DeathSpank is spawned from creative mind of Ron Gilbert, following on from the adventures started in humorous comics created by himself, and Clayton Kauzlaric for his website Grumpy Gamer. Ron had worked previously consulting on the Penny Arcade Adventures at Hothead Games, which no doubt began the relationship that later resulted in DeathSpank’s development – however this is not the reason for the man’s popularity and prestige in the gaming world. Way back, a long time ago, Ron had been the writer and director of numerous adventure games over at LucasArts such as Maniac Mansion and the ever popular Monkey Island, which is still to this day hailed by most as the best example of comedy in a video game.
The game’s tale is based on the adventures of DeathSpank, a purple thong wearing hero with the power to smite foes for the ultimate goal of collecting a powerful and dangerous artefact, known as The Artefact. As expected his adventure is not a simple one and is plagued with inconvenient tasks that he must complete in order to progress further. This can be anything from critical story quests that are sectioned throughout the game and explained with in-game cutscenes, to side quests that are given by the game’s many NPCs and will have you following the instructions given in the form of NPC dialogue. This dialogue is, as expected, filled to the brim with hilarious whips and one-liners. Cheesy, corny, silly and daft all at the same time whilst attempting to point fun at every element of your traditional RPG, DeathSpank certainly delivers.
Working through the game’s world you will be completing one section of the world map at a time, which is generally self-contained to avoid the confusion that can occur from having such a vast land to cover. Each world section will have named areas that are referenced in quests, giving you direction without breaking the game’s immersion by simply throwing an arrow on screen heading towards the objective. Thankfully, even though the game’s scale is vast, and quests a plenty, the game never gets overwhelming, thanks to well sectioned map areas and a detailed quest log that even included optional quest hints.
Along your travels through the game world you will encounter a large array of enemies wanting nothing more than to torture your soul. Such foes can easily be dispatched by repeatedly bashing the four face buttons, each of which will use the weapon in its given slot. These weapons can be anything from an extremely large array of possible combinations, given to you by either completing quests or collecting loot from slain enemies. Each weapon will have a damage dealing number range, and can posses an added damage effect (such as fire or frost damage). Some weapons also posses the ability for a special attack, which will be peformed on use when you have filled your special meter (done by killing enemies). Along with weapons DeathSpank will find a plethora of varied armour, all with different stats (following the typical RPG item slots such as boots, gloves, shoulders etc) along with general inventory items such as potions, food to maintain health and such strange oddities like cell phones and ponies to solve quest requirements.
A side effect of each enemy slaughtered (and quests completed) is the reward of experience that will eventually level up DeathSpank – allowing you to pick from one of several character improvements, adding slight character customisation in the game. These include such things as +5% movement speed to +10% money from enemies – nothing that makes a great deal of difference but it is a welcome addition nevertheless. As you can no doubt guess by now DeathSpank is all about killing waves of enemies, in order to obtain loot and levels to simply kill more waves of even harder enemies.
The game’s combat can be described as “press a button over and over to strike”, but this would be doing an injustice. Whilst this is often very much the case, the game does reward you for concentrating. By alternating your attacks between the four face buttons you will build a combo, increasing damage performed. Even more useful is the block ability, that allows you to greatly reduce damage taken (even negate it all, if timed correctly!), which can be a godsend during large battles. Additionally you can invite a friend along (local only) for added fun however you will find that your co-op partner is simply a guest in your adventure, void of the joys of having an inventory, experience, loot… basically any customisation.
As you progress through the open world you will soon discover that the various locations are filled with enemies of varied levels, allowing you to easily walk to your own death when you encounter a group of enemies twice your level. Of course the inclusion of free levels is a fantastic one, allowing you to risk your life for the lure of greater rewards (something that is sorely missed from games such as Oblivion). If you happen to come to your death you will be conveniently reborn at the nearest outhouse (who knows how that works) after losing a portion of loot as punishment. Any lazy adventurer will be happy to know that these magical outhouses can also be used to instantly teleport over great distances around the world, letting you skip monotonous running upon wanting to hand in a complete quest for example.
Graphically the game is a treat having a very unique cartoon style that oozes charm. The world is based on a huge cylinder instead of a flat surface, which rotates as you run around it – making it feel like you are navigating a mini-planet. It is always nice to come across a game filled with vibrancy that doesn’t adhere to the usual depressive muddy browns and over bloom that has become common ground in games of this type. Even though DeathSpank has a retro feel, and is an Arcade title, the overall presentation is never limited by this and feels very fitting of what you would expect by a high-definition retail game.
In summary, DeathSpank’s appeal will always be limited to those that can stomach the repetitive nature of button bashing combat and loot crazed enemies. The fantastic dialogue, beautiful setting and overall charm, whilst appealing, will struggle to remove attention from the gameplay that in most cases will be the difference between a love and hate relationship for most gamers. Sound like your cup of tea? Grab the trial now and give it a go!