In this notoriously slow period in the video games calendar we’ve turned to the PlayStation Network this week in our quest for gaming kicks, and boy are we glad we did.
From Monkey Island designer Ron Gilbert, DeathSpank arrives on PSN on a wave of positive previews, and despite costing just $14.99 (£9.99/€12.99) has many of the qualities that you’d attribute to a full-priced retail game. It’s safe to say you won’t find anything like DeathSpank elsewhere on PSN, and though its gameplay and humor are likely to be an acquired taste, it’s one of those games that you can’t help but like.
DeathSpank, contrary to the evil sounding title suggests, is a quirky, geeky and sometimes cutesy, fantasy, action role-playing game that never takes itself too seriously. If you’re at all familiar with Gilbert’s work then you’ll have probably guessed already that DeathsSpank is full of childish humour, bad puns and one-liners that litter every NPC meeting in this crazy, colourful world. DeathSpank is more Beavis And ButtHead than The Simpsons, but humor is a huge part of its appeal.
The storyline is the game’s weakest point – DeathSpank’sarch-enemy, Lord Von Prong, wants to steal DeathSpank’s purple thong – yet its script is one of the strongest, with reams of branching dialogue and choices to make that affect the outcome of situations, open up new objectives and build the relationship between you and game by simply making you chuckle. As a result, it’s very easy to get drawn into its world of likeable characters.
The influence of Monkey Island on DeathSpank, with regard to its sense of humour, surreal quests and part of its visual style, is predictable, but the development team also admits to gaining some of its direction from Blizzard’s much-cherished action role-playing game, Diablo. Like Diablo, Deathspank is also a class-based fantasy, full of hack ‘n slash monster slaying, boss battling, looting and customisation. And both these styles, though not offering anything new to the genre in terms of structure, offer a very nice blend of gameplay and humor that, well…just works.
Playing as DeathSpank, who goes by other proud names such as the “Vanquisher of Evil” and “Hero to the Downtrodden,” the defining mission is to search across fantasylands for a magical artefact, called “The Artefact.” Along the way you’ll save orphans, pick up loot from fallen enemies and evolve your character via new weapons and skills, such as speed and ranged attacks, while boosting up your armour and attacks and learning spells- typically everything you’d expect to feature in any competent RPG.
The hack ‘n slash side of DeathSpank is extremely accessible thanks to the modifiable control scheme, but lacks the depth of other established RPGs. You can equip four weapons at a time, each with different powers and stats and switch between them effortlessly. You can also use your d-pad to map potions and magical items that you can unleash on enemies and you can build up justice metre through killing and racking together combos, enabling you to unleash more powerful attacks with certain weapons.
The combat mechanic may be simple but it works very well and fighting is very fluid and enjoyable as a result. DeathSpank is no Diablo, but its fast-paced combat and range of crazy powers and weapons and variety of wacky enemy types keeps it entertaining. In between bouts of knocking Demons out with the The hack ‘n slash side of DeathSpank is accessible thanks to the modifiable control scheme, but lacks the depth of other established RPGs. You can equip four weapons at a time, each with different powers and stats and switch between them effortlessly. You can use your d-pad to map potions and magical items that you can unleash on enemies and you can build up justice metre enabling you to unleash more powerful attacks with certain weapons.
The combat mechanic may be simple but it works very well and fighting is very fluid and enjoyable as a result. DeathSpank is no Diablo, but its fast-paced combat and range of crazy powers and weapons and variety of wacky enemy types keeps it entertaining.
In between bouts of dragon slaying and seeing off the likes of vicious unicorns, you’ll also be questing, carrying out crazy tasks for the local loonies that generally involve fetching items and bringing them back. There are plenty of others quests too that range from killing things, to protecting people- there’s even one that tasks you with building a golf course – but generally you’ll be moving from “A” to “B” and then back to “A.”
There’s no doubt that the quests can get repetitive, especially if you start to delve into the many side objectives, but DeathSpank still manages to keep things entertaining. It does this by offering a wide range of surreal scenarios and nonsensical, yet humorous objectives, for example, having to collect demon dung for a farmer by wacking fiends with the aptly named “Demon Poop Hammer.”
Along the way, you’ll level up (capped at Lvl 20) and pick up no end of loot, ranging from “a bag of orphans” to a “bad-ass crossbow.” The inventory system is clearly laid out and easy to navigate and it’s good that you can grind unwanted items up for gold, but it can get quite cramped in there as you pick up every item that you come across; and there’s a lot of things that are totally useless. We spent more time than we would have liked cleaning out our inventory system. Still, the developer had the vision to implement an auto-equip features which when activated fits you out with the best gear without you having to worry about it.
Despite the repetitive quests and the casual hack ‘n slash gameplay, DeathSpank is a joy to play. The gameplay flows nicely, never interrupted by loading times as you move from one area to the next, while the colourful world is a delight to explore. The top-down perspective and contrast of the 2D backdrops and 3D animations gives it a retro feel and an appealing art-style that feels like you’re wandering through the pages of a fairy-tale book with delightful places such as Bobble Wood and the Town of Pluckmuckle to explore.
Judging DeathSpank purely as a RPG we’d rate it 7/10. Judging it as a hack ‘n slash game we’d also give it a solid 7/10. Taking into account the beautiful game world, the humour, the characters and the dozens of crazy things that you’ll see and do, it offers a very attractive overall package and is deserved of a higher score. So, a very well deserved 8/10 for DeathSpank, a game that oozes character and charm. We do hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of the mighty "Dispenser of Justice."