I love myself a good ol’ postapocalyptic story. Whether it’s zombies, nuclear disaster or some kind of virus that has erased humanity, I’m all in, and I guess that’s one of the reasons I had high expectations for Life of Delta. With its adorable protagonist and beautiful hand-drawn visuals, I was so ready to fall head over heels with Airo Games’ cute little game. As it turns out, a few things like a thin story and several frustrating game mechanics prevented my expectations from being fully met, but overall I still enjoyed my short but fun adventure with my new friend Delta.
The premise of Life of Delta isn’t exactly unique: The world as we know it has been devastatingly ruined by a nuclear catastrophe, all human beings are extinct, and what remain are robots and the evil lizard people who now run things with an iron fist. Some animals have miraculously survived as well, so we’ll meet mutant dogs and strange caravan cows, as well as muscular rhinos and hogs, the cruel law enforcers who beat up and bully everything in their way.
In the middle of all this we find Delta, a charming little service robot who has been assigned to be decommissioned, i.e. thrown into a giant vat of acid. Just before Delta disintegrates into nothing, another robot called Joe rescues him and takes him back to his home. Inevitably, Joe is taken away by the pigs (the police are literally hogs) for this act of rebellion, and now it’s up to Delta to return the favour and save Joe.
Despite the devastation to the planet itself, Life of Delta is set in some truly stunning locations. In the first part of the game, you find yourself mostly in an overcast desert, somewhere in Japan. Abandoned structures and crashed airplanes dominate the landscape, burning embers flit around in the desert wind, and each time Delta stops running he kicks up a little cloud of dust around his feet. It really reminded me of the desert planet Tatooine from Star Wars; not only do the surroundings seem to be inspired by it, but many of the androids are also very similar to George Lucas’s iconic masterpiece. In the second part of the game, when Delta has made his way to the Megacity, desert is replaced with a cold cityscape of endlessly tall skyscrapers and remnants of industrial destruction beneath a perpetually reddish smog.
Another absolutely superb aspect of Life of Delta is its music. The action is accompanied by beautiful electronic tunes with subtle Asian elements weaved in. The score is mostly moody and chill, but sometimes a bit mysterious, perfectly matching the atmosphere of the quirky ambient soundscape.
The inhabitants of Delta’s world communicate in a new and unknown language, again invoking Star Wars: think Jabba the Hutt meets The Sims, which actually works surprisingly well. During conversation, the scene zooms into a dialogue window, where the characters speak their strange language, with English (or your language of choice, which has an impressive list of eleven to choose from) subtitles in the middle. You don’t have any dialogue options, so they just talk and say what they have to say before you can get on with your game. These exchanges don’t turn out to be all that important, but it is a fun element nevertheless.
Delta meets several different robots along the way to saving Joe, and some of them are quite the characters. You have a potion-making android who looks more like a druid than a machine, a spider-like robot who lives in a junkyard, and a band of musical bots who need Delta’s help to perform a song. Not nearly as friendly or nice are the lizard people, who only want to dominate everything and everyone, but to say that they are highly intelligent wouldn’t be exactly accurate.
The gameplay is very straightforward: In order to progress, you either have to do various favours and fetch quests, or solve different types of puzzles and mini-games. In the first section, Delta discovers that Joe has been taken to the Megacity, and to get there he needs to collect pieces of a ship and repair it. Naturally, these pieces are in the possession of a scruffy bunch of robots, who want Delta to perform different types of tasks in order for them to hand over the parts. This includes fixing other robots, helping a gluttonous cow digest a part of the ship, and making a dancing plant bust a move. There is no doubt Delta is a service robot, as besides his adorable looks, he happily helps everyone he meets, showing compassion and kindness all the time. Sure, he might use some shady tricks now and then to reach his goal, but it’s all for the greater good of helping his friend.
The puzzles in Life of Delta are really what the gameplay revolves around, and they are a varied lot. Some of them are both fun and challenging, and some are pretty easy. I’m a sucker for food-related puzzles, so when I had to make sushi for two police guards, I took to it like a fish to water. There is also a really amusing pipe mini-game, as well as a classic “steer the laser beams in the right direction” type of puzzle that I really liked.
