Platform: XBLA (800 MSP)
Developer: Mommy's Best Games
When it comes right down to it, Serious Sam is all about big guns and an obscenely vast horde of bad guys to point them at. Croteam's irreverent series resonated with gamers sick of hand-holding and cumbersome exposition, instead focusing on outrageous action and the brutal joy of blasting entire armies into sticky smears on the scenery. "Serious" Sam Stone is a little like Duke Nukem in terms of his one-liners and hatred of all things extraterrestrial, but unlike the ageing playboy, he delivers on his promises.
So when it came to crunching Serious Sam down into an indie sidescroller, there was only one developer for the job. Mommy's Best Games.
Or more specifically, Nathan Fouts. The veteran weapons designer behind Resistance: Fall Of Man and Ratchet & Clank is a dab hand at crafting insanely imaginative boomsticks, and racked up plenty of experience in creating ridiculous shooters during his indie career. A skillset that led to the launch of Serious Sam: Double D back in summer 2011, which brought reckless indie innovation and teetering piles of raw firepower to to Croteam's crazy formula.
Nearly two years on, and a brand new director's cut has finally made to Xbox Live Arcade. We've got co-op. New levels. Insane weapon upgrades. Fireball-spewing mecha kittens. Unicycle rampages. Serious Sam: Double D XXL might not be subtle nor profound, but it's an extra large portion of unadulterated stupid awesome.
We've already reviewed Serious Sam: Double D, but here's a quick run-down. As Sam Stone, players descend into a madcap sidescrolling adventure across time and space that abandons any hint of canon and restraint. In favour of big, big fun. You'll mow down innumerable hordes of familiar foes, such as Kleer Skeletons and enormous Biomechs, alongside outrageous newcomers like hovering amuptated chimpansees who throw exploding bananas. Chimputees, natch. You'll face off against the menacing yet delicious Vuvuzelator, a sticky stack of sentient pancakes studded with the scourge of World Cup 2010. You'll hunt dinosaurs and surf on pterodactyls. Launch grenades at a chainsaw-wielding gorilla the size of an apartment building. All in the first two hours. The whole ridiculous thing crackles with infectious energy, aside from a couple of well-intentioned but ultimately primitive rail sections, propelled along by a crass storyline that throws enough bad jokes at you to work.
It's balls-out, bombastic, brilliant fun... but that doesn't make Double D brainless or basic. Though gameplay appears to be a simplistic blunt instrument at face value, Mommy's Best Games have crammed some interesting and versatile mechanics beneath the bonnet.
Gunstacking comes first. Instead of messing with the classic Serious Sam arsenal, Fouts decided to find an innovative new way to use them. You'll still have access to shotguns, rocket launchers, laser cannons, grenade lobbers and all the classic kit, but collecting connectors allows you to assemble them into a teetering tower of frankly obscene firepower. Think that bit from Aliens, in which Ripley gets busy with the duct tape, except that you'll have half a dozen slots at your disposal. Want to put two tommy guns, a flamethrower, a grenade launcher and a chainsaw together? Four shotguns? Lasers and rockets? It's all good, and after the initial thrill wears off, this system provides a surprising layer of tactical depth. After all, different weapons work together better than others, and bigger stacks use up more ammo.
The XXL edition ups the ante considerably with a brand new smorgasbord of weapon customisation options. Defeated enemies now drop currency, which you can spend on a dizzying array of persistent modifications that totally change the way your guns handle. Your grenade launcher can be transformed into a carnivorous beetle cannon that showers foes with ravenous insects. The chainsaw can become a tesla coil, or a money-grabbing tractor beam. Floating, slowing, healing, beetling, bouncing, splitting, refracting... there's something for every taste and playstyle. Crucially, these massive game-changing gimmicks can be swapped in and out on the fly, allowing you to find brand new ways to play.
Then there's the jump pad. It's not glamorous, but being able to infinitely deploy a trampoline is as deep as you want to make it. Not only can Sam gain some extra height to find secrets or leap over an onrushing beheaded Kamikaze, but you can set it up under a spiked ceiling to create a Gnaar kebab, or deflect your shots around corners. Since it sticks to walls, it's even capable of propelling you up narrow shafts with perfect timing.
'Corpse-stacking' rounds out the list. Inspired by the box art for the original game, enemy corpses become platforms that you can freely exploit to reach lofty areas, find secrets or evade enemies. Killing a monster at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place, becomes an art form as you gradually feel out the system.
Armed with these magnificent mechanics, you're free to experiment and enjoy the levels over repeated playthroughs as you continually try out new stacks and tactics. Numerous secrets pepper each level, many of which reference other games or even have fun with the parallax backgrounds, awaiting your return. Beyond the campaign, you've also got several unlockable challenge rooms - all of which feed back into yet more upgrades - or even a brand new difficulty mode that adds an alternate character and remixed storyline. There's a serious amount of replayability here, and the terrible pun is most definitely intentional.
Local drop-in cooperative play allows you to double your fun, and though the frame rate occasionally stutters, it's a suitably silly and satisfying romp. Online multiplayer might have been nice, but like Contra or Metal Slug, it's just not the same when you don't have your buddy within high five/fist bump range. Or slapping range, should you throw down in the competitive arena mode for a couple of rounds.
SSDD XXL is therefore a superior proposition to the PC original, but eighteen months have slightly taken the sheen off. Though colourful, it's also rather crude from a visual standpoint, with simple animations and made more obvious by the jump from monitors to widescreen televisions. You'll likely gasp at the ugly and primitive menus, not to mention the jarringly unattractive loading screens. The level design can feel a little haphazard at times, and spawn locations predictable. I also noticed a few seconds of slowdown after passing quick save points (in fairness, mind, I suspect that this is likely due to the age and condition of our review console's hard drive rather than a flaw with the game itself).
But never mind all that. Gameplay is king, and you'd better bet on Sam.
- Insane, hectic action
- Versatile gunstacking, weapon upgrades and massive replayability
- Ridiculous drop-in cooperative rampages
- Unicycle shenanigans, dinosaur hunting, evil pancakes, COME ON!
- A few dud rail missions and simplistic sections
- Ugly menus and plenty of rough edge
- Overly crass in places, even by franchise standards
The Short Version: Serious Sam: Double D XXL is a gamer's game, an unapologetically fun and satisfying romp underpinned by strong and versatile systems. It encourages you to experiment through overwhelming firepower, and bring a friend to boot.
Double your fun. Stack 'em high. Seriously.