Review: Slam evil with your purple thong of justice in DeathSpank

Sometimes a sheltered gaming upbringing has its advantages. Certain groundbreaking titles which are mentioned in hushed tones with reverence, like creator Ron Gilbert’s Monkey Island, haven’t had the impact on my gaming psyche as with many of my peers in the industry. It gives me the enviable position of looking at it with fresh eyes. This lets me ignore references to the aforementioned Monkey Island, or comments on DeathSpank’s similarities to Diablo, thus allowing me to enjoy the experience for what it is, a hilarious loot foraging romp of an RPG.

DeathSpank leads the charge for a wave of downloadable titles available on XBLA and the PSN network that give you insane value for money (about ten or so hours to 100% this bad boy), intense satisfaction and proves that a little love and an eye for detail can go a long way. The set-up is classic RPG fare, with DeathSpank announced to the world as hero to the downtrodden, dispenser of justice and searcher of a mysterious artefact, cryptically known as “The Artefact”.

At it’s core DeathSpank is a hacky slashy loot hoarding adventure, with you slaughtering mythical creatures by the dozen as you complete simple fetch quests and level up your hero. Considering my well known love for similar titles, like Borderlands, it was a safe bet that I’d dig what DeathSpank has to offer, but the deeper you go down the rabbit hole, the more there is to love.

The first thing you’ll notice is the magical score serenading your ear lobes, which is a curious mash up of elevator music, electric guitar and xylophones that is both strangely soothing and intoxicating at the same time. Your playground is beautifully visualised, with vibrant colours permeating every new section you explore, from the icky slime filled swamps to the candy cane coated Unicorn Meadows, each area is striking and instantly recognisable as you teleport in via the magical outhouses littered across the land.

Yep, Outhouses. So much more to them that just a place to cop a squat. Genius! The world rolls by beneath your feet as you travel its length and breadth, and that, coupled with the two dimensional pop-up book effect of all structures, really hammers home the fantasy/fairy tale aspects and makes you feel like a child being taken through a bedtime story by a loving parent. But it ain’t that kind of story, well, maybe if Tarantino wrote it, or rather stole it from someone else.

Initially, you’re charged with the task of locating and uncovering The Artefact (by a ginger-nut armoured beauty), but questing is never that easy now is it? Starting off by pacifying a nearby lake from it’s little gremlin infestation, and slaughtering their queen as she tried to get it on with you, you go dungeon crawling, now taking on demonic entities as you get closer to this magical object. It should be noted that by handing in a finished quest, you’ll receive full health, which is a welcome respite and often saves you wasting food or potions to get you fighting fit… nice touch!

After sending the spawn of Satan back to “dead place” and bitch slapping twin dragons into submission, you make off with said artefact and, in true Bruce Campbell Army of Darkness fashion, ignore a chaste monk’s warnings about the evil it could release upon the land, you get trounced by a couple of orques and stripped of all your weapons on your way back to the redheaded honey to collect your reward.

This triggers the main quest which has you chasing down eight missing orphans to help a local mayor with his re-election campaign, and defeating armies of gingerbread men, pips, unicorns, skeletons, ghosts, orques, donkeys, spiders and the humongous bi-clops (and no, he doesn’t swing both ways) as you search for the artefact thief, the diabolical Lord Von Prong. As you’d expect, the story is of little consequence, it’s telling though, and your interactions with NPCs are side splittingly hysterical. The humour is in your face, disturbing at times and constantly breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to you, or having characters comment or recognising that they are indeed part of a video game.

The hijinks can be as simple as DeathSpank greeting a fast food vendor as “Taco Wench” (never gets old), or characters mentioning they have a side-quest for you, or don’t even have a name, so simply call them NPC. The tone is infantile and not in the least bit serious, I mean any title that has you beating demons with a blunt instrument to make them shit themselves so you can collect their dung for a local farmer’s garden, isn’t going for highbrow humour. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. I guffawed like a stoned teenager as I knocked out each task through this nonsensical world with whimsy. The buck don’t stop there, though. This insanity permeates every aspect of DeathSpank, even the menu is not safe (see below).

How can you take any title that has a “Fist of Mega Bashing” as a weapon, seriously? It looks like a lance with a fist on its end and is described as “the ultimate in punching technology. Not to be used on first dates” (BTW challenge accepted!) Each weapon or item has a similar borderline idiotic description or name, like the Cleaver of Mega Cleaving and will have you giggling with glee as you check out its stats.

What about the combat, you say? Glad you asked! You have four assigned slots for weapons with no limitations as to what goes where, so if you fancy more heavy handed attacks, you can use four swords, though I found a mix between spinning sword, crossbow, magical mace and a club to be the most efficient. As you switch between attacks your hits get a multiplier, which helps charge up your “Justice” meter, allowing you to unleash a devastating attack to stun groups of enemies at a time, and mop them up as they shake off the cobwebs.

As you progress, you’ll find magical rune-stones (which, funnily enough, have a letter on each spelling out DeathSpank) giving you new combinations of weapon based strikes, such as imbuing your spinning sword attack with fire or adding a poison component to a cleaver strike, giving you the opportunity to find your preferred manner of dispensing “Justice”.

If you’re an RPG veteran such as myself, you’ll grind through each and every mission and level up so that just about every creature is your bitch, but then DeathSpank flips the script with some high level enemies you’ll have to avoid until you clock Lvl 20. You’ll certainly need to use block, contrary to what most other reviewers have claimed.

Much like my previous lover, Borderlands, DeathSpanks’ level system is quite specific, so that even characters a few levels above your own are a challenge, with the highest being the menacing unicorns at Lvl 20. To combat these, you’ll need to either utilise an orb in invulnerability or get your block down pat. Much like many action based titles, if you block a second before a strike you’ll achieve a “perfect block” which can knock close quarters adversaries back. Most larger monsters, like Pips, were absolutely impossible unless you use ranged attacks (sigh…BORING!) or got your block on, and go mano-to-mano with them as any bold adventurer would.

And while I’m on leveling up, each new level achieved gives you a selection of cards to choose from to bolster your stats. It could be increasing ranged or melee attack strength, or block length, how much cashola an enemy drops, or even how quick you move. Each has its benefits, though attack strength usually trumps everything else.

By the time you’ve rescued all the orphans, and forged the mighty sword to cleft Lord Von Prong in twain, you should be close to Lvl 20 (if you’ve knocked out every quest like the good little RPG whore that you are) and unlocked every trophy/achievement in the game. I’ll not spoil the ending for you, but it is slightly anti-climactic, until the twist leading onto a (fingers crossed) very intriguing looking sequel.

DeathSpank is an laugh and a half. The combat is satisfying, the tongue in cheek humour will have you reaching for the gaffer tape and the overall look and sound is spellbinding. Buckle up for one of the best damned downloadable titles released in a long time.

8/10

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.