A heroic blend of beans, cheese, and justice
Who would have thought that DeathSpank would have something in common with Sisqo? No, he’s not an ex-R&B singer struggling to re-emerge in the spotlight. As hilarious as that would have been as a plot point, it just isn’t so. However, they both have quite an interesting affiliation with thongs. Yes, you read that right. Thongs. Not only are they a feminine fashion statement, but in the world of DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, they are the heroic undergarments of power, justice, and wedgies.
If you missed out on the original DeathSpank, which was released just barely over two months ago, then you surely missed out on something special. The game received fairly high-praise for its slapstick-wit and polished gameplay. With that in mind, this newly released sequel doesn’t feel too far off, especially considering they were both developed around the same time.
The storyline for Thongs of Virtue continues just after the events of the first game, where the enigmatic DeathSpank had just discovered that his entire life’s quest was a lie. He proceeds to travel north in search of answers, but is captured by his enemies and left to rot away in a POW camp. After a short escape from the prison camp, DeathSpank reunites with his old friend Sandy who helps him to continue his quest. She reveals information concerning the “Order of the Thong,” six individuals granted six magical thongs, forged in the Fires of Bacon, who were corrupted by an evil force within the mighty unmentionables. DeathSpank, not being known to turn down a call from the downtrodden, jumps at the opportunity to once again become a “Dispenser of Justice” in the trials ahead. So now it’s up to him to recover these mysterious thongs and set right the wrongs of the world.
With all this talk about thongs, you have to realize that this game is known for its sense of humor. There is so much jovial wit crammed into this game that it’s hard to know where to begin, but fans of TV shows like The Tick and The Venture Bros. will feel familiar with DeathSpank’s style of absurdity. From the dialogue, item descriptions, and everything in-between, you’ll be fighting off random fits of laughter that will make your cheeks ache. Aside from its ridiculous sense of humor, the game has also built a very solid foundation of gameplay within its action role-playing genre.
At first glance it may seem like your basic hack-and-slash title, but there are a few subtleties within the combat system to avoid repetition. Weapons and items can be quipped to any face button or spot on the d-pad to give you plenty of options during battle scenarios. Within this context, the developers at Hothead Games have granted players a small combo system that lets you string a series of multipliers together, provided that you alternate weapons with each assault. Not only does it make your attacks stronger with each swing, but it also allows you to perform a knock-back strike on your seventh multiplier. This can be pretty useful when opposing more powerful foes, in conjunction with performing “perfect blocks” to help build up your Justice Meter.
The Justice Meter is responsible for unleashing unique attacks specific to various Weapons of Justice that can be found throughout your quest. This gauge is represented by a demonic-looking head at the center of your health bar, and can be filled by killing enemies and performing perfect blocks during combat. Once it is full, you can use any currently equipped Weapon of Justice to trigger a unique move. These actions are far more powerful than your standard weapon attacks, and can help turn the tides of battle to your favor in a pinch.
The combat surely isn’t the most engaging part of the game, however, true loot-mongers will have plenty to keep themselves occupied with the amount of weapons and items it has. Melee weapons include anything from swords, axes, and hammers to your random construction items, like shovels and sledgehammers. Long-range weapons consist of anything from machine-guns, hand grenades and bazookas, to even alien ray guns. Luckily, the inventory system is something you can wrap your ahead around pretty easily, and if you’re familiar with any sort of role-playing game it’ll be a cake-walk. There is even a box you can check that will automatically adorn you with the best armor possible.
You would think that with this amount of plunderage the shops would play a more important role. Unfortunately, since the majority of weapons, armors, potions and health items can be scavenged off a downed enemy, it basically negates the use of money in the game. The inventory even comes equipped with an “item grinder” that converts your possessions into their base monetary value, but it’s really only used to make room for better quality items you still wish to hold on to.
The overall presentation of the game is unique. It gets away with using more two-dimensional textures than most games do these days because of its limited camera angles, and yet somehow it works well for itself. The game world also appears to have a slight curvature that’s easily distinguishable when wandering from place to place. Parts of the landscape rise and fall beneath the horizon line of the foreground, and it almost feels like you’re walking around a giant globe. The transitions when moving from one area to the next are nicely done as well. Colors gradually transition from day to night, depending on the area you’re in, and you’re treated to subtle environmental cues like raindrops or snowfall to acclimate the setting. Overall, there are certainly more visually appealing downloadable titles on the market, but that’s not to say DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue isn’t without its charm.
If you’re looking for a difficult game, then you may want to look elsewhere. The checkpoint system is very forgiving, as death is boiled down to respawning at the nearest outhouse. These shanty poop-shacks are widespread throughout the DeathSpank microcosm and even offer you teleportation as a means of transport. It comes in handy since the bulk of the game involves an assortment of comical fetch-quests to keep you occupied during the riddles of the main plot. The game itself is quite lengthy and can span upwards of 15-20 hours to complete, depending on if you’re one to finish many side-quests.
There is even a local cooperative aspect that might keep you and a friend entertained for a short while. It feels tacked-on, as it doesn’t include any online co-op (which would have been a very welcomed addition), and the second player is extremely limited in what he can do. The co-op characters are basically meant as a support class in RPG standards, and they’re really only good for healing themselves and killing the occasional miscellaneous foe.
DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is a solid release considering its $15 price tag, hours of gameplay, and vast amounts of hilarity. The quality voice acting is spot on with its comedic timing, and the overall look of the game is very unique. There were a few frame rate issues that were experienced intermittently and the lack of a decent co-op mode was disappointing. Action-RPG fans will certainly have fun with this release, although it’s similar to the original, and if you’re into thongs and “role-playing” then this game is a win-win.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Two-dimensional textures work well to keep the environment free of loading screens, in addition to giving the game a unique visual style. 4.5 Control
Custom button-mapping allows the player to execute combos easily and plan precise strategies when going into battle. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound and music add subtle depth and believability to the environments, while the voice acting is witty and charismatic. 4.8 Play Value
Some may or may not have fun with two player co-op, which is a bit limited, but a very lengthy single-player experience will more than suffice, especially for a downloadable console title. 4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.