DEAD OR SCHOOL Switch Review – Mutant Murdering Action at its Best

Have you ever wondered what it’d be like if Borderlands was actually a Japanese side scrolling action RPG with added swords, where you play as a wannabe school girl? Well my friends wonder not because Marvelous and Studio Nanafushi have heeded your calls with DEAD OR SCHOOL.

In typical Japanese fashion less clothes equals more power.

After losing a war with mutants, the human race has moved underground into the Tokyo metro system. 78 years later the 3rd generation of refugees want to experience the joys on the surface. School is remembered as a paradise and as such Hisako dons her grandmother’s old uniform (that she strangely kept for 78 years in perfect condition) and sets out to gather friends to take to the surface in order to go to school. The story is just awful but it’s that B-movie kind of rubbish that’s so bad it’s good and I have been loving all the ridiculous interactions and characters we meet along the way on our quest to the surface.

There won’t be any other food on the surface so why not.

On Nintendo consoles gameplay is king and DEAD OR SCHOOL doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve ever played one of Vanillaware’s great games such as Muramasa or Odin’s Sphere you’ll be used to what’s on offer here. DEAD OR SCHOOL has you battling droves of enemies across Metroidvania type levels with 3 selectable weapons, a sword, a gun such as an assault rifle or shotgun and a missle launcher. Each type weapon has its pros and cons as well as limited ammo/durability that’s only replenished by reaching a save point (along with your health) so you will be using all 3 types. Even within the weapon types there’s Borderlands style collection and huge differences, you can wield a slow and extremely powerful hammer that only deals single hits or combo the mutants with a samurai sword. There are just so many weapons you’ll easily find some to suit your play style. Plus the fact that weapons can be modified with an ability and two attachments can be equipped to each weapon and you’ll never be bored of the endless possibilities.

I love flamethrowers.

Fighting the mutants is fast and furious with a little bit of jankiness thrown in which honestly adds to the B-movie style charm, well timed dodge rolls have never been so important as you’ll die in seconds without them. Perfectly timed dodge rolls also give you a bullet time effect to really lay into the mutants. 

Everything goes artistically black and white with a perfect dodge.

When you reach a new level your weapons become about as useful as tossing some records at zombies and you’ll find yourself dying a lot until you find a good new weapon and upgrade it. It’s not the biggest deal when you do die though, you don’t lose any items or progress just some money. If you find the difficulty spike of a new level too much, there are 3 settings so it’s nice and simple to drop the difficulty a notch.

You can only change your weapons at save points.

New mutants are introduced every level giving some nice variety to the otherwise samey level design. What really keeps you on your toes is the platforming and layout of the stages making it constantly challenging as enemies are awkward to dismember without taking some damage, the only problem here is when there’s environmental features in the foreground that obscure your view. There’s also some platforming and puzzles especially to get some of the souvenirs that increase your stats, this provides a welcome break from the tense action of killing mutants so that you can calm your nerves.

Boom.

If you like your games looking like a PS2 game then you’re in luck, otherwise you might be left with a sour taste in your eyes. In my books it’s the gameplay that counts though and DEAD OR SCHOOL has that by the bucket loads so it can easily be forgiven for the lack of graphical prowess, especially given its indie nature, yes the 7 levels all look very similar but they are also set underground in the remains of the Tokyo metro system so really it’s to be expected to a certain degree. The only bit I don’t like is that some sections are zoomed out so far it is difficult to see what’s going on and a green arrow is needed to find Hisako. 

The green arrow is fugly as a moose with mange but very handy.

The voice acting pretty much consists of Hisako constantly making expressive grunts and groans. The soundtrack is fairly forgettable for the most part but during more tense areas you’ll get to enjoy some awesome rock guitar riffs, meanwhile you’ll be listening carefully to know when enemies are attacking. 

No game is complete without a lift (elevator) section.

Now it’s time to let you in on a secret DEAD OR SCHOOL was originally made by three people. When you take that into account, you can really forgive all its shortcomings and herald this as one of the best indie games certainly I’ve ever played and carrying on the long legacy started by Pixel with Cave Story that individuals can achieve great things in video games.

I wish you could kill mutants like this in game.

DEAD OR SCHOOL suffers from substance over style and you know what? I’m thankful for that as each of the 7 levels will take you a fair few hours. Yes, if it looked as good as it plays then I don’t doubt that DEAD OR SCHOOL would be remembered as one of the greats and I’m honestly already hoping for a remaster with gorgeous anime style graphics found in the cutscenes but what you get here is an action RPG that beats you to a pulp at times and at others is an absolute thrilling joy ride of massacring mutants in order to get to school. Now if you excuse me I’ve got some mutants to murder on my way to school.

There’s some mild fan service if that’s your thing.

A huge thank you to Studio Nanafushi and Marvelous Games for providing the review code. DEAD OR SCHOOL is available both physically and digitally on the eShop for £24.99/€29.99/$29.99.

Ice cream is magic!

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