Dead Estate was developed by Milkbar Lads and published by Two Left Thumbs on October 19th, 2021. It was originally published on Itch.io and on Newgrounds on October 29th 2020, with great success on both the platforms. As of this review, the Newgrounds “classic” version has over a 4.5/5 rating, over 175,000 views, and was voted “Best of October 2020” as well as “BEST HALLOWEEN GAME 2020”. The classic version is very limited compared to the full game, which only has 2 playable characters, 4 floors with few secrets, only 50 items and 25 weapons, while the new full release includes 8 playable characters, over 70 weapons, alternate floors, and over 130 items. This is the latest released game by Milkbar Lads, which according to the other games on Itch.io, likes to make references and reuse characters from their previous games, many of these characters being unlockable playable characters, which is a neat addition. This game has been rated overwhelmingly positive on Steam, but is it worth the praise as a great video game, or is it praised for other reasons? Let’s find out while we discuss the good and the bad of Dead Estate.
Four floors of Bloody Horror
Story and Lore - 7/10
Gameplay and Mechanics - 9/10
Graphics, Setting and Artstyle - 8.5/10
Soundtrack - 8/10
Replayability - 8/10
Overall Ranking - 8/10
The game starts with one of the main characters, Julie, a 20-year-old college student, emerging from the bushes wet and most likely without a car. While trying to hitchhike, she comes across the other main character Jeff, a 43-year-old trucker, who accepts her into his truck. They get along and talk until one of the tires flatten, and when they both get out to inspect the problem, they notice a zombie on the road! Realizing they’re surrounded by zombies, they start running through the forest until they eventually come across a mansion. Entering the mansion, they realize they’re trapped inside with more of the zombies, along with various other strange creatures and people, and the only way out is to fight through 4 of the main floors of the building, the ground floor, the upper floor, the attic sanctum, and the laboratory, before fighting the main boss of the game: a giant, mutated rat person, who seemed immortal up to this point! This is a fairly basic starting story to a game that doesn’t really need an elaborate story to begin with. However, there is some hidden story stuff that you learn by beating the game multiple times, which I must admit is a bit shallow and almost felt a little anticlimactic for me. While it’s fun that as you play, you unlock more secret floors, the floors don’t really have much purpose except to act as a level. Most of them are really fun, but still a bit strange seeing some of them in a mansion. I really wished they would further elaborate on certain characters, like why is Jules out in the middle of the woods? The only character who really gets this attention is Cordelia, a witch that not only acts as a shop throughout the game, but is an unlockable character.
This game is often compared to another game, “The Binding of Isaac”, and I can see the similarities, especially in core gameplay. It’s a top-down (or in this game, angled top-down) rogue-like shooter where your character must travel through various rooms, kill every enemy in that room, and move on to either another room similar to this or a special room like a shop or a treasure chest. The combat mechanics are extremely fun, many of the enemies have various abilities or conditions as they chase you through the room, such as shooting bullets at you, emitting a deadly trail of slime behind them, or even jumping at you from above. Compared to “The Binding of Isaac”, it feels much more interesting to dodge attacks and use movement to your advantage, because you can jump in this game, which means you can jump onto stuff and shoot at things flying in the air, which gives this game an edge. There are special rooms in the game that include various types of shops, such as weapon shops, item shops, and stat shops, chest rooms, which either give you a free item or a free weapon, a challenge room, which can give you an extra item if you survive and beat 3 waves of enemies under 40 seconds, and crystal rooms, which seems like they serves no use other than to bring you back to the entrance of that floor. To beat the floor, you must find the boss room, which is locked with a key you must also find somewhere on that floor, but that’s not the biggest problem. If you’re on a floor for too long, you will hear a roar and learn that Chunks, the giant mutated rat mentioned before, will be on the map and try to chase you around. There’s almost no point in trying to kill him, as you deal 0 DMG when you hit him, however, with enough ammo and enough time, you can incapacitate him for the floor, but I found this useless to do since usually by the time Chunks arrives on the floor, I’ve almost done every room anyways. The bosses are often really easy comparatively to even the other basic enemies, many requiring a little bit of patience before you kill them surprisingly quickly. After you beat the main 4 floors, you get one “preparation” floor where you can buy some final items and guns, and either go up to the final boss or repeat the 4 floors for potentially more items. The gameplay is extremely fun as a whole, every character feels unique and has its own playstyle, there’s plenty of items that, if you’re lucky, work immensely well together, and while it’s blatantly inspired by “The Binding of Isaac” in terms of the gameplay and item-based builds, Dead Estate feels unique enough to be called it’s own thing instead of a copy.
