you have killed or spared the person before, so it is only really useful in new game+.

Or Are They?

The gameplay here is very simple. Each day you will be given a certain number of profiles of people who may or may not die and instructions on how best to deal with them. Some days you may be told just to kill a certain number of people, but on others you might be told to kill five people, but do your best to spare those between 35 and 60, or make sure everyone with a science career dies. The side objectives can be let slide to an extent, but you will get in trouble and not be paid if you kill too many or two few of those who are presented to you. There is also the possibility for a certain profile to turn up red so long as you are spending enough time staring into the mirror, following the instructions of the red profiles will lead to an ending all their own. The question then becomes of who you will spare and who you will kill. You can aim for certain endings or see how things turn out if you follow your personal principles, there’s a lot of directions things can take.

The game lasts for 28 days in total and those 28 days can be completed in an hour or less in most cases. However, after you’ve gone through a few times, it gets a little repetitive. It’s the same profiles every time and the same conversations with Fate aside from few dialog paths you can go down and a handful of more meta options that pop up once you are playing in New Game+. As a result, after just a few runs it starts to get a little repetitive and if you are aiming for certain endings, it becomes much more of a numbers game than a game about choosing with people’s lives (especially since the lap that reveals the stats of each person also wipes away their more personal description). The first time I played I was completely enthralled with it, but now that I’ve played several more times. I feel like I need a nice long break. While there is variety, it’s small, and even buying things from the shop loses it’s luster because you’ll eventually buy it out and end up with your salary piling up in your desk drawer.

Momento Mori

The look of the game is pretty simplistic as well, but not in a bad way. It favors only a few colors other than when you are customizing your reaper, but I was pleased to see that there are some pops of color to liven things up where they are needed. The ability to customize your reaper and have at least the shape of what you have chosen was a nice touch and I was glad that I could cover my desk with useless clutter if I felt like it, even if it really just gets in the way. Just like a real desk! Being able to move around all my desk supplies is also really helpful. Even if there isn’t a time limit on what you’re doing, it can help a lot to have everything set up in a more accessible way. 

I think the presentation of the building you work in is also really cute. It would have been easy to just move between the areas in the building with a simple menu, but would it be fun? Instead you get to ride the elevator up and down between your room, your office, Fate’s office, and that weird pirate skeleton who sells you stuff in the basement! Offices are just like that, ya know?

The sound is a little bit bland, but it’s a boring office job, what do you expect? You’re going to hear the same music all the time, but there is a little relief in being able to buy a radio from the vendor in the basement that lets you flip through a few different tunes. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it does allow for changing things up if you need to. The only issue that I have with the sound is that fact that your salary coins that pile up on your desk give off a sound while they are doing nothing but sitting there. You can silence them by moving them into a desk drawer, but it gets a little irritating after a while. I would actually prefer being able to just not have the coins show up or at least silence them in the settings, but no luck.

Either Way, Here’s Your Assignments

No matter what format you intend to play in, Death and Taxes will run perfectly fine either way. Playing in handheld does allow you the option to use the touch screen controls, though. I didn’t prefer for anything but choosing dialog options since using them at the desk felt a little bit clunky, but having them there as an option is always really nice. There was a time or two where I felt like the game needed to take a second to process my input, but this was usually when I was restarting a new run in new game+ so it easily could have just been a quite short load time.

Now Get Back to Work

Death and Taxes was a really fun game the first few times that I played it, but after a while it started to wear on me. Perhaps this is because a single campaign can be pretty short, or maybe it’s more like a real office job than I first thought. Either way, I think that it’s worth giving a shot in order to take life into your own hands for a little while. With funny writing and a chance to make friends with cat, it makes for a compelling game for short pick up and play sessions, even if longer playtimes might wear on you.

Pros

  • Clever and fun writing
  • Various branches for the ending to take
  • Simple gameplay with a deeper mechanic hiding underneath
  • Hold life and death in the palm of your bony hand

Cons

  • Game can become repetitive after a few times though
  • Noisy money

Verdict

Holding life and death in the palm of your hand has never been more like a desk job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it.

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