App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Death is a subject that video games oddly don’t touch on very much. This is to say that—while there are tons of games where people die or get killed—very rarely will a game reflect on someone or something dying. One of the rare games that does provide this kind of reflection is A Mortician’s Tale. This short adventure isn’t a particularly deep or complicated experience in the ways that games traditionally are, but its narrative focus certainly gives you a lot to think about it by the time you wrap it up.
Prepare to die
A Mortician’s Tale is a game about being a mortician. You prepare dead bodies for a funeral home so that families and loved ones can appropriately grieve for those that they’ve lost. It’s not a glamorous job, and A Mortician’s Job does nothing to convince you otherwise.
Throughout the game, you always start by checking your email which contains some sort of instructions for your latest body to prepare, then you set off to work. Outside of the email interface, the entirety of A Mortician’s Tale is an isometric game set within the confines of a funeral home where you go about the extremely routine processes of embalming and cremation.
Preparing bodies follows a set procedure, and A Mortician’s Tale doesn’t try to overcomplicate it. Every embalming and cremation procedure in the game follows the same steps, and the game constantly tells you your next step to make sure you are moving things along. In this way, A Mortician’s Tale doesn’t feel like a traditional game. Instead of creating puzzles or mixing up mechanics, it keeps things very procedural and routine, presumably because it’s more interested in telling its story about people who regularly do this work on a day-to-day basis.
The story bits of A Mortician’s Tale are primarily delivered via each day’s email inbox. In addition to messages about your assignment for the day, you’ll also have messages from your co-workers and friends that contextualize what’s going on with your main character, their work, and the outside world. There are also times whenever a body is prepared where you get to interact with families that attend viewings and wakes, though these moments feel like you’re just reading boilerplate dialogue lines about death and loss compared to the messages you get in your email.
Life is short
All told, A Mortician’s Tale only has you prepare a handful of bodies, and each of these preparations only takes a few minutes. This, along with the fact that the game is constantly letting you know what to do next, means you can easily complete A Mortician’s Tale in one sitting, but that seems to be kind of the point.
Laundry Bear Games seems dead set on having you get through this game, and if you do (which is likely), you’ll be treated to a lovely narrative that has things to say about death positivity, the death industry, and the human condition. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, I really appreciate A Mortician’s Tale’s brevity and am impressed with the weight it can put behind certain moments with such a short ramp to build up momentum with. That said, I do realize that lots of folks look to games for challenge, mechanical complexity, and replability, so it's worth noting that this isn’t really what A Mortician’s Tale trades in.. like at all.
The bottom line
A Mortician’s Tale is a great little piece of interactive fiction that manages to say a lot in a little bit of time. In order to do this though, it ends up being a very non-traditional video game. There’s no difficulty ramp or added mechanics to this game, and that’s totally fine. In fact, it helps that A Mortician’s Tale doesn’t try to turn itself into a funeral home version of Trauma Center. The mundane and routine nature of A Mortician’s Tale helps it tell a grounded and touching story without getting bogged down with video game nonsense.