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DeathSpank… Not a title that inspires much confidence. In fact, when my fellow editors heard that I was going to play something called DeathSpank, they automatically assumed it was a throwaway iPhone app, or free Flash nonsense, or worse. I didn't blame them because, at first, so did I.
But we were all wrong. DeathSpank is indeed a real game, published by a real company (ever heard of EA?) and created by a real (and famous) game designer. More importantly, DeathSpank has real potential. Here are a few reasons why:
I've played plenty of Diablo clones over the past decade, but most have – predictably – stuck with the same dark fantasy settings. None have dared to replace the murky, musty dungeons with bright beaches, colorful forests, gingerbread houses and other fanciful storybook scenes. None have risked swapping orcs and trolls for chickens and orphans. And none have given us a hero with personality, one that's half egotistical Captain Quark and half wisecracking Guybrush Threepwood.
Of course, none – until DeathSpank – have been conceived and created by Ron Gilbert, the man behind the first two Monkey Island adventures.
As Gilbert admitted during my demo, Monkey Island is "the only kind of humor I know how to do." That's fine, because based on what I've played so far, his jokes translate surprisingly well into the hack 'n slash genre. Here are just a few examples…
DeathSpank is searching for an artifact known only as the, err… Artifact. Upon clearing a witch's front yard of evil minions, she complains "There goes my bridge night!" You can engage in a lengthy and philosophical conversation with a cow who doesn't actually respond to you in any way. Before returning a lost wallet to an NPC, you can open it and steal his money first. Travel is accomplished via toilet teleportation. The title of the game is DeathSpank.
The graphics in DeathSpank are hard to describe, but here's my best shot. Imagine a pop-up children's book in which the quirky and whimsical fairytale backgrounds of each page have been given depth through layers of colorful paper cutouts. Take the characters and items in the foreground, however, and make them fully 3D objects that can run in any direction, moving the 2Dish backgrounds behind them. And finally, picture all this loveliness filled with explosions, blood spray and flying body parts. That's kind of what DeathSpank looks like.
I died at least three or four times during the hour I played DeathSpank, and this was only the beginning of the game. Enemies are everywhere, and you're asked to murder a lot of them to finish missions. Some like to swarm you in armies, or barrage you from afar with arrows. Others are much, much bigger than you, carry heavier weapons or require special potions to receive damage.
I never grew frustrated, though, because Gilbert and the other designers want DeathSpank to be a fun, pick-up-and-play romp, not a time-eating grindathon. Each time I failed, my hero was simply warped back to one of the previously mentioned outhouses and, like a BioShock VitaChamber, the game remembered how many enemies I had already killed. Plus, as in any proper Diablo doppelganger, you'll find new weapons and armor on a near constant basis. When asked, Gilbert said the number was too high for him to even remember.
DeathSpank is set for release this summer on PC, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Pricing details have yet to be confirmed.
Apr 30, 2010