Deadeus is an indie horror title for the Nintendo Gameboy, heading towards a physical launch. It can scare, but does it fare on the international market?
Deadeus was a game I leapt on when my editor announced it, because it was a new Gameboy game. A NEW GAMEBOY GAME. That is nuttier than peanut butter. Why on earth would anyone make a Gameboy game in this day and age, I wondered while downloading the emulator. After an hour of playing Deadeus, I had no answer.
While it makes little sense for this game to be on Gameboy, or for it to not just look like it’s a Gameboy game while retaining quality of life improvements like Shovel Knight does, Deadeus works well. There are some pitfalls, but overall I would say Deadeus is worth supporting.
The story of Deadeus takes place in a nameless town over three days, where a nameless child has a nightmare about an otherworldly god. This god, the titular Deadeus, wishes to claim the lives of this village as payment for an ancient deal. Over the next three days, the child must find a way to ward off this god, or allow it to fulfil its purpose…
The main draw of Deadeus is that it has 11 endings. These range from meeting Deadeus themself to sleeping through it all, which I immediately did of course, for roleplay purposes. In most games, 11 endings would be a daunting time sink, but Deadeus combats that by having an incredibly short play time.
You can explore the entire town, talk to every character on all three days, read every book and go to every class in less than an hour. Normally, such a pitiful playtime would be insulting, but Deadeus uses that time to establish intrigue. At time of writing, I’ve played through six of the 11 endings, just to see what they would change.
I decided to take a look at the itch.io page for this game, and saw the developers promised a peek at the future of this series in the special edition. I didn’t play the special edition, but a future series worries me slightly. The cyclical nature of the story is the compelling part, and a potential sequel could canonize one ending. It’s not a death sentence, but it could be a pitfall if poorly handled.
All in all, the story is interesting enough that I was willing to go through it six times, but here is where we find the first limitation of the Gameboy medium. One sidequest has you collect flowers for a neighbour. It’s cute and gives you a necessary reward, but since you can’t skip dialogue or give her multiple flowers at once, you have to go through the same conversation around 10 times. It stops being cute after the third time, for reference.
I wouldn’t say the writing is incredible, but it is interesting. I mention that the cyclical model compels you, since you keep replaying just to see all the endings, but that gets kind of old. Six endings in and I’m tired of this town’s story. A bit more time developing side characters and less possible routes would have made an intriguing story into a great one.
Deadeus is essentially a contextual adventure game, where you solve puzzles by finding the necessary item and using it. The puzzles are explained well enough that there is satisfaction in completing them, but fetch quests are annoying in even the best of games. I didn’t feel much of a challenge playing Deadeus.
The gameplay lacks depth. Every item in your inventory is contextual, which works well in puzzle solving, but removes any kind of fail state. Video games kind of need failure. They need some sort of obstacle to get over, which Deadeus has, but without a penalty for picking the wrong answer, the game loses tension quick.
Which is a shame. Tension is something Deadeus does really well with its music and visuals. Unfortunately, games are an interactive medium, and the world just doesn’t feel that interactive. I can do everything in town in a day, which means the three day time limit stops mattering after a while. You can miss an event if you go somewhere on the wrong day, like I missed the initial conversation with the prisoner, but it doesn’t really matter when you can just come back in the next playthrough.
If it sounds like I’m struggling here, trust me I am. There just isn’t a lot to talk about here. The gameplay is a perfectly functional vehicle for the story. It brings across that you’re just a helpless child in a situation that slips further from reality with every day. It just isn’t engaging enough to warrant multiple playthroughs.
The issues present in the original Gameboy were never deal breakers, mostly because there wasn’t another deal back then. The original Gameboy could render maybe three or four shades, lacked some of the convenience of later models (like dialogue skipping) and generally couldn’t compete with its successor visually.
That being said, Deadeus really makes the best of the Gameboy pallet. The white and green overworld gives everything a very simple vibe, with a sinister undertone presented in the dream sequences. The horror imagery is also top notch, evoking not just a sense of unease, but also interest. I want to see the next scary thing, and that’s tough to pull off.
IZMA, the game’s author, doesn’t skimp on music either, provided by Stuart Busby. The audio design presents an unsettled town, as a child having nightmares would see it. It really brings the world to life, throwing in a few interesting bits, like how the overworld music changes on the third day to reflect a sense of finality.
Honestly, I considered recommending Deadeus for the presentation alone. It really goes the extra mile. Above I mentioned the lack of engagement I had with the gameplay, and the downturn of interest in the story. That happened around my third play through. What made me keep coming back to check out the other endings were the beautifully designed cutscenes, horrific imagery and awesome music. This is such an important part of game design, and this author nailed it.
This was definitely one of the weirder games on my review list. A worry I had going into this was that I don’t really play horror games, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference. However, Deadeus may have sold me on 2D horror adventure. There’s just something so captivating about horror imagery that other genres can’t do.
Recommendation time! I don’t think Deadeus will score very well. The limitations of the Gameboy aside, it just doesn’t have engaging gameplay, and the story becomes repetitive. A couple tougher puzzles with some world building rewards and failure states wouldn’t go amiss.
Still, even with all that, get this game!
Deadeus is available on itch.io for free, and a special edition for $5, so it’s worth the price. Even if $5 seems too much, these kinds of games need support. Deadeus is an interesting little bite of Gameboy nostalgia, even for someone like me who never owned an original Gameboy.
And if you want to squeeze even more nostalgic goodness out of it, you can also pick up the actual cartridge. Yep, Deadeus has a full physical release coming up (March), including a retro-styled box, manual and cart. Of course, you’ll need an actual GameBoy to play it.
Play it, you will enjoy yourself, and I need people to talk to about it.
Release Date: August, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Gameboy, Emulator (Reviewed)
MSRP: Decide your Own Price (Itch.io), $57.99 USD for the physical GameBoy cart