SONY PSP REVIEW: DEATH JR.

Please note this page contains 2 reviews of Death Jr. Scroll down to read the second review.

Tim Burton would be turning in his grave - if he were dead.

Death Jr. features the son of the Grim Reaper in his own action adventure game that has the spirit and look of Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas - but falls short of reaching its potential. And with crappy camera angles you'll be falling short more often than you like.

Death Jr. and his unholy crew of freaks are on a stroll when they come across a mysterious box. Pandora, who can't keep her hands off of anything decides to open it, hereby unleashing the demon Moloch and his army of horrific creatures. The gang is assaulted by hordes of demons, spiders, ghosts, bats and other creepy enemies.

Blending platforming, fighting, adventure and puzzle elements the gameplay is diverse with a focus on action. Around each turn is a maze of enemies that will engage you. Button mashing is the order of the day but it's not mindless button mashing. There is a lot of strafing, circle strafing and platform jumping required if you are to avoid taking on these various enemy formations and the projectiles they attack you with.

Your original weapon is the scythe. It can be used to slice up enemies as well as to grab on to ledges. Unfortunately the camera goes wild during platforming and fighting while it desperately tries to find a new point of reference. It's not as though the 3D environment is that detailed that the camera can't adapt quickly. While it's jockeying for position you will certainly miss ledges in the process and fall to your demise - or whatever it's called when Death dies.

Weapons such as flamethrowers, shotguns, rocket launchers, freeze throwers, chain guns and dual pistols can be acquired by busting open crates. Don't forget the exploding hamsters. The shotgun isn't very effective but the flamethrower is too effective. It takes some of the challenge out of the game but it is sure satisfying to bring out when you get totally frustrated and overwhelmed. Accessing the inventory menu can slow you down especially if you have to get to a certain weapon quickly. There is no quick-pick feature.

Some buttons perform dual duty and it's easy to access the wrong move in the middle of a fall or intense fight. Speaking of intense, there are some enemies, most notably the Kamakazes that get up and run right toward you. You have to make sure to pick them off immediately otherwise they'll crush you like tinfoil. It's not easy accessing the right moves in such panic situations which this game is good at creating.

Overall the production of the game feels rushed. The story meanders and there are no voiceovers. The colors are mostly dark purples, blues and various shades of black which don't lend themselves to a handheld system. Some characters, including Death Jr. get swallowed up in the environments from time to time. Some of the creatures do have the Burton appeal but there isn't enough animation to give them the depth required to make them uniquely strange and memorable. Even the title character is devoid of personality. The music tends to repeat as do the sound effects.

I'm beginning to wonder if the PSP was such a good idea considering the lack of original games and the general lack of quality with original games such as Death Jr. A little bit more time in the lab and Death Jr. might have been a PSP classic. As such it's just a decent rental.

Review by Vaughn
OVERALL
2.5
GRAPHICS
4.0
CONTROL
3.0
MUSIC/FX
2.5
VALUE
1.0
When I was calling this game mindless drivel after just hearing the concept and the name, little did I know how prophetic I would turn out to be. Death Jr. IS mindless drivel, and unlike things such as Team America, it's not good mindless drivel. So how did I know this game was not going to be all that and a bag of chips? Eventually you get a feeling for these kinds of things. Amazingly though, I had no idea just badly the ball would drop on Death Jr. as it's actually far less entertaining than I had even imagined. Astounding!

The first few minutes of the game are great. The setup of the story is by far the best thing about the game and I was supremely disappointed that the level of imagination didn't sustain itself beyond the intro.

You'll play as DJ, quite literally the son of Death himself, who is a normal kid attending school with his oddball friends Dead Guppy, Pandora and Stigmartha, a goth chick who actually sports the wounds of Christ upon her which is a fabulous visual and extremely edgy for a kids game. That's why I was hooked instantly. When these characters are instantly destroyed thanks to DJ attempting to impress Pandora (his chick) by opening a box and unleashing a terrifying evil, the game quickly went from 60 to 6 and dissolved into the uninspired gameplay I was expecting. Too bad.

I even went out of my to rent a PSP to review this game as I don't know one. But I thought since releases are a little light and I've wanted to tool around with the PSP, I'd check into it. Thankfully most PSP games aren't this void of fun.

I was also expecting this game to be more platform than shooter but I was very wrong. DJ always has his scythe at his side which does a decent job, but it's the weapons that DJ earns at the end of each level which elevate this gaming experience far and beyond simple jumping and climbing. Since it's more effective to shoot everything than get up close and personal with the scythe, Death Jr. quickly becomes a trigger happy button masher with rare incidents of platforming like the scythe helicopter trick etc. In fact, if I didn't know any better, this game totally reminds me of Ratchet & Clank with Ratchet being played by Death Jr. While it's possible to forgo the guns at first, you won't get through the later levels without becoming completely proficient with firearms. Oh sure it might be easy for that one armed blind Japanese kid who plays games with his foot to make it through the game without losing a life, but chances are you'll just plain suck at it.

Developer Backbone has provided the weapon-conscious with a lot to keep them busy, but instead of balancing out the power of the weapons, they've overcompensated and filled with the game with waves of enemies which appear out of thin air, trial and error deaths and only 4 lives. Avert your attention for a moment and you'll be dead.

