It may not be entirely clear by the first few cutscenes, but Grasshopper Manufacture and Goichi Suda (Suda51)'s Let It Die is an homage to the heyday of Arcade gaming. The game originally started development as Lily Bergamo which was going to be an extreme action game featuring a companion app and an "element of growth", in that by gradually accumulating experience, the player's data is updated more and more rapidly. Somehow, that game morphed into the free-to-play hack-and-slash game now known as Let It Die.
The first thing you see in Let It Die is a girl on a moped speeding through a city that looks like a futuristic Tokyo, she comes to a stop overlooking a set of train tracks. Then the camera zooms in on the train, and you select your fighter. You exit the train at a subway station that is completely empty and full of lights and reflective surfaces. It's cleaner than any subway station I've ever seen. On the platform you meet Uncle Death with his crazy sunglasses and skateboard. He calls you "Senpai" and walks you through the game, giving you hints and tutorials as you go. You slaughter your way through a bunch of zombies and then you die. You get shot straight in the head.
Then you're back on the train selecting another body. It becomes very clear that the train is your character selection screen, you've got a safe location called the "Waiting Room" with a shop to buy weapons from and a "mushroom magistrate" who will tell you all about the different effects of different mushrooms. The game's structure is rather simple, there are 41 floors in the Tower of Barbs, with each level having a boss. You can only save the game while in your Waiting Room, otherwise it will count as a death and you'll either have to pay to continue or let your fighter die and choose a new one.
If you let your character die, it becomes a "Hater" or a zombified corpse of a former player that will terrorize that section of the game map for anyone who enters there. If that "Hater" kills another player, you get prizes for it. If you return and kill your own "Hater" you can send it to a freezer box and then put it to work for you. So yes, you get benefits for following the game's title and letting yourself die. You can even set them out against other players if that player has had a hater who killed you. Revenge is rather nice when you can send a re-animated corpse to do the work for you.
Or, you can pay for "insurance" and get to continue with the same character. You do that with "Death Metals." Which you can either earn by completing quests, or buy for actual money. It's the sort of pay-to-win structure that I'd normally find irritating, but, there's a whole different reality in Let It Die that makes a bit more sense of this structure. You can, if you like, log out of the game and enter an arcade. The world outside of the game. There, you find Uncle Death, a professional gamer, and a really bored cashier next to a laptop that will give you quests. There's also a small browser function that brings up the main Let It Die webpage. Let It Die is simply a game in that arcade run on the "Death Drive 128" and operated by Uncle Death.
Whenever you pay with a "Death Metal" its an arcade currency, given that you receive it by completing quests from the laptop in the arcade. Every death is treated with a "insert one token to continue" kind of mechanic. Just like an arcade game.
You can use elevators to return to the waiting room from the Tower of Barbs to save your progress. However, once you die, you can't just recover that last save. You need to either restart, or pay. Like an arcade game. You see where this is going, don't you?
As for the gameplay itself, it's rather like Dark Souls in the way it functions mostly off reaction time and skill. No magic, though. Just brutal physical strength, speed, and accuracy. To don heavier weapons or protective gear, you have to upgrade your character's stats or apply skill decals which function as temporary tattoos on your character's back. Your gear will wear down, though the better quality stuff lasts longer. Don't be surprised if you spend the first 10 levels running around in your underwear or with no pants.
The bossfights are pretty decent with a solid amount of differences in mechanics between bosses. Sure, it's brutal and violent no matter what you do, and oftentimes your enemies are even more disgusting than what came before, but that's all surface level. At the core things, Let It Die is a fighter and the boss mechanics reflect that. Sure, it's a lot like Dark Souls in that the level design is set up to punish you and stamina features heavily in how you play, but the bosses reset a lot of the things you thought you knew about boss fights. Because now when you die in a boss fight, you have to pay real money or start the tower over at the beginning.
Without spoiling much, I will say that there were fights I had to pay a decent amount of real-world money for. And that added complication to boss mechanics just makes it more rewarding. Because yeah, I just spent like $20 dollars to kill a boss, but that boss fight was worth that $20 dollars. And I left it knowing I'd probably pay that much again just to get to the top.
That said, the quests allow you to earn enough Death Metal to make it to the top of the Tower of Barbs with a large amount of difficulty, but it is totally doable. Granted, the more you die, the easier it is to farm things. So you may want to occasionally take a bad fall intentionally, if you've not died in a while.
The real thing about gameplay in Let It Die is that moment where you have to decide, yes or no: Do I want to pay money for this? Because even if you've farmed that Death Metal and spent absolutely no money on the game whatsoever, you know what it's worth.
Sure, the repetitiveness of that constant "start over" system can be annoying, but the game gives you multiple paths to the top of the tower, so you've got enough content to keep yourself rather busy through at least a few resets. Besides, each fight is its own challenge, because even if you've beaten a boss before, well, now you have to do it again. And each time, you've got no real safety net. There is no "load save game" kind of get out of jail free card.
If you decide to go the quicker route and pay for rezzes with Death Metal, you'll find that buying Death Metal on the shop is not simply a micro-transaction, oh no, you can buy Death Metal in staggering amounts of up to $100.00 in real US dollars. Considering the game is a free download with no subscription cost, well, they had to make money somewhere, didn't they?
As always, there are people who will pay that. And then there are those who will grind forever until they make it to the top, not paying a single cent. You can play Let It Die however you like, but I would recommend dying every now and again. If only for the fun of it.
Since the game's world wide release, the game has had several events pop up. The most recent news is that the Tectonic Terror event will now be a permanent feature of the Tower of Barbs. The other events function on a rotational basis and are decently fun for multiplayer events on a game that exists almost entirely in single-player. The only exception being other player's haters.
I've found Let It Die to be incredibly fun. It's a game that isn't afraid to make fun of itself while still being entirely serious about all of it's content. It is purely a hack-and-slash game with very, very little story or lore outside of "there's this massive tower in southern Tokyo and you want to get to the top of it." But it doesn't need more than that. Let It Die exists purely as a vehicle for your own aggression. And it's pretty awesome that way, even if it takes you a hundred deaths to make it to the top. The gameplay is fun but unforgiving, the graphics are stylized but brutal, and the replay value is exactly what you make of it. There's not much to dislike here other than that whole "pay to continue" thing, but even that could be a hell of a lot worse.
That said, once you do get to the top of the Tower of Barbs, well. What's left but trying to do it again?