Dispenser of Hilarity
Without having read up on the title, it would be difficult to know what to expect from a game called DeathSpank. Is it an abusive parent simulator? Could it be an educational game that places players in the good old days of the school system, when learning derived from a paddle was just as important as the lessons from books? Fortunately, neither of these is the case. DeathSpank is simply a comical action RPG named after its oddball lead character.
As described in the game (several times), DeathSpank is “a Dispenser of Justice, a Vanquisher of Evil, and a Hero to the Downtrodden.” While he is clearly a good guy trying to make things better for those around him, he is also single-minded in his quest to recover a mysterious artifact and often oblivious to the consequences of his actions and impending danger. For anyone who has ever watched the animated or live action The Tick television series, DeathSpank is comparable to those shows’ lead character, except he isn’t indestructible. Even DeathSpank’s voice sounds incredibly like that of The Tick.
Controlling DeathSpank, you are on a mission to recover an artifact that has long eluded the character. As with most action RPGs, this involves performing a ton of quests and side quests. However, in DeathSpank, the act of getting these quests can be just as rewarding as actually completing them. This is thanks to the over-the-top humor that seeps from every part of the game. One would expect nothing less from a title made by Ron Gilbert, known for his work on classic adventure titles like the Monkey Island series.
Some of my favorite dialogue in the game comes from a retired adventurer who will call upon you to help him to complete quests he wasn’t able to finish before giving up the hero business. In one conversation he states, “I once slew a dragon,” to which DeathSpank replies, “that’s impressive.” He continues, “I don’t mean slew, I meant kicked, and it wasn’t a dragon, it was a cat.” Every line of DeathSpank’s dialogue is well-written and humorous, and best of all, it is all voiced-over. The voice work in the game is quite good, and the comedic timing of the actors is spot on. The only thing that detracts from the dialogue is that all of DeathSpank’s responses are subtitled. This means you’ll see everything he’ll say word for word before he says it, which can make his delivery less humorous because you know what is coming.
However, if there is a downside to the game, it has to be the lack of variety in the missions. While the missions can be funny and enjoyable to complete, there are basically only a few different types to be had. Most quests will either have you fetching an item, or series of items, for someone, or killing something, or groups of something, in order to complete them. There can be slight variations in these types, such as having to go on another series of fetch quests in order to complete the intended fetch quest or having to collect and mix items together to get the desired object, but they can still be rather repetitive.
Thankfully, the game’s combat and enormous supply of loot keep you interested in completing missions and killing foes. The combat is simple to pick up, but still has just enough complexity to keep it from feeling stale. You can equip a weapon to each of the controller’s face buttons, attacking with whichever weapon is assigned when the button is pressed. Healing potions, area attacks, spells, and ability-granting orbs can also be equipped to the four directions on the D-pad, which spices up the combat. Landing blows and killing enemies will charge an on-screen meter. Once it is full, it can be used to perform a special attack. This attack will vary depending on which weapon you strike with next. For instance, swinging a lightning rod will cause electricity to arc towards all nearby enemies while using a spinning blade will cause DeathSpank to spin quickly with his blade out, allowing you to steer the bladed cyclone around the environment for a limited time.
Loot is a huge part of DeathSpank’s appeal. Whenever you destroy objects, kill enemies, or complete quests, there is a good chance you’ll find a new treasure. These treasures typically include things that affect the gameplay such as new armor, weapons, amulets, rings, potions, and healing items. For a downloadable game, DeathSpank’s adventure is a lengthy one (probably about eight to ten hours), but it is still impressive just how many different pieces of armor and weapons are in the game. With as quickly as I was getting new and better items, I found myself switching weapons and armor almost constantly.
Fortunately, the game’s inventory system is also set up well, helping the player manage what would otherwise be an unruly deluge of items. Players can set the inventory to automatically equip the best available armor, which is incredibly useful and saves a huge amount of time. When rifling through your item screen, you can also sort all your inventory by item types by simply pressing a button. This was great news to me, considering the frequency of incoming items and the fact that I hate leaving my inventory in an untidy manner.
The surprisingly large world of DeathSpank is both distinctive and varied. Most objects appearing on-screen, such as houses, trees, flowers, etc., are 2D. However, unless you’re moving the camera around, you’ll rarely notice. The 2D objects blend well with the 3D terrain in the game. Your perspective and the 3D world function similarly to that of Animal Crossing: Wild World. You are given close to a ¾ perspective and the environment has a curvature to it that has the stuff in the distance disappearing below the foreground. This style looks great and makes the game feel unique.
On top of the unique visuals, good combat, funny dialogue, and lengthy playtime, DeathSpank also provides something that is largely ignored in most modern games. Of course, I’m speaking of local two player co-op. A second player can jump in at any time as Sparkles the Wizard. While Sparkles doesn’t enjoy many of the things that DeathSpank does, such as leveling up, getting new equipment, having his own life bar, making dialogue choices, or even a voice, he can be incredibly useful. Sparkles can only do four things, which are shoot a flame jet, create an exploding decoy, throw magical attacks with his wand, and heal the group. While it may be more rewarding to control DeathSpank, playing as Sparkles does have its own rewards. Healing the group just as you’re about to die, dropping a decoy so the group can escape, and laughing at how much of an afterthought the character appears to be can all be entertaining.
If you like to laugh and play action RPGs, DeathSpank is definitely the game for you. With a unique and beautiful world to explore, tons of loot to collect, over 100 quests to complete, and a plethora of humorous voiced-over dialogue, this game is easily worth its modest fifteen dollar price tag. While you may not have as much fun playing as Sparkles, playing through the game with two players is even better than playing alone. Either way though, be sure to pick this one up to start dispensing some justice.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
DeathSpank mixes 2D objects with 3D environments well, creating a beautiful and believable world. 4.4 Control
Everything works well except for a few instances of getting caught on pieces of the environment. 4.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All of the game’s dialogue is voiced over and sounds great. 4.2 Play Value
While the game is certainly long and a blast to play, there is a lack of variety when it comes to quests. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.