The graphics for Dead Estate are a mixture of pixelated and cartoonish, which they managed to make fit quite well. All of the characters, if not pixelated, could easily be translated to proper line art, and it’s obvious that it has influence from a lot of Newgrounds animations and early internet art like Castle Crashers, which I am a big fan of growing up with Newgrounds in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s. Most of the characters look distinct and easily recognizable even from a glance, and look very good translated into the game proper, with only a couple exceptions where I was confused on what I was actually looking at, or thought the pixel art felt a little weak compared to the rest of the game. The setting is very obviously a cheesy horror theme, where all the enemies, characters, and places are “horror themed” but not really scary, where you’ll find zombies, witches, fish people, ghosts, and politicians! However, one of the problems is that, to me, the first 3 floors feel almost identical to one another, with the same decorations and furniture, the only difference being the monsters and music. Otherwise, the graphics are quite good, and they fit the almost cheesy humor the game gives off.
The music was done by MajorWipeout on Newgrounds, who seems to have only worked exclusively on games created by Milkbar lads. Most of the music is chiptune, which fits quite well to the pixelated and partially voxel style of the game. Many of the songs are either upbeat or mysterious, from a spooky industrial themed laboratory to an almost uplifting tune that gives the sense of a 1st level. One of my favorites from the list is the 1st level’s track, “Here we go (again)”, which you can hear right here: https://youtu.be/wfVAQ0kqdyw?list=PLEoyjPpW1UQ9qc44hCOL4QO-pry0ZEtsK
This game, as a rogue-like, stays true to the often-said statement of “Just one more round” due to its challenging gameplay and feeling of getting close to the end of a normally shorter game that can last twenty minutes generally. And the game rewards you for beating the game multiple times, as if you beat the game as both Jeff and Julie, you get Cordelia, and once you beat the game as her, the game suddenly opens up to be over twice the size, with four new floors and a new “true ending” for you to unlock. There’s also over 80 achievements that vary from dying to very specific runs that might involve having over $3000 at once, not using items as a specific character, or using a certain weapon as a certain character. Whenever I died, more often than not, I would tell myself that I could beat the game the next attempt, and then the attempt after that, which passes as a very addictive game.
One small thing I’d like to mention is the almost tongue and cheek and cynical humor the game has, which usually hits on the nail. It’s not afraid to throw in a couple jokes and gags to make the player chuckle. For example, in one of my games, I played as Cordelia, who had a unique set of magic weapons, and one of the weapons I got was a staff that yelled insults at the monsters, even though it wasn’t a good weapon, the idea of killing a haunted mannequin by calling it a “dummy” was pretty funny to me. Some of the items are also purely visual or audial, such as a “nightcore” remix to every song, which only made it go slightly faster and higher pitched, or a filter that makes the game black and white, similar to an old movie, and while they didn’t help me stat-wise, it was always a nice surprise to get them. For a game with this kind of style, I think it completely fits to have these goofy additions that make the game a little more interesting, as the style is, once again, paying homage to spooky themes in a more cartoonish and silly way.
Overall, Dead Estate is a great blast to play even if you aren’t great at rogue-like shooters like I was. The entire aesthetic of a spooky mansion was quite fun, the gameplay is very polished with its movement, dodging, and gun-play, and its variety of characters, playstyles, items and weapons make it possible to have the perfect set for you to get to the ending and beyond. In my 6 hours, I’ve gotten through 3 different normal route endings, and did my “true ending” route first try, which definitely ramps up the difficulty. The only noticeable problem is that the story is somewhat boring and almost anticlimactic once you have access to the true ending, but even then the new levels that open up afterwards are some of the most creative in the entire game. Luckily, the developers have released a road map in August of what they want to add to the game, including new bosses, enemies, items, weapons, and even intro cutscenes for every playable character, which I think is very well deserved. If you enjoy “The Binding of Isaac”, rogue-likes, bullet-hells, or even just shooting zombies, then you might like Dead Estate.
You can get the game on steam here!
~Fantastic and solid gameplay
~Gorgeous pixelated graphics
~very good music
~Lackluster story that doesn’t explain much