In the bowels of an abandoned looking mansion, in deepest Blutenstein, Professor Ernst Splattunfuder has worked long and hard on his manual of unique and horrific ways to kill and maim when, alas, his assistant blows up the fruits of his labour in a terrible lab 'accident'. Distraught, the professor calls the minion agency and hires you, his new lab assistant, to recreate for him his greatest book of knowledge by discovering all 101 Ways to Die!
Thus your journey of discovery begins. The game takes place over a series of testing labs where you try to find the most inventive, funny, interesting and effective ways to kill the professor's artificial vat-grown life forms - the Franken-Splatts. The Splatts were made for this, warping into existence at an entry gate on one part of the map and trudging along slowly toward a pre-determined exit. You must divert their journeys in varying ways that will lead them to their (often gruesome) deaths. If a death is inventive enough, it will be entered into the 101 Ways to Die and form part of your collection.
Before the start of each level, you are presented with an overview of the possibilities that lie before you as this set up phase is all about planning how to use your environment to maximise the carnage. Many levels will have natural hazards built in - such as spikes, lava pits or boulders. You must decide how best to utilise these existing threats and combine them with a limited selection of tools you have available before the level begins. In early levels, this can be as simple as placing a slippy floor which will send Splatts careening into a pit of spikes, or setting up a bumper which will bounce the Splatt straight into a landmine.
Things soon get more complicated however and the number and the complexity of the win conditions you have to beat to complete a level increase. Side missions are introduced which will affect how your completion of the level is ranked, but often these exist to point you in the right direction to collect another Way To Die. In each stage, it's possible to earn a maximum of three stars based on the completion of tasks and the score gained for the the level. More impressive kills will garner you a higher score and a place on the leaderboards, while stars are collected to allow you to unlock later stages or entire new laboratories in which to do your murdering.
The level unlocks aren't overly forgiving, but do leave enough flexibility that if you really can't figure out how to beat a stage, you can go back to earlier stages and earn extra stars there in order to skip it and still progress. This can be very satisfying, especially as you become more and more creative and your traps become increasingly complex. In fact, with the game's guidance, you'll soon be creating elaborate Rube Goldberg death machines, where poor unsuspecting Splatts are ricocheted around a level mercilessly before meeting their cruel, inevitable end - and we challenge you not to do so with a big evil grin on your face.
There's a distinct feel of Lemmings to 101 Ways to Die, possibly because of the steadfast marching of the Splatts who are at the mercy of one hapless lab assistant on a mission of death, although you don't have the level of control that was available in those titles. Once the set up phase is completed, you will usually sit back and watch the carnage unfold, only interfering to let off a well timed shot from a placed cannon, or to detonate a bomb that will dislodge a boulder teetering just over where a Splatt is about to pass. If you're particularly proud of your trap, a replay is available at the end of each stage, though it's doubtful that you'll watch too many replays after the first few levels.
Visually, 101 Ways to Die does a decent job of selling its environment. It's easy to navigate and, although the graphics aren't especially flashy, they don't need to be and they convey their characters and environments well all the same. Kills are delightfully bloody, but not visceral enough to be off-putting. The sound is forgettable, with not a lot going on beyond the frightened shrieks of the Splatts as they realise they are about to meet their maker, but perhaps this is a blessing in a title where you are likely to play the same stage over and over again just to see if you can improve your scores or collect that elusive three-star rating.
The game relies heavily on physics, be it boulders crashing, Splatts flying, or cannonballs being propelled through a jet stream, with all of these needing to work together perfectly in order for the puzzles to feel achievable. Fortunately, this is the case, although there are a few minor instances where Splatts will get stuck in the environment, but given the amount of variables there are in a title like this, it's surprising how robust everything is. In fact, any failures are more likely to be down to user error rather than any issues with the game engine.
What makes 101 Ways to Die especially enjoyable is the feeling of freedom and choice that it gives you. Despite the fact that you are limited by the environment, the tools available and the win conditions of a stage, each new level brings with it a feeling of excitement and intrigue as you plot and scheme how you will eliminate as many Splatts as possible in the most interesting of ways, hopefully discovering one that you've never seen before to add to your collection and aid you in your quest to complete your book for Professor Splattunfuder. With over 50 levels available and a multitude of unique deaths to cause, chances are you'll revisit this one more than once.
This is a fun puzzle game with a difficulty pitched to keep it interesting for seasoned puzzlers but not beyond the reach of novice gamers. The traps you set and contraptions you create are challenging and comedic in a deliciously evil way that is sure to raise a wicked chuckle or two from all but the most pure of heart. An opportunity to use your creativity in dastardly ways; 101 Ways to Die's use of physics and Rube Goldberg-style chain reactions is an enjoyable entry into the puzzle genre.