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Retro Review: DeathSpank

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deathspankDeathspank has been described as being like a myriad of popular games such as Diablo and Monkey Island, but while it does share similarities to these titles, Deathspank is its own game.  What’s most impressive about it is the multitude of things to do in a download title.  DeathSpank not only has a brilliant and hilarious script but the gameplay aspects offer enough variance that most gamers will be pleasantly pleased.

DeathSpank’s mission is simple: recover an ancient artifact that is appropriately named “The Artifact”.  Along his quest DeathSpank will meet with plenty of other adventurers, townsfolk, and enemies.  Like most action RPGs, the main quest is only a small part of the game that opens up the large world map, but there are plenty of side quests (115 quests in total) to explore.  While they vary from the mundane – you’ll create the ultimate psychedelic lair for a talking tree in a series of fetch quests – to the unique – beating the crap (literally) out of demons – the one constant is that the game always remains funny.  Designer Ron Gilbert is best known for his work with the Secret of Monkey Island and the recent Penny Arcade Adventures games and it definitely shows.

ds_01DeathSpank plays like a basic hack-and-slash title, the closest comparison I found was last generation’s Balder’s Gate series, complete with dungeon crawling (or rather cave crawling) and loot drops.  This is where I feel the Diablo comparisons are inappropriate given the fact that DeathSpank lacks the variance and multitude of loot that made Diablo so addictive.  While there’s plenty of goodies to be had, many of them are upgraded versions of weapons you found early on the game and by the end you can basically purchase an epic armor set from a street vendor.  Still, it is great when you come across a cool new weapon or piece of armor that is much stronger than what you’re wearing and as expected, many make your character look ridiculous.  I also like the fact that aside from questing or locked treasure chests, many of these items will be acquired from simply killing a random foe – don’t expect heavy loot drops from big enemies or bosses because you usually get nothing at all.  The basic leveling system serves only to limit what weapons and armor you can wear at the time and I had to do some grinding on top of all the quests to reach the max level 20.  You don’t need to be that high to beat any of the bosses, however, as none of them posed much of a challenge.

ds_02This is not to say DeathSpank isn’t without its flaws.  The map system is vague at best and often times you’re wondering around aimlessly to find some stupid gate or single item that’s right out in the open.  Each quest has a series of hints to guide you in the right direction, but they require you to open fortune cookies that you discover along the way.  The number of fortune cookies you discover is very small in comparison to unlockable hints and in some cases all of the hints still won’t get you to the right place.  Certain enemies possess powers that their levels don’t suggest and can kill you in one hit, even if you’re near the top level with impressive armor.  This would be annoying given that every time you die you drop some of your money except for the fact that I wasn’t able to spend even a third of the money I collected, even when being frivolous about my spending at the end of the game.  Thankfully DeathSpank has far too many positives for you to spend too long with the negatives and with 30 different outhouses on the map, which serve as both respawn points and fast travel locations, dying and getting around are rarely an issue.

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Graphically this title looks really good, especially when you consider it’s a download game.  While the style is somewhere between cell shading and a Paper Mario style – all the structures look like pop-ups in a play and have no depth – it works with the feel and writing for the game.  Audio spared no expense either with a playful background track and voice-overs for every character.  It would be easy to justify a text only game, but thankfully all of the actors, especially Deathspank’s similarity to cartoon hero The Tick, deliver the lines with perfect comedic timing.  Multiplayer was present in the game, but since there can be only one DeathSpank, additional players assume the role of mage sidekick Sparkles, who wass hardly as fun to play.  Another big flaw is that the multiplayer is confined to local only, which is one of my biggest gripes about somewhat similar action RPG Trine, and makes me wonder why it was even integrated at all.  Seriously, these days there’s no reason that online multiplayer isn’t possible, especially since I first played the demo for this game back at PAX ’09.

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DeathSpank takes what I love about so many other games and blends it together in its own comedy-filled mix.  In truth, its writing and gameplay are exactly what I hoped Brutal Legend was going to be and sadly was not.  Don’t be misled by the concept of multiplayer because DeathSpank is a game best reserved for single player.  This game was designed with a smaller dose arcade title in mind, complete with simplified loot systems and shorter quest times, which is definitely not a bad thing.  These days I’m annoyed and intimidated by starting 40+ hour RPGs and DeathSpank‘s short 6-8 hour experience was a breath of fresh air.  The summer of download titles has begun and it seems that at present, DeathSpank is leading the pack.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on July 20, 2010 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.0 out of 10.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Tagged with ,

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