Sometimes You Die: Innovation continues to evolve 2D platform gaming on the iPad (iOS)

March 29, 2014

The platform genre is undergoing a very real and rapid evolution thanks to the tablet and mobile platform.

Last week, I talked up Jump! Chump!, which delivered an interesting dual-vertical play mechanic. This week’s pick—Sometimes You Die for iPad and iPhone—delivers a similarly inspiring innovation.

On the gaming consoles, the notion of “genre innovation” is an important aspect of game design. Without evolving a given genre in at least one specific and unique way, the notion goes, your game has no hook, and therefore nothing to sell.

Almost always, console games deliver more than one interesting gameplay loop. They are too big, too ambitious, and too complex to deliver just one experience. People don’t play their Xbox One or PlayStation 4 for that reason.

Mobile game developers, on the other hand, tend to focus their efforts around a singular play mechanic. The games are smaller, therefore the focus can be smaller.

This is important, and it is the reason why platform games on the iPad and Android tablets continue to proliferate and evolve. A designer plays one game and thinks, “I have a great gameplay concept,” and they can build an entire game around that concept.

Such is the case with Sometimes You Die, which was developed by Philipp Stollenmayer and released just a few days ago for iOS. The mechanic is literally the name of the game. In most 2D platformers, death is expected but has no short- or long-term significance for the player, aside from being a vehicle by which the player learns how to successfully complete a level.

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Here, when you die, your “body” (a black block with the > greater-than symbol on it), remains on the level. More often than not, its presence helps you figure out how to successfully complete each level which, in classic platform style entails moving your black block the greater-than symbol from one end of the screen to another.

Sometimes dying can help pave paths over dangerous terrain. And sometimes dying can serve to block enemies from reaching you. As an example, early in the game a buzz saw killed me in the far corner of a level. My blocky carcass wound up blocking the buzz saw, pinning it into a corner, which allowed me to make my way through the map without danger the very next turn.

Layered below of this very unique play mechanic—one I fully expect to see mimicked in the console world at some point—is an extremely clever sense of space and level design. Developer Philipp Stollenmayer certainly has a grasp for what makes an enjoyable platform action game, and the end result is a series of 70 levels that are challenging at times, but more importantly make you smile and even laugh. Hidden areas and even hidden levels abound; sometimes you’ll think you’ve failed, only to find that you’ve accidentally discovered a secret level or area.

Supplementing all this is a cool indie art house design aesthetic that is more easily seen and experienced than design. Each level is designed in stark black and white, and the game itself has some interesting and meaningful themes. Even the iTunes page for Sometimes You Die has been crafted with meaning in mind.

So what is the meaning of Sometimes You Die? I’m still trying to figure it out. As an example, what is the meaning of the highlighted phrases? And does the map symbolize anything? Regardless of the answers, I can’t remember the last time such a seemingly simple game stayed with me for this long. 

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