Version tested: iPhone
The first thing you see when you boot up 774 Deaths is a black loading screen with a tiny brown dog running in the corner. "Oh no!" I thought, considering the game's ominous title and stark monochrome title screen. "Don't kill the puppy!"
Well, I got news for you, kiddo; that puppy will die a horrible gruesome death a thousand times over. Fortunately, you'll likely never reach that point, as you don't unlock the pooch sprite until very late in the game. For most, he'll exist only as a spirit haunting the load screen, or a proud symbol of triumph starring in extraordinary YouTube videos by insane people who conquer the final stages.
Saying 774 Deaths is hard is an understatement on par with saying Hitler had some unpleasant qualities. The untamed brutality of the game makes Super Meat Boy's dark world look like My Little Pony. It's so hard that single stages will likely take well over 774 tries alone. In the fatalistic world of 774 Deaths, you have the life expectancy of a mayfly caught in a spider web.
774 Deaths is framed around completing 33 rooms, each housing a separate mini-game. Some of these are traditional platformers with virtual buttons to change direction and jump, others are auto-running levels à la Canabalt, and some require you to tilt your device to dictate how your avatar falls through corridors lined with blades.
Just because it's evil doesn't mean 774 Deaths doesn't have a grisly sense of humour. Inconspicuous platforms and blocks will collapse or propel you into traps, axes shoot out from surfaces without warning, and stages often spawn you over hazards if your device isn't angled properly. The whole game is comically sadistic. I've seen such outlandishly dickish behaviour from free indie games like I Wanna Be the Guy and Kaizo Mario, but not from a commercial product (from Square-Enix, no less).
So is it any fun? I'm not entirely sure, yet stubbornness and morbid curiosity prevail. I keep thinking I'm going to kiss it off for good, only to come back a few hours later for another thrashing.
What makes this peculiar dichotomy of love and hate so strong is there's always a feeling like maybe this time you'll succeed. The odds against you may be a thousand to one, but every so often the stars align and you click with the game until you somehow, some way, overcome its torture.
Ultimately, 774 Deaths is for lunatics who enjoy subjecting themselves to ridiculous challenges only to laugh at themselves when they fail. I'm reminded of the time a friend dared me to eat a whole habanero pepper and not drink anything for five minutes, or once when I attempted to eat a colossal doughnut in under 80 seconds to get it for free. I failed both challenges spectacularly, of course, but I'm glad I tried.
There's no shame in being beaten by the best, and I suspect 774 Deaths will leave even the most expert platforming aficionados swallowing their pride with a smile as that cute canine meets its maker over and over again.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.