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Deathspank XBLA blends loot-whoring and humour as Diablo meets Monkey Island. The fusion is very close but ultimately diminishes each aspect. Staid combat and lengthy campaigns were too much for the humour to carry alone.
Despite their appearance, Dungeon crawlers and loot collecting games have a very distinct soul. The elements that go into making such addictive game mechanics are elegant and creative - needing to create a craving for the best equipment and a combat engine that feels satisfying.
Alongside this, the world also needs to make you care about spending all that time inside it. World of Warcraft and Torchlight are prime examples of how this is done. Deathspank is a prime example of almost getting it right.
On the face of it Deathspank hit the right spots. The collection of loot along with Ron Gilbert's the silly names for armour and weapons are a high point. Unfortunately neither one of these elements felt quite good enough to support the other.
Deathspank himself with his overly dramatic speech felt hammy and over acted. It's true that he has some excellent lines but it's the delivery that will either make you laugh or wince. Putting all your humour eggs into one basket is maybe a little too polarising.
It's true that he has some excellent lines but it's the delivery that will either make you laugh or wince.
Loot is the driver throughout, but is let down by the pedestrian combat. Naturally the comparison to Diablo or Torchlight makes this statement sound idiotic - but both of those games mask the repetition with pets, ranged weapons and magic combat. Deathspank just seems and feels utterly one-dimensional in this regard.
Why am I dwelling on game play s rather than the game's soulful experience? On this occasion it's the game play that makes up the meaningful experience. Just as Diablo and Torchlight reward you endlessly with a click of the mouse, so I hoped Deathspank would do the same with a control pad. This just isn't the case and although the humour hits the right spot occasionally, it feels too forced to have the charm that Monkey Island had in Ron Gilbert's day.
Maybe the most unexpected aspect was the bizarre rendition of Deathspank's world. Instead of a full 3D experience from an isometric perspective the land is made up of cut-outs or cartoonish elements a bit like a children's pop-up book. It works well for the Python-esque story and characters but feels a little odd in more driven sections of the game.
After finishing the last boss the game takes you briefly onto a new battlefield and it's in this moment that Deathspank almost gets moody and meaningful.
Just as the mechanics seem to have masked off the potential soul of the game, the visuals do the same. In fact, after finishing the game you briefly see a new battlefield and for a moment Deathspank gets almost gets moody and meaningful. Not that this diversion seemed intentional but it gave a glimpse of the soulful element that Deathspank could so easily have had.
With a campaign that lasts 12 hours I felt that Deathspank overstayed its welcome. Given that the dungeon crawling elements and the humour never quite get in step it's hard to recommend either. Were it half as long and possessed an inventory system that was actually manageable, its soulful credentials might have been more forthcoming. As it is Deathspank falls some way short.
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