One frustrating “puzzle” mechanic I encountered not once, but twice, was when Delta needed to lure away a dog using dog food. This sounds easy enough, but there isn’t any indication or (to me, at least) any logic to where you should throw the food, and if you miss or throw it at the wrong spot, you have to first watch the dog go to the designated spot before you can try again. A similar lack of indicators actually made several puzzle mechanics quite annoying, and caused more frustration than necessary. Being stuck at a puzzle because it is challenging but fair is one thing, but when I am stuck because of a lack of intuitiveness and poorly constructed mechanics, I don’t feel I can take the blame.
There are some difficult puzzles in their own right too. I found it especially tough putting together the parts of the ship that would take Delta to the Megacity, thanks to the cryptic schematics given to guide me. Other puzzles are less challenging. At one point you need to get past a mutant dog, and there is a cat nearby. What to do? Surely, it couldn’t be so simple as to use the cat to distract the dog? Yes… yes it could. This inconsistency in puzzle difficulty makes it hard to sometimes understand what the game expects. Do I need to fully invest my logical capabilities to solve hard and mind-bending tasks, or is there an obvious solution if only I look in the right place?
In the second part of the game when Delta is in the Megacity, several times he has to sneak past, fool or neutralise guards, and if they catch him he has to start the scene all over. I get that it shouldn’t be easy, but it is a bit frustrating to continually have to set up the same trap from the beginning, for instance, picking up all the items you need and rearranging them all over again.
Controlling Delta, whether you play with a gamepad or a mouse, is sometimes not the easiest task either. If you use a mouse, you move Delta around by clicking where you want him to go, although I sometimes had to click several times in the same spot to make him react. Delta doesn’t walk slow, but he’s not very fast either, and double-clicking does not make him go faster, as so often is the case in point-and-click games. Some interactive items are a little difficult to spot, and without a highlight feature I had to resort to a bit of pixel hunting when I got stuck.
Playing with a gamepad gives you a button to toggle through hotspots without having to hold your cursor over them, and one Guitar Hero-like mini-game makes much more sense to play with a gamepad than with a mouse. However, you don’t guide Delta around with the joysticks on the gamepad, but rather steer the cursor with the joystick to where you want Delta to walk, and then click there with the action button, so navigating the environments feels unnecessarily tiresome this way.
Regardless of your control method, there is no hint system should you need help. The only assistance you have is a journal, which can be useful if you have forgotten your current task, and within it is a transcript of relevant dialogue for any given assignment.
Without spoiling the ending, Delta’s journey seems very intriguing for a short while, until the game abruptly stops without a solid conclusion. I am all for an open ending, but the last sequence left me hanging, and not in a good way. It just felt like an unsatisfactory finale to a game that could have been really great. Then again, by that point I’d had my fill, so I wasn’t all that disappointed that it was over after just four hours of gameplay.
I really wish I could give Life of Delta a higher score, just because it is so beautiful to look at and listen to, but even with fun puzzles and the cutest protagonist ever, there are a couple of flaws and kinks that are difficult to overlook. With its thin story and some frustrating game mechanics, I was left a bit disappointed in what seemed like a missed opportunity. Don’t get me wrong: Life of Delta is in no way a bad game; I guess I just had higher hopes for it that weren’t quite met. So adjust your expectations accordingly (and bring along a gamepad to go with your mouse), and you’ll have a reasonably good time wandering the future world of robots and animals, even if it leaves you feeling stranded there in the end.
It may have a bare-bones story and some wonky gameplay mechanics, but Life of Delta is a visually beautiful journey packed full of enjoyable puzzles with a sublime soundtrack to go with it. Although it didn’t completely live up to my expectations, its charming robot protagonist did his best to keep me entertained for the short time we shared together.
- Beautiful hand-drawn graphics and stunning postapocalyptic locations
- Cute protagonist is impossible not to like
- Many fun and varied puzzles
- Gorgeous soundtrack that sets a moody and mysterious atmosphere
- Very thin and simple story
- Needlessly frustrating to control Delta
- Some puzzle mechanics aren’t very intuitive
- Abrupt and confusing ending
Aurora played Life of Delta on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.