Review: DeathSpank (Xbox 360, PS3)July 30th, 2010 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
As the hack-and-slash loot RPG genre is getting a revival on the PC with the release of Torchlight and the upcoming Diablo 3, the consoles haven’t seen much of the genre lately outside of some hybrids like Patapon and Borderlands. Hothead Games and Ron Gilbert are bringing the genre to XBLA and PSN with the kind of humorous spin that you’d expect from the creator of the Monkey Island series.
DeathSpank stars a hero named DeathSpank who is a parody of the stereotypical hero in the same vein as characters like The Tick or Captain Quark. He’s been on a lifelong quest to find a mystical artifact called The Artifact and he’s finally on the last part of the trail. While the story itself isn’t exactly the most original, it’s the way they’ve injected humor into the story, the characters, and the world that really helps sell the story that shouldn’t be a surprise when DeathSpank is a creation from Ron Gilbert’s mind. The many NPCs you will meet all have uniquely stereotypical English/Irish voices and the quests they have for you involve plenty of irony, absurdity, and clever humor that you’d expect from the pedigree of those that are involved. The only negative to the story is that the humor is more of a clever style of humor than laugh-out-loud funny and the story ends in such a way that we hope that Hothead Games has learned from the mistakes that they made with the Penny Arcade Adventures series.
Taking inspiration from hack-and-slash loot RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight, DeathSpank definitely does a good job bringing that style of game to the consoles. With more of a focus on being user-friendly, Hothead simplified a lot of the stats for your character, loot, and the control scheme so you can focus on completing quests rather than obsessing over which weapons or armor you should equip. The stats for armor and weapons just revolve around health and attack power respectively, so there is a linear progression between weapons and armor that simplifies the process. The other nice change to reduce the amount of times that you’ll need to visit your inventory page is the option to auto-equip the best armor that you have and a grinder to let you turn your excess items into money, though it’s unfortunate that there isn’t an option to automatically grind your worst armor to help save space in your inventory.
DeathSpank has a great pace early on with the amount of quests you get, how quickly you can complete them to gain experience and loot, and this is all in the western third of the world map that encompasses the first half of the game. The second half spreads out to the rest of the world map and the pace slows down a bit as your leveling slows down to help make the game last for a good 12 hours if you enjoying the story and voice acting and are a bit OCD about getting all of the achievements and trophies in your first run.
All of the weapons in DeathSpank fit into a few categories with another set of weapons that have an elemental effect attached that offer a good amount of options to fit whatever way you want to play. You can assign those weapons to any of the eight equipment spots you have that correspond with the d-pad and face buttons to use them, so you could have eight different weapons equipped or you can leave room for potions and food items to recover health and boost stats. Certain weapons have a special attack that can be used once the Justice meter is filled that can be very useful when you’re facing a tough boss or a large group of enemies at once