In a case of synchronicity, Death Jr. must travel through the minds of his friends to ultimately save them and return them to life. If that sounds a lot like Psychonauts give yourself a really hard punch in the face. Go on, do it. While Psychonauts was one of the crowning achievements of art, humor and substance, Death Jr. is the antithesis of all that. The levels are admittedly interesting and varied, but it's what you do in them that will eventually cement Death Jr's rightful place in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.

The worlds and characters of Death Jr. are vibrant and original (allowing a slight nod to Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas), but the plethora of cookie cutter enemies and bosses are largely forgettable and the most interesting characters die in the first five minutes.

The game is as hollow as the sentiments behind it. More attention should have been paid to the innerworkings of the game rather than securing the toy rights and shopping the concept around to make a major motion picture. Instead Death Jr. is all about the marketing in the hopes of landing the Holy Grail of the videogame market, the recognizable mascot. That's funny, I don't remember a line of GTA toys and Rockstar did just fine. I don't even remember a GTA movie…

PReview by Devin D.
Remember when videogames were an escape from reality? With the imagination as the only boundary, we were able to explore worlds that could never be physical possibilities. And as videogame technology advanced, games grew. The imagination was put in the backseat, and realism took the wheel. Human-like AI (which isn't always the greatest) and photo-realistic graphics became the norm. The gaming torch was passed down from the jumping plumbers and super fast hedgehogs, to the military soldiers in perfect squad formation with 5.1 surround stereo, and the superstar quarterbacks with a giant notebooks full of plays to call upon.

The ultra mega-pixel wave of realism may have to subside, as the imagination is again rearing its head in game development. With titles like Viewtiful Joe and Psychonauts, don't think we forgot about you and your Oddworld Abe, the "interesting and fun" factor is once again injected into the vein of the gaming norm. Now, Death Jr takes the helm and spreads the good word on the PSP.

If Alien Hominid and Crash Bandicoot got super drunk at a bar then went home to make babies while watching Tim Burton movies, you will have an idea of what Death Jr is like. Death Jr is the troubled little son of the Grim Reaper. Death has a stressful enough job as it is, and his son, Death Jr is the kind of kid who gets into tons of trouble. The Grim Reaper can't handle it anymore and is prepared to send junior to military academy. Death Jr, or DJ, doesn't stay a good boy for long. On a field trip to a supernatural museum DJ awakens a demonic force, which unleashes tons of baddies all over town. And just like that time when you were 5 and broke Mother's lamp, DJ has to clean up his mess before Dad comes home.

Kooky story aside, one of the most interesting aspects Death Jr has is the slick combination of a shooter/platform feel. While you get to run DJ around hacking and slashing away at demons (violently might I add) with his scythe, you will also spend a good amount of time gunning things down with the nice array of shooting weapons available. The scythe seems pretty cool as hacking and slashing aren't the only ways to use it. There will be situations where you will have to reach areas that you can't just jump to, so you'll get to use the scythe to climb or slide your way to your destination. Basic attacks and exploration aren't the only uses for the scythe. Death Jr offers up a combo system, much like the multi-hit combos seen in the later Street Fighter games. If you hit a certain amount of combos in a row DJ is granted a Smart Bomb, which will incinerate any baddies around and create a Bullet Time Matrixy effect allowing you to hack away at enemies missed by the blast. Mmm carnage, and how!

The small amount of information that has been released is unfortunately the only glimpse of the game that we're graced with. By the looks of the things, this should be a very fun title. Hardcore realism fan boys will probably start whining about wanting a game that pits you as the REAL Death, and how you have to REALLY take peoples souls and yadda yadda yadda. Settle down and have some fun. Be a kid again. Death Jr is sure to take us on that journey we took a long time ago with our first Nintendos, Segas and Playstations. Welcome back imagination, and welcome to the PSP.

PReview by Chris

Death Jr. is going to be one of the first launch titles when the PSP is released. It is not your normal platform game and for those comic book fans yes this is loosely based on the comic book by the same name. Military school used to be the standard thing parents would use as a threat to get their kids to behave. I will admit I was even told I was going to military school. Of course I was already living on a military base so it was not as effective with me.

The main character in the game is on his way to the same fate if he screws up again at his new school. See Death has a problem: trouble always seems to find him or is it the other way around? While he is on a school trip to the local museum an ancient evil is accidentally released and is taken over the whole town. Now the known troublemaker has to save the town from this evil. He also needs to complete the task by 0600 hours - that is 6 am to you and me - or it's off to military school. Now I could throw in a few classic Cheech and Chong jokes here but I think a few of the younger members may miss the joke by not knowing the famous comedy duo.

I am really interested in this one. It will not be your typical platformer type of game. No puzzle solving or collecting useless tokens involved. You will face some really nasty enemies in the 15+ levels. Of course as you get deeper into the game more items and weapons will be at your disposal. You can tell the little guy is not your average looking kid.

The game will also feature some amazing graphic effects including particle effects and volumetric shadows thanks to the PSP's ability to pencil stencil buffer. In fact the game will play more like a TPS than a platformer type game. Ancient evil sprits, Red Skinned demons and other evil creatures await you. It will be up to you to help little Death defeat all of these and still stay out of Military School. The game is being developed by Digital Eclipse and is looking rather interesting. Take a look at the screen shots and more details will be added near the release date of the game.

Click For Media
System: PSP
Dev: Backbone
Pub: Sony
Released: Aug 2005
Players: 1
Review by StewXX
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.0
GRAPHICS
3.5
CONTROL
2.5
MUSIC/FX
2.5
VALUE
1.5