DeathSpank Review

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DeathSpank Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Hothead Games

Platform: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360

DeathSpank: Dispenser of Justice, Vanquisher of Evil, and Hero to the Downtrodden! By the power of his magical thong, DeathSpank – the eponymous hero – attempts an ironic take on hack-and-slash style role-playing games, saving the world one thong at a time.

Kyle Ackerman

DeathSpank boasts the pedigree of Ron Gilbert, best known for his Monkey Island games, and was described as a mix of the humor of Gilbert's adventure games with the action/role-playing game style of play epitomized by Diablo. DeathSpank promised to be a funny action-heavy role-playing game released as an inexpensive downloadable title. In truth, DeathSpank is occasionally worth a chuckle, and provides adequate button-mashing, evil-hewing action. Fortunately for the game's rating, since this site expects less of a game the lower its pricetag, DeathSpank gets a bit of a pass on its shortcomings thanks to its $15 price tag.

The humor in DeathSpank isn't completely hopeless, and it has its moments, but as DeathSpank himself says, "I run into a lot of contrived situations like this." Jokes mostly come down to self-aware gaming jokes, ridiculous objects in a conventional fantasy setting, and DeathSpank's own naive dedication to being a justice-dispensing adventurer. As a character, DeathSpank is less Conan the Barbarian and more The Tick, if that undeniably innocent superhero were a Purveyor of Puerile Parody as well as a Hero to the Downtrodden. The game's biggest problem is its delivery. Even decent jokes are often undermined by the sub-par voice acting. Sadly, a higher budget (and price tag) might have yielded a far more entertaining result. From the MacGuffin "Artifact" DeathSpank pursues to the sack of orphans DeathSpank amasses to retrieve the Artifact, the game's humor is typified by DeathSpank's battle cry, "You can have my thong when you pry it from my cold, dead bottom."

Part of DeathSpank's handicap is the game's lack of novelty. It felt a great deal like Dungeon Runners, with its humorous take on the Diablo-style action/RPG. While DeathSpank's humor easily trumped that of Dungeon Runners, it missed the crux of what makes an action/RPG like Diablo so entertaining. It's all about the loot – shopping for a more powerful item, the glee of discovering a new powerful artifact or just a helmet that looks slightly better on your character. Shopping in these games involves killing hordes of minions, knocking down the occasional boss and sometimes replaying areas in hope of an even better drop.

With a huge pool of randomized loot, I find myself debating whether I want that armor with the speed and health increases, or whether I should save the set that gives me better resistance to cold. In DeathSpank, every piece of armor is clearly better than the last – so much so that the game gives you the option to auto-upgrade. The same goes for the handcrafted weapons. You can choose one of a few damage types, but there's so much inventory space that if you want to bother switching weapons (you can equip four at once) you can always just save any that aren't in use. There's no need to make meaningful choices, so the loot simply isn't interesting.

Fortunately, the game ends shortly after the need to mindlessly slaughter teeming throngs of mildly amusing animals becomes dully repetitive. Like many action/RPGs, the game includes the ability to grind out the final level or two of advancement (if you care) using an overpowered whirlwind attack (I mean "Mega Spinning Blade Sword Justice Power") and battle bosses. A variety of cards allow players to upgrade their skills each level, adding a bit to damage, speed and the like, but these improvements seem to make little difference to play, and by the end of the game you've pretty much taken every upgrade card. So, once again, the game offers a choice, but it's not a particularly meaningful one.

Finally, there's some rudimentary adventure-game–style play, with puzzles that have players combining two unusual objects to further the plot, but the game offers tons of hints (in the form of fortune cookies) for those who don't wish to think overmuch. There's also a co-operative play option, but the second player is the faintest whisper of a sidekick for DeathSpank. Playing as an underpowered partner is not particularly satisfying for this overwhelmingly single-player game.

All told, DeathSpank offers 8 to 10 hours of play for the grand total of $15. Compared to the price of a movie, that's not so bad, and you'll get far more than two hours of entertainment out of the game. Were this a full retail release, I'd be disappointed. As it is, I'm certain I got exactly what I paid for.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 25, 2010 10:22 PM.

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