A quick shout-out to Pineapple Works for providing me with a review code for Death and Taxes.
As we’re now in the spooky month of October, I thought it fitting to talk about the Nintendo Switch release of Death and Taxes. This short indie title tasks the player with assuming the role of a grim reaper. Dishing out death from quite possibly the most mundane setting of all. An office.
Death is just part of life
The player is tasked with snuffing out human lives from the relative comfort of an office chair. This is mainly done by a point-and-click cell interface on the reaper’s desk. Players also interact with a fax machine. It spits out paper emblazoned with the profiles of each human who must be judged. There’s also a mobile phone to look at. It displays anecdotal newspaper headlines on how the humans died or survived by way of a Twitter-like app. Other objects are obtained and displayed on the desk, many of which also have an additional function.
Each day a new letter from the boss arrives detailing the parameters that need to be met. These letters should be read closely as should the human profiles. Depending on who is killed or spared, and how many of each, the narrative can be affected. As there is no time limit to deciding who lives or dies there’s ample opportunity to think it through.
Whilst a lot of the game is spent at the desk there are other areas to visit each having its own function. The player can travel up and down the office block using the elevator. This gives access to Fate’s office, Mortimer’s shop and the personnel quarters. These are used to help continue the narrative, buy things, proceed to the next day, as well as changing the reaper’s appearance. Popping between and interacting with these locations is how the game is driven forward and becomes a central game loop. Kill off some of the general public, have a meeting with fate, get paid, buy some useful items and then go to bed. Rinse and repeat.
Big thoughts on a small scale
Despite having some wide-reaching philosophical themes Death and Taxes is quite a small-scale game this helps maintain a certain level of quality throughout. Instead of having too many game mechanics or locations to travel to, what is in this game is very polished. Every face-to-face interaction with the character is voiced. For example, there are plenty of items and costumes to collect and plenty of branching dialogue choices to choose from.
I also really dig the art style the mixture of monochromatic backgrounds and limited colors. This mixture helps to highlight important things yet still maintains a dreary underworldly vibe. That is very befitting of a game focusing on death. This lack of flashiness and overall mundane setting is one of the strongest parts of the game. There might be fantastical elements of play. The fate of many average lives rests in the player’s hands, but this mundane nature helps convey an important theme. Death is just another part of life. It isn’t glorified, it’s really just another day at the office. Not to say the game is lifeless, of course. There are plenty of jokes and references to amuse the player. The voice actors also invoke plenty of personality into their characters.
Multiple endings exist, so there’s plenty of incentive to play through the game a few times. This makes it easy to try different options to hopefully get a different ending. Whilst I did enjoy listening to the voice actors lean completely into their characters, I did start skipping through some of the more long-winded conversations. The sheer amount of dialogue combined with some intentionally slow, drawling delivery started to get a little annoying. I ended up reading the on-screen subtitles faster than they were being spoken aloud, although this is probably due to my impatience as opposed to anything else.
Overall Death and Taxes is pretty good. It’s a game that players need to take their time with, soaking in all the little details that are on screen. Whether this sounds good or not is entirely up to your preferences. If you need something a little more cerebral and mundane this Halloween, Death and Taxes might just be the game for you.
Disclaimer: A code was provided for this game to aid in writing this review.