There has been a shortage of “death game” video games recently. You know the ones. The games like Danganronpa or Zero Escape which basically combine escape room gameplay with visual novel storytelling. The general idea is always to play through the game multiple times to uncover some sort of big mystery or meta puzzle. They are a great way to turn the normally passive experience of a visual novel into an active and cerebral puzzle.
Except for the two big names that I mentioned up there, those types of games are basically over. Unless we get something new for Danganronpa’s 10th anniversary, then the death game has been played out.
Time to turn to the indie sphere!
Birth ME Code is a new death game that came out this year, and recently updated with new content. The concept is an interesting twist on the whole death game formula. Yes, you and a bunch of other people are locked inside a series of escape rooms and have to make choices about who lives and who dies while solving deadly puzzles, but you, in particular, are the villain. You orchestrated this whole thing. You are asking everyone else in this death game to find you out and kill you. Why? Well, that’s the big mystery that the story has left to unravel.
Birth ME Code is a fantastic mystery. In fact, I’d say it does better than the Zero Escape series since it isn’t always dumping strange facts from the back of Snapple caps on your lap. The pacing is great, with little drips and drabs given to you in every route… except for the very end. A LOT of lore is dumped on you in the very end, but then again that’s just par for the course for this genre.
The puzzles are simultaneously easier and harder than most puzzles in the same genre. The escape rooms are incredibly easy and usually don’t require any intense puzzle-solving. If you just click on everything you will eventually make your way out. This is made extra easy with a helpful quality of life function that will highlight everything that is clickable if you want it to.
The puzzles between escape rooms are more interesting. While they are usually one-off “sort the number” or “descramble the word” puzzles, they all have an element of lateral thinking to them. They each come with two hints which practically give away the solutions, but if you can prevent yourself from looking at them they really do create some satisfying EUREKA! moments. Not to mention every puzzle’s solution ties in to the greater narrative in some way.
In fact, that’s what I appreciate the most about Birth ME Code. So many death games simply guide you toward the “true ending” eventually, and you do it, and that’s it. You sit around and watch for hours as the game plays out. Birth ME Code doesn’t do that. It hides elements of its greater plot down each of its story branches. While you do plenty of flag collecting to unlock new routes, you also have to actively pay attention. Birth ME Code likes to quiz you on its plot, especially down its more important routes. It’s that sort of design that keeps your brain engaged, rather than just passively watching the gameplay out.
So I’d say this is worth a look, but there are a few caveats. The game’s indie edge shows a lot, mostly in its U.I. For example, there is a big flowchart that can bring you back to decision points, but the points aren’t well highlighted and it’s unclear that you have to start a new save file to be able to make new decisions. It’s also unclear if this was an attempt to disguise Birth ME Code as a more traditional visual novel that uses save files in a more linear fashion… but come on. We can see the flow chart flags right there. We know how this works.
For the most part, the game is designed to allow you to skip things you have seen before. But there’s no auto skip function. You have to manually hold down the skip button, which means you might inadvertently skip new content!
But if you are in the mood for a new death game, I can honestly say that Birth ME Code has that distinct feeling of torture meets puzzle book that all the great death games have. It might not be the next big indie hit, but it’s worth a look while we wait for some new news about the Danganronpa 10th anniversary celebration.