I Am Dead is a cheerful, touching, but slightly repetitive puzzle game with a fantastic cast that brings every character to life – even the dead ones.
You are Morris Lupton, the recently-deceased museum curator of the tiny island of Shelmerston. You may think that playing a dead museum curator isn’t as exciting as playing a live space marine or an immortal god, but I Am Dead will surprise you.
Getting Into the Spirit of Things
I Am Dead is a puzzle game where you are dead (obviously). But being dead isn’t all that bad, really. You get to fly over a beautiful island, spend more time with your now talking dog, and spy on unsuspecting people in their own homes.
But it’s not all fun and games, either. The island you call home is in danger, and you are the only one who can save it. You travel across the island and try to wake up Shelmerston’s dormant ghost population in the hopes one of them can help you. Finding a ghost isn’t all that easy, though – you have to collect special items called “mementos” that are tied to the spirit you’re looking for.
These mementos can be anything: a special pin they used to wear, a childhood toy, or a gift from a loved one. So you have no idea how to find them, and where. That is where you ghostly power of “looking inside loads of different things” comes into play.
Taking a Closer Look
Looking inside of things is mainly what you do in I Am Dead. But you won’t spend your time opening cupboards and boxes. As a ghost, you can peek into things, like x-ray vision. You sort of zoom into the object, peeling away layer after layer. That includes electronic devices, houses, jawbreakers, and even people’s memories.
The effect of zooming in and out of an object as its layers dissolve away is oddly satisfying. The game lets you focus on each item individually, to turn it around, and really “get into it.” The best part is that it never gets old. Every thing you examine is different, and while some are mundane and don’t offer must in the way of discovery or beauty, some are a joy to “slice” through. Not only are these particular objects more detailed – they can hide unexpected, often amusing secrets.
But to make sure you really don’t get bored, I Am Dead adds all sorts of side challenges you can choose to complete while searching around for the ghosts’ mementos.
The Great Grenkin Hunt
I Am Dead has two different side challenges: You can hunt for Grenkins and solve riddles.
Grenkins are the game’s collectibles. They are tiny spirits that hide inside items and bring you luck. Your dog Sparky will let you know when one is nearby by showing you an image of the object it hides in, but from a very particular angle. The challenge is to find that item and replicate the image by zooming into it at the right angle. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, though.
The riddles, on the other hand, are extremely difficult to solve. At least that was the case for me. All you get is a short phrase that hints at a specific item, and a few seconds to find it. Some of these items are where you’d expect them to be, but a lot are in the most surprising of places. So you need to memorize all the riddles so you’ll know what to look for while you explore. Once you think you have the solution, you go “activate” the riddle and come back to interact with the object before the timer runs out.
I didn’t find solving these riddles particularly enjoyable. There is very little skill involved, and it’s all down to patience and dumb luck. Hunting for Gernkins, although ultimately pointless, at least challenges you in a fun way (plus, these little creatures make cute noises, so it’s worth it).
But admittedly, searching for Gernkins or scouring the area for mementos isn’t terribly exciting. The little stories that lead to each memento are what’s worth the effort.
To find a memento, you first need to know what it is you’re looking for. Luckily, you can peek inside people’s memories and hone in on the item in question. Looking into someone’s head works pretty much like any other item in the game: you zoom in and out until a picture becomes clear, and you move on to the next memory. But it’s not the pictures that you should be interested in – it’s the stories they depict.
Every memento is connected to a deeply personal story. Some are funny, some are touching, but the tales are all fantastically written and performed. It’s hard not to be moved by these memories and their narration, and for me, these are the highlight of I Am Dead.
The memories you explore also tell you more about the history and folklore of Shelmerston. You’ll learn about the fishfolk and their obsession with toast, the mysterious camel that roams the park at night, and a robot that runs a yoga retreat. Shelmerston is an odd place, full of wonder and weirdness that’s well worth digging into.
Heaven on Earth
Shelmerston is also a very beautiful place – mostly thanks to the game’s vibrant visuals. The characters, the items you examine, and the environments are all painted in soft yet lively colors that make I Am Dead feel warm and not at all about ghosts or death. The shifting color palettes give every location an atmosphere of its own, but everywhere you go feels soothing and just so lovely to look at.
I Am Dead is a cute and cheerful puzzle game you’d enjoy playing for an afternoon or two. It tells many touching little stories with the help of a fantastic cast that brings every character to life – even the dead ones.
The main gameplay mechanic – the ghostly x-ray vision – can get old after a while, but everything else about the game will pull you in and help you appreciate the little details and history in everything around you.
Developer: Hollow Ponds, Richard Hogg
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2020
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