I Am Dead is unlike anything I’ve played in my gaming career. It lacks in-depth gameplay but makes up for that with genuine heart and thought-provoking concepts. I’ve struggled quite a bit this year because people close to me passed away. Death is something that is affecting everyone, especially in 2020. It’s difficult to go anywhere without hearing about death, and that’s why I Am Dead is such a cathartic experience. Developers Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg knock it out of the park by taking a heavy topic like death and creating a respectful narrative that helps people appreciate those we lost and continue to have their memories live on.
Players control Morris Lupton, a recently deceased museum curator from the island of Shelmerston. Aided by his (also deceased) dog Sparky, the two are on a quest to find a new custodian to watch over the land. The current custodian is tired of doing her job and needs a replacement. She’s been watching over a dormant volcano for centuries, and because she doesn’t want to watch over the residents anymore, it’s starting to become active. This urgent situation is what sends Morris and Sparky to find a potential candidate for the next custodian.
Into the dead we go
Every level in I Am Dead corresponds to someone they are looking into being the next custodian. At the start of each level, we have to enter the mind of various people related to these candidates. Here is where the gameplay loop begins. Using the left stick, players can select different environments within the level. Entering those structures shows us items and people that can be interacted with. When you pick a person of interest, you’re treated to narrative puzzles that discuss the relationship between them and the deceased. Players have to keep rotating a puzzle object until the controller vibrates, which moves that particular story forward. After exiting their mind, you have to look for a specific item that corresponds to their memory.
Because Morris isn’t in the world of the living, he can enter almost any item in the game. He’s able to splice through objects to see what they look like inside. This ability is a crucial gameplay element because sometimes, the object you’re looking for can be buried within something else. Occasionally items may be inside drawers, so you’d have to select a shelf and splice it open to find the item of interest. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult, and after the first level, you’ll know exactly how to handle most of what I Am Dead throws your way.
Simple, yet deep
The story only lasts a few hours, and honestly, you can probably breeze through it in one sitting. Doing that would be a disservice to I Am Dead though because the world is so full of life. Every environment has fantastic visuals, and something is mesmerizing about all the people that walk around the island.
Those looking for some extra things to do can search for hidden creatures called grenkins. Sparky alerts Morris to when a grenkin is in the area. On the bottom right of the screen, a small shape appears, which means players must look for an item that fits that description. Almost every grenkin is found within an object, so this forces players to splice open an item and rotate it to match the pattern on screen.
It’s a nice distraction from the main gameplay loop, and some of them had me scratching my head for a while. Those looking for an even greater challenge can look for a character named Mr. Whistable, who often gives Morris riddles to decipher. Players are tasked with finding objects around the map, but admittedly, I had quite a bit of trouble completing his requests.
Finding solace in the afterlife
I Am Dead is a peaceful game that deals with the heavy topic of death. When I started playing, I wasn’t sure if I could handle what was in store because of many emotional and personal issues. A lot of those fears left immediately when Morris started talking to Sparky. The voice acting is fantastic, and the main character’s soothing voice made me feel a sense of peace. We’re meant to believe that once someone dies, that’s it. You cease to exist, and your life is over. I Am Dead challenged those beliefs and instead presented a narrative where life continues after you’re gone. You live through the memories of other people.
Entering minds as Morris showed me that though so many characters were dead, people still allowed them to live on because of what they left behind. I put down I Am Dead with a new lease on life, a unique sensation for a video game to deliver. It’s a puzzle game with a lot of heart. The characters are engaging, the world is delightful, the message is strong, and it’s a fantastic way to escape into a game for a few hours. Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg created an unforgettable experience that Nintendo Switch owners should definitely pick up. I Am Dead taught me that death isn’t the end, but in fact, just the next step in all of our journeys.
A review code was provided by the publisher.