Every RPG has a hero. He or she can be brave, moody and ridiculously good looking, but for the most part, the hero is always willing to do the bidding of others. DeathSpank is a satirical action RPG from the creator of Monkey Island that packs epic loot drops and a naive, well-meaning protagonist, who shares the game’s title as a name. Still, our DeathSpank turns out to be more of an errand boy than a hero. His goal of finding a mysterious object dubbed “The Artifact” requires him to help others out along the way. On your journey, you perform stereotypical RPG tasks such as killing a lot of nasty monsters, getting better equipment and leveling up.
The first thing I noticed about DeathSpank is its unique art style. The world and character models are in three dimensions, but the scenery is all 2D. It’s charming and really helps showcase the game’s whimsical feel. DeathSpank also makes great use of color, so the land is filled with vibrant, distinctive regions like the cotton candy pink Enchanted Forest and the dark, gloomy Haunted Forest. Each area has its own set of wacky monsters to destroy that range from Savage Unicorns to Bearlopes (a bear/antelope hybrid).
When I was done marveling at the visuals, the dialogue took center stage as it is extremely amusing. Humor is definitely DeathSpank’s crown jewel. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not chickens have lips or what occupation a retired World of Warcraft character would have, then look no further. The dialogue menu is similar to Monkey Island – your list of conversation options shows up on the bottom half of the screen and you pick what your hero will say. It’s fun to choose bizarre dialogue paths and see where they go in this game.
Still, I was slightly letdown by the side missions. Dubbed “Unimportant Things I Need to Do,” they seemed appropriately named. Because Monkey Island is known for its puzzles as well as its humor, I was expecting more puzzle-centric quests. However a vast majority of the “Unimportant Things” followed the same formula as the main missions — fetching ingredients and items or happily slaying monsters on behalf of other people. Granted, this is what most RPG’s deliver, but I was expecting a bit more given the developer’s background. Quest givers can hand out task after task, which can get extremely tedious. Still, I completed every mission (both side and main) in around eight hours, so there are plenty of tasks to finish.
In a hack ‘n slash game like this, it’s easy to get bored if you’re swinging the same sword around for hours on end. Thankfully, the combat system in DeathSpank evolves as you progress through the game. Every weapon is assigned to one of the controller’s face buttons, and you can equip whatever you’d like in those slots. Want four swords? Want some crossbows mixed with cleavers? It’s all up to you. As you kill things dead, you fill up your “Justice meter,” represented by the monster holding the health and experience bars in his teeth onscreen. When the monster becomes purple with rage, you can unleash a devastating attack to destroy those around you. Eventually, you’re unlocking these things called Runestones and combining weapons to decimate your enemies. This progression and customization keeps battles interesting.
It may look peppy, but the Enchanted Forest will mess you up.
Killing monsters is always good fun, but what’s even better is the stuff they leave behind. The variety of weapons, armor and items is another place this game really shines. There are cleavers, swords, sticks, chicken cannons, poop hammers, elemental axes, crossbows, protection orbs, spell orbs, potions and more that all come complete with awesome names and individual properties. Getting new weapons and armor is always a thrill, and it’s fun to mix up what you have to try and get the best combination of weapons and the coolest armor. That said, it’s not always easy to compare and contrast your inventory. Although there’s a color coded system to see what equipment is best, there’s not simple way to compare actual stats. Of course, for the lazy folks there’s an “auto equip” option that will put the best gear on DeathSpank, but where’s the fun in that?
If you prefer to explore with a partner, you can have someone join your game locally as DeathSpank’s sidekick, Sparkles the Wizard (my favorite name in the whole game). Sparkles has a few spells at his disposal — healing, self-cloning, and fire — all of which require time to regenerate after they’ve been used, but you can spam a basic purple shot of magic. Sparkles is a step up from normal “girlfriend” mode co-op but not quite a full-fledged featured because he shares a health bar and isn’t customizable. It’s not super-appealing to play as the sidekick, so it’s doubtful that a friend would want to join you.
DeathSpank does suffer from some slowdown on both consoles during large battles, though the Xbox 360 version is a little less noticeable. This is likely due to the fact that the only times you see a loading screen are when you enter a building or fast travel via Outhouse. Slowdown could be pretty persistent when I unlocked the whole map, but it never ruined the game for me. Although the Xbox 360 version seems to run a little better, the D-pad is frustratingly imprecise, and I found myself accidentally using up potions when I went to select a chicken leg instead.
If you like sweet loot, hacking things to death, looking at beautiful landscapes and laughing at good writing, you might want to pick up DeathSpank. However, although the game shines in many areas, it does have its flaws. Questing can turn into a noticeable chore, and I would have gladly substituted some of the “go fetch” missions in favor of some more brainteasers. Still, DeathSpank is a fun adventure worth exploring.