Backlog Review: I Am Dead (Switch)

A delightful concept marred by a lack of challenge and awkward controls.

By Achi Ikeda. Posted 12/10/2020 15:50 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Creative concepts; charming world; clever secrets to find.
Poison Mushroom for...
Repetitive gameplay; awkward controls; a short, uninspiring main story

Welcome to our latest Backlog Review, where we look at relatively recent game releases and determine whether or not they’re worthy of a playthrough.

As a fan of the publisher Annapurna Interactive as well as a fan of Richard Hogg’s previous game, Wilmot’s Warehouse, I was excited to pick up the adventure puzzle game I Am Dead. I really wanted to love this game. It has a colorful and quirky world, detailed environments and object design, and some touching moments as you listen to various characters narrate memories of their loved ones.

In life, people cannot help but become attached to objects and give the objects significant, personal meeting. A person’s sense of identity is tied to the objects he or she accumulated throughout life. Anthropologists and archaeologists rely on artifacts and belongings to get a clearer understanding of past and present societies. I Am Dead does a great job of demonstrating the importance objects play in a person’s life through the game’s core gameplay.

You play as Morris Lupton, a recently deceased museum curator who spent his life discovering and displaying the history of his hometown and island, Shelmerston. After reuniting with his deceased dog Sparky, he learns that the island’s volcano will soon erupt. This would cause the destruction of Shelmerston. Therefore, he must find another ghost who has both been dead for at least one thousand days and is willing to become the island’s new custodian. As the custodian, the ghost will become one with the island and watch over the island and its inhabitants.

Morris and Sparky look for a new custodian in friends of theirs who passed on before Morris did, as Morris himself is also newly dead. You go about this in gameplay that feels like a cross between I-Spy books and playing with a Matryoshka dolls, or Russian nested dolls.

First off, you must find people alive who remember the ghost and view their memories. Each person will remember a specific moment with the now deceased character and each memory centers around a specific object which Morris must then find. The memories are all well voiced with sweet or relatable moments despite some of the surreal and fantastical elements on the island.

The reason the game feels like I-Spy is because of the searching aspect to find each object. Along with the searching, each level is filled with personality and thoughtfulness. The charming levels also reference each other and have recurring characters. This adds a sense of continuity across the island. Though the memories may contain hints, there are not always clues as to the location of the objects Morris is looking for. Sometimes the location is where you would expect, but other times you may be searching for a bit.

As a ghost, Morris’ special ability is that he can look within objects. Essentially, imagine if a ghost poked its head into a locker. It would be able to see inside of the locker. Morris can look inside lockers, fridges, trees, and many other objects on the island. He can even look inside objects within objects within objects, hence the Matryoshka doll feeling. There’s even a satisfying “squilsh” sound as Morris views object’s cross-sections. Many objects have clever details inside. It’s clear that the developers put a lot of thought into designing the levels and it’s originality like this that reminds me why I love video games.

Despite all the consideration, charm, and originality, the gameplay gets repetitive quickly. The game is short, with the main story being beatable within four hours. It is not just repetitive, but the objects are also not usually difficult to find. The game does have a little variety thrown in, such as the search for riddles and grenkins, creatures hidden and only discoverable by finding a specific cross-section of an object. Though neither offer any rewards, I still found some of the challenges fun.

Along with repetitive gameplay, the controls are also not very intuitive. You view the world through the eyes of Morris, but rather than feeling like you are playing the game in first person, the view feels more like the perspective of a camera. Hence it is awkward to move the camera with the left stick and the cursor with the right stick. I was also disappointed by the limited exploration. I expected to have 360 degrees of movement, but when I fully zoomed out, you are
limited to panning the camera left or right.

The game is a self-described adventure puzzle game. Yet the gameplay does not really feel that puzzling. There is not much ingenuity or persistence required to accomplish the base game. As for adventure, it felt more like a self-guided tour rather than an open adventure. That doesn’t mean the gameplay is bad. I personally love walking through museums and spending as much or as little time on each exhibit—which is very much what I Am Dead feels like. Fitting, since you play as Morris the museum curator.

Morris is a fun character and his curiosity and genuine love for Shelmerston is a perfect protagonist to play as since you spend much of the game curiously looking around. Despite the good premise, the story takes a turn that felt out of place. The kind of story telling that I Am Dead excels at is environmental storytelling. The game is littered with various smaller narratives across the island’s levels that are discoverable using investigative and deductive reasoning. I love environmental storytelling and it is deployed very well with the use of Morris’ ability to see inside of things.

I would love to visit the charming island of Shelmerston. Clearly a lot of thought was put into this game and it is enjoyable to discover that. Unfortunately, I Am Dead’s repetitive gameplay, awkward controls, and short story that left me feeling discontent made me overall a bit disappointed.

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