DeathSpank was developed by Hothead Games and published by Electronic Arts for XBLA on July 14. Retails for 1200 Microsoft Points. A download code of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes.
While swinging my Log Sword and cleansing the land of Chizards (chicken lizards) with the utmost heroic justice, I realized that DeathSpank has filled a special place in my heart. The XBLA has needed a title such as DeathSpank in its library – a uniquely funny, lengthy and wonderfully executed action-adventure RPG game that does a lot things right.
For those unaware, DeathSpank comes from indie developer Hothead Games. The best way I’ve seen the game described is a Diablo-meets-Monkey-Island, and that’s exactly right. There are tons of loot to be found, places to explore, things to kill and laughs to be had.
Players roam the open world as the hero DeathSpank, a character who often introduces himself as the hero of the downtrodden, and a dispenser of justice. Players will carry out quests for a wide assortment of characters, complete with dialogue trees and full voice-overs. For a downloadable game, the amount of content is impressive, and will last gamers a while longer than most other titles on XBLA.
Here’s what we liked:
Big, beautiful open world – DeathSpank’s world is a beautifully rendered 3D environment with 2D models. The result is something that resembles a vibrant cutout storybook. Each area of the game has a distinct look and feel to it, and is easy to distinguish between them. It is technically an open-world game, but only a small area is available at the start. As players progress in rank and complete quests, more areas become available. Thankfully, a well-implemented fast-travel system makes moving across large expanses of land quick and easy.
Simple, rewarding combat – Each of the controller’s face buttons can be assigned to a certain melee weapon, potion, or projectile weapon so players can fight the way they want to. Attacking enemies is just as simple as hitting the corresponding buttons to use the intended weapon or item. Mixing up attacks is recommended because it builds up the Justice Meter, which once filled, can be used to unleash devastating attacks on opponents. These range from spinning attacks that send multiple enemies flying, stunning a group for a few seconds, or smashing an individual into the ground for appropriate clobbering. Ranks are gained quickly, and enemies always drop some kind of loot whether it’s money, random healing items or that next amazing weapon.
Just simply hilarious – This is one of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time. It’s not often I find myself going out of my way to talk to strangers in the game just to hear some funny or witty dialogue, but I found myself constantly laughing out loud while playing this game. DeathSpank is one of my favorite main characters this year, and reminds me of a cross between Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan and Ratchet and Clank’s Captain Qwark. I knew, however, that this game struck comedic gold when I was given a Poop Hammer to literally beat the crap out of demons with for a quest. It’s not often that a videogame can pull off a witty poop joke, but DeathSpank does, and it bodes well with me. The entire game is filled with clever humor, ranging from unintentional Bonnie Tyler lyrics to chicken canons, and I love it.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Enemies aren’t scaled to your level – Once the game starts opening up, it can become fairly easy to wander into an area of the map you’re not supposed to be in yet, and to find enemies ranked way higher than you are. It wasn’t uncommon to accidentally encounter enemies six to eight ranks higher than myself, who needless to say, would slaughter me instantly. Most of the time it’s easy to avoid these situations and run the other way since all enemies’ ranks and health are displayed on the screen. But at one point a few hours into the game, I became stuck in an area full of enemies ranked too high for me, which ended in a boss battle that was near impossible for me to win. Retracing my steps back to the beginning of the area caused me to die after using all my healing potions since the enemies had respawned. So my only choice was to face a highly ranked boss with what I had. Luckily I managed to get through this spot without having to restart the game, but other gamers might not be so lucky in similar situations. Scaling enemies’ levels to that of the player would have made everything seem more balanced.
Too many fetch quests – Unfortunately, a large number of the side quests turn DeathSpank from a dispenser of justice into a completer of errands. Thankfully the funny dialogue and characters make this more tolerable, but when it comes down to it, the constant fetching, collecting and retrieving of certain quest items became a bit tiresome. A larger variety of quests, or just simple twists in the side quests’ plot would have a good way to change things up and keep gamers on their toes.
Overwhelming at first – DeathSpank throws a lot of information at players during the beginning, which can turn less RPG-experienced players off. I am by no means an avid RPG gamer, but I’ve played enough to feel comfortable with what I am doing. DeathSpank left me slightly overwhelmed at first, and I felt like I was constantly getting new weapons, potions, abilities and items before I got a chance to really learn how the inventory system worked, which items to equip or even how to access the world map. After the first hour I was fine, but I worry that some gamers may become too overwhelmed and put the game down and miss the great experience that DeathSpank is.
DeathSpank certainly has some minor flaws here and there, but is easily one of the most charming, interesting and worthwhile games on XBLA. At 1200 Microsoft Points ($15), DeathSpank comes in at the high end of the pricing spectrum for downloadable games. But given the quality, length and just sheer density of the content within the game, I could easily see it being full-priced retail game. DeathSpank is a great experience that I can easily recommend to action-adventure and RPG fans, and one that I will remember fondly on XBLA.
Final Score: BUY