Platform: PS3 | X360 (reviewed)
Developer: Hothead Games
There aren't many games out there that have a villain hell-bent on stealing your purple thong. There are few titles that will press a special hammer into your hands and have you go round beating up demons thereby forcing them to crap themselves so you can collect up the fiery faeces for a special kind of manure. On top of that, you'll be hard pressed to find a game whose eponymous protagonist shares a name with what one could feasibly imagine might be a kinky finishing move in the next Mortal Kombat.
But then again, most games aren't made by Ron Gilbert.
Gilbert, along with partner in crime Tim Schafer, is largely responsible for proving that games don't just have to be deadly serious, they can be funny. As you might expect from the man behind Monkey Island, this latest venture is certainly not your average game, every line of dialogue punctuated by a witticism or offbeat one liner. The puns range from the sublime to the cringeworthy, the voice acting straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The presentation fits into all of this perfectly too, a wonderful combination of MediEvil's animated japery and all of the squishy fart noises and gross-out giggling of Rik Mayall reading the assorted works of The Brothers Grimm.
The plot itself is hardly your standard affair either. You won't find any simpering maidens. kidnapped princesses or surprisingly punctual evil hordes led by dragons here...not in the main plot anyway. Our eponymous hero, defender of weak, most heroic of champions and general dogsbody for Lady Justice, is after a super-important artefact aptly named...The Artefact. He finds this about three hours or so into the game at which point you're promptly mugged and have to run around preparing the ultimate taco before you can get all of your stuff back. It's around this time that you discover the disturbing news that infamous tyrant Lord Von Prong didn't even really want the Artefact in the first place but has set his sights firmly on eliminating DeathSpank and stealing his fashionable purple thong.
It's all very refreshing at first, a welcome respite from the chronic wave of over-seriousness that seems to be saturating the industry in these trying times with dialogue trees that you'll want to explore to the fullest extent just to see what else comes out. There are a vast number of weird and wonderful NPCs, nearly all of them with names designed to tickle the funny bone and backstories to make you chuckle and it's a good thing too...because the missions they'll send you on can get crushingly repetitive.
The hack and slash RPG stylings at the core of DeathSpank are pretty solid at first glance and there are some really nice touches. You can map four different weapons to the right hand cluster of buttons, four different items to the D-pad and you can rack up hit multipliers by mixing and matching your weapons in combat. As well as a health bar you'll have a Justice Meter, a little purple demon's head that will gradually fill up with each hit, filling faster the more you mix up your attacks. Once primed, you'll be able to unleash a particularly powerful attack, and you'll be able to collect runes over the course of the game that allow you to enhance this Justice Attack with the power of a second weapon.
There's an enormous amount of loot to be pilfered as well, as you'd expect of any game styling itself on Diablo and much of the game's addiction comes from trying to pillage as much as you possibly can and, if you find yourself with a full satchel, you can grind down superfluous paraphernalia into glittering gold. Occasionally the game will hearken back to the heady days of 2D adventuring and you'll be required to combine a few items to solve puzzles, a mechanic that makes a welcome return (leading to a handful of 'I haven't done that in years' moments) and one that could have been pushed a little further I feel.
You see herein the problem with DeathSpank: it's all mouth and no trousers. Everything looks utterly grand for the first hour or so but then the misty eyed gratitude that an original game like this even exists at the moment begins to fade. The voices begin to grate a little, the humour becomes somewhat predictable and the laughs begin to subside. Worse still, the enemies begin attacking you in hordes and a number of little niggling issues with the inventory system and the combat mechanics suddenly become less of a mild irritation and more of a noticeable impediment. Examples of this include the ability to only carry five of any one type of potion and the alarming ease with which it is possible to accidentally activate your Justice Attack in the heat of battle and waste it on a retarded chicken rather than the demon boss standing two feet away. Moreover, as the numbers of your adversaries increase you find yourself more often than not slipping into hit and run cycles with all but individual enemies.
The missions tend to fall into one of two categories - fetch quests and area cleansing - with the handful of head scratching puzzles clearly inspired by Monkey Island found few and far between. There is a co-operative mode, and there's much to be said for the addition of a friend in games such as these (just look at Castle Crashers), but the co-op here is lacklustre to say the least. The second member of the party plays as Sparkles the Wizard who's less of an equal partner and much more of a sidekick. He has four magical abilities, one of which is a healing effort, none of which are swappable or upgradeable, he doesn't really level up and he can't pick up items either.
This is a game that I desperately wanted to love and, if played in short bursts that lessen the stacking of cumulative disappointment, it does have a lot to offer. It's a shame really, in splicing the halves of two different games together, Hothead have created a mashup that's only half as good as either of them. That said, it will put a smile on your face, it does try to do something different and for that it should be roundly applauded, but there are flaws. Much like a bucket of candy floss, it's colourful and fun and exciting and kind of odd, but have too much of it and you find that there's not a huge amount of you have to put it to one side for a little while.
- Lovely visual style
- A wealth of content for an arcade title
- Classic Gilbert-esque humour
- Iffy combat
- Gets repetitive fairly quickly
- Uninspired quests
The Short Version: DeathSpank manages a sublime feat in mashing up the defining features of both Diablo and Gilbert's excellent Monkey Island, but in the end it can only really lay claim to being a 'lite' version of either and never quite delivers on the potential it so eagerly promises. There's a huge amount of stuff to do for an arcade title but as the humour begins to wear a little thin after an hour of continuous play so too does the game's freshness.