Apple Arcade launched a short time ago over on iOS devices, bringing with it a bunch of brand new games – some of which were timed exclusives to the mobile platform. One such game, which I’ve been waiting to eagerly get my hands on, is Dead End Job from Ant Workshop. The simplest way I can sum up this game is, imagine Luigi’s Mansion combined with The Binding of Isaac, yet presented in stages rather than a multi-floor format and all held together by bright and wondrous characters and addictive gameplay. Are you interested? You should be.
Published by our friends over at Headup Games, Dead End Job launched today on the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam – you can play it anywhere you want, depending on your console of choice! This game is the closest thing you’ll get to Luigi’s Mansion outside of a Nintendo console, offering lots of replayability and challenge as you aim to not only gain the platinum, but also complete the aim of the game before time runs out.
So, grab your vacuum cleaner device and gun (which apparently can hurt ghostly beings) and come with me as we enter the weird and wacky world of the best Paranormal Pest Control Officer around…
As Dead End Job originated as a mobile game, even though the consoles and PC were obviously planned from the start, the story is nice and simple so that you can pick up and play whenever you have a free moment without worrying about remembering the backstory. You take the role of the rather ‘chunky’ protagonist, a new apprentice at the local Paranormal Pest Control. It’s your job to progress through five unlockable areas, each with multiple levels of difficulty, as you search for your lost intern and suck up as many ghosts as you can find.
The main goal is to earn one million dollars before the end of the 30th day as a trainee ‘Pest Controller’, failure to do so will result in a game over as Dead End Job repeats itself, offering you another chance. Why the timer? Your boss is a spirit and she has to use the money in order to remain part of this world – she has a deadline of the next moon, hence 30 days. There’s so much replayability as you find new items, venture into new areas, combat foes you’ve never seen before, and complete quests in order to unlock artwork and bonus items.
As stated above, Dead End Job reminded me a lot of The Binding of Isaac (if we ignore the ghosts for now). There are five distinct areas for you to unlock, each one offering its own visual style and set of enemies to fight. The areas themselves are all procedurally generated, creating new layouts of rectangular rooms consisting of random objects and item placements. So, although each ‘room’ within an area look very similar to the last, the layout, number of humans to save, items you find, and enemies you’ll face are all different and procedurally generated.
You’re equipped with two key weapons, R2 fires you gun and L2 sucks with your vacuum-like device. It’s essentially a twin-stick layout, Left Stick to move and Right Stick to aim, but by default the game has auto-fire enabled which means you’ll automatically fire when you push the Right Stick – Turn this off immediately. This is clearly an option from the mobile version which was ported over and you shouldn’t have this turned on at all as your weapons have a shared ‘heat’ gauge, causing them to overheat if you use them for too long thus leaving you vulnerable. You also pick up items as you play (another similarity to The Binding of Isaac), items which you have no idea what their action will be until you’ve used it at least once.
The final major gameplay aspect is the levelling up. Every time you suck up a ghost you get a notch on your licence, once you reach a certain amount you’ll get the chance to level up and pick a ‘reward’. The rewards are seemingly random each time and offer you various things such as increasing your accuracy at a distance, granting you a faster upgrade process (less captures to ‘ding’), making your items last longer and reducing the speed at which your weapons overheat. These rewards are kept throughout your playthrough until you die, allowing you to buff the protagonist quite a bit – if you can avoid the ghosts long enough.
Speaking of dying, once you die (get hit or touch a ghost three times), you keep the money you earned on that run but you lose your items, levelled-up bonuses and you’re knocked back to being a trainee. Dying or successfully completing a run will advance the game forward by a day.
So, the gameplay is technically like The Binding of Isaac but the core mechanics feel like you’re playing Luigi’s Mansion as each screen is full of ghosts which you must first weaken by either shooting them or destroying exploding items near them, then sucking them up with your secondary weapon. Each of the ghosts are very bright and colourful, all of which come with their own pun-tastic names based upon what they look like. It’s almost like a ghostly version of Pokemon when you scroll through your journal and see all the ones you’ve collected – Gotta catch ’em all!
Each spirit has its own level and attack style, the higher the level, the more health they have – so jumping straight into a high-levelled area after you’ve just been revived isn’t the best idea as you’ll have no upgrades to boost your standard attacks. Their attacks vary from sliding around and leaving sludge on the floor, causing you to walk incredible slow, to dashing at you in hopes of headbutting you into the afterlife, some even fire projectiles which may or may not bounce off the walls like Green Shells!
There are also a number of bigger, and more intense, ‘boss’ ghosts. These tend to take much longer to defeat and are faster and cleverer than the smaller minions. Some of them, like the Ice Cream-based one, can even summon smaller spirits in order to overwhelm you with ghoulies who are hellbent on taking you out.
Who you gonna call?
Aside from picking an area and one of the difficulties located within (new areas are unlocked as you earn more money), there are also three rolling contracts for you to try and achieve to help you save up. The goals of these three contracts are random but tend to consist of things such as ‘complete X number of rooms in Y area’, ‘Capture X number of ghosts’, ‘Successfully complete X number of jobs’ and ‘Use X number of items’. Upon completing any of these, you can claim your reward – money or stamps – then the contract will change to another for you to try and meet the criteria of.
The stamps you can ‘win’ are used to unlock concept and bonus art via the image of Vigo on the menu screen (a nice Ghostbusters II reference). However, you can ‘ONLY’ obtain these stamps through random contracts, so unlocking all of the artwork may take a while. But, for the trophy hunters out there, there doesn’t appear to be any trophies in relation to collecting them all.
As I mentioned above, each area has a new set of items, all randomly placed either within objects you can smash or dropped after you suck up a ghost. Just like The Binding of Isaac (sorry for mentioning it so many times), you don’t know what they are until you use them and there are tonnes of them, over a hundred I believe. the interesting thing is, not every item is a weapon… Sure, you can pick up things like darts, guns, and the Holy Hand Grenade (minus the “Hallelujah” chant), but you also find items which mess with the screen! I recall a TV which enabled scanlines on the screen until I died and another item which made the screen tilt a bit to one side rather than being uniform with your TV.
As you find an item it’s also marked off in your journal, offering you trophies based on finding certain amounts of them. Thanks to the random nature of what you’ll get and where you’ll find it, each run-through of an area feels different as you’re constantly gaining new upgrades and abilities via these items and your level-up rewards.
Although Dead End Job is a small arcade title which isn’t heavily reliant on its narrative (but it does have a great intro), the dialogue within the game is funny and had me constantly wondering what was going to happen next. Both the cutscenes and the theme song were written by IGF nominee Xalavier Nelson Jr, bringing life to a game about the dead. There are no voices but there is a lot of humour, puns and references used throughout in order to hold the gameplay together and keep you entertained as new areas and people are introduced.
I especially like it when you lose for the first time and the game resets as Beryl (your boss) is telling you that you get another chance whilst the tubby protagonist, who isn’t very smart, is going on about how he wasn’t expecting a sequel to the game this fast.
It’s a fun family-friendly experience, which is quite a big contrast to The Binding of Isaac.
I didn’t have the chance to play in co-op with anyone, as I only got the game a few days ago, but Dead End Job supports two-play drop-in/out co-op which is apparently seamless with a local fellow ghost hunter. There doesn’t appear to be any online aspect though, no leaderboards or online co-op.
Dead End Job is freaking gorgeous. It’s so colourful, bold, bright, and artistically gorgeous to look at – with a clear inspiration from cartoons such as Ren and Stimpy. From the striking and bold cutscenes to the comic-book-like in-game visuals, everything looks really fun and adorable despite the fact they’re ghosts trying to eat you! Once you start shooting your weapon or using items like the disco ball, the screen fills up with lights that contrast the darker rooms with bright effects without touching the performance at all.
The music is very bouncy and kept me engaged throughout my playthroughs, coming from Will Morton (Grand Theft Auto series). The only thing missing, which I would have loved, was voice acting for the protagonist and his colleagues – with the imaginative and creative designs of the characters, I could imagine they would be even better with skilly voices to match!
Stocks & Scares – No Commentary Gameplay
Dead End Job is a great mash-up of Luigi’s Mansion and The Binding of Isaac, only family-friendly and very colourful. Despite its rather simple premise of picking a stage and cleaning the floor of all ghosts, then returning to your base and choosing the next area, the game itself is quite challenging and offers a lot of replayability. If going for the platinum, the playtime will be much longer than the three-hour single playthrough as there’s a lot of skill-based and collectable criteria which you must meet. This was one of my most wanted games which launched with Apple Arcade, I’m so happy it came over to consoles for us all to enjoy.
On a side note, if you pick up Dead End Job on Steam, it has both Twitch and Mixer integration (PS4 integrates with Twitch and Xbox integrates with Mixer). This allows the audience to help or hinder the player by choosing what power-ups the player has (including power-down items). It’s been a while since I’ve used this feature (Akiba’S Trip on PS4), but I recall it being awesome and it instantly turns a stream from a one-way show into an interactive experience for everyone.
Dead End Job£15.99
- - Very colourful with a 'Ren and Stimpy' look to the visuals
- - Really funny narrative and theme song
- - Lots of items to find, money to raise, and trophies to unlock
- - The game encourages replayability to get better and win the game
- - The closest thing you'll get to Luigi's Mansion on a non-Nintendo platform
- - Can get a bit repetitive as you're doing the same thing over and over again, albeit in a procedurally generated map
- - Due to the game stripping you of all items and upgrades when you die, it can become a little frustrating (if you're like me)