PAX Australia has introduced the gaming sphere to plenty of great looking indie titles throughout the years. One such title that caught my eye while perusing the booths at PAX Rising in 2019 was Little Reaper, a cutesy 2D platformer featuring an adorable protagonist. The Aussie team aptly named Little Reaper Games presented a demo that had the trappings you’d expect from a platformer. Alongside the cute and tiny Grim Reaper protagonist, there was decent platforming and a thin yet adorable story premise, and I was hopeful that more time in the development oven would see the release of another great indie platformer. Unfortunately for Little Reaper, it never quite reaches the heights of greatness, with technical and gameplay shortcomings resulting in a remarkably mediocre experience.
Little Reaper places you in the shoes of Ollie, a miniscule Reaper who serves as an assistant to the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper has decided to take a much needed vacation, leaving the Little Reaper in charge of things while he is gone. Unfortunately for Ollie, things go wrong almost immediately. He shatters a glass containing numerous souls, which in turn causes them to flee. In order to save himself and his career, Ollie heads off with scythe in hand to retrieve as many souls as he can. The story does a great job of explaining why Ollie is exploring the Grim Reaper’s home among other locations, before quickly taking a backseat so you can focus on the gameplay.
You had one job Ollie…
There are four levels throughout Little Reaper, with each requiring you to progress through the level collecting souls and defeating foes, before ultimately taking your scythe to a final boss. The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from a 2D platformer. Initially you can only jump and attack with your scythe, however you gain new abilities upon the completion of each boss battle. Little Reaper learns moves such as uppercuts, side dashes, and even an ability that allows him to throw his scythe and teleport to its location. All the moves work well, and grant you the ability to collect items in locations that were previously not accessible in previous levels. The scythe teleportation ability is by far the most impressive and fun to use, not only serving as a tool helpful for reaching high platforms, but also serving as a handy method for speedrunning through levels at an enviable pace.
Spirits in Little Reaper serves as the main collectible in-game, with three different types available. Green spirits are the most common, with hundreds often peppered throughout a stage for no other reason other than to serve as collectibles. Red and blue spirits are far less common, and are accrued by killing enemies of the corresponding colours. These spirits are used to power objects in the environment, which often grant access to areas otherwise out of reach. They are also used in some light puzzles, for example in one instance you imbue a red platform with a spirit, causing it to move horizontally along the level, before removing the spirit to stop the platform atop a button, opening up a gate. In some levels, there are even gates that require a combination of red and blue spirits, which will require you to backtrack if you aren’t actively remembering to take spirits back from objects after you used them, or if you’ve simply forgotten to kill an enemy along the way. The soul mechanic is by no means a complex system but is nonetheless quite clever, but in many ways it feels underutilised and should really have been further fleshed out.
Even Ollie needs to hit the beach
Unfortunately for Little Reaper, it’s got a lengthy list of shortcomings. Firstly are the controls, which for most of the time are serviceable, however there were some instances where the game seems to straight-up disregard jump inputs. This more than occasionally leads to moments of frustration where instead of nailing an easy jump, you plummet to your death. A genre that demands precision requires precision in its controls, and it’s just not up to snuff. Next up is the performance, which is again largely reliable, yet still prone to issues that left my head in my hands. When you save at the save points strewn throughout each level, the game suffers from a disorienting stutter that renders the game unplayable for just under a second. In most cases this just looks ugly, but in some instances it sees Little Reaper unknowingly fall into a pit of spikes. Death might not hurt too much when you’re right next to a checkpoint, but it does bring to the forefront the inherent lack of polish the game has.
Another problem I had with the game were the boss battles. As mentioned prior, bosses throughout Little Reaper are encountered at the end of each of the four stages. None of them are doing anything new, serving merely as an enemy you whack with your scythe a few times before closing out a level. The final boss however left such a sour taste in my mouth that it ultimately confirmed the game as doomed to the depths of aggressive mediocrity. It’s lame and ridiculously uneventful, feeling like an area of the game the team forgot to finish. It robs you of an enjoyable ending and hammers home the fact that Little Reaper just doesn’t deliver an experience worthy of the player’s time. Alongside these listed issues, I also had the game crash on me two occasions throughout my playthrough, and it’s advised you save often
Boss battles are just bad
While Little Reaper may not provide an amazing experience, it still has some positives. The simple story is adorable, Ollie is a cool little protagonist, and the soul mechanic is an interesting but underutilised gameplay mechanic. Glaring shortcomings such as performance issues, unreliable controls, and terribly bland boss encounters only further drag down what was an average product to begin with. Little Reaper isn’t in the position to challenge other indie platformers for your time, and while I feel like the team could make something great with the foundations they’ve got if they take on the criticism, your time is best spent elsewhere until that reality eventuates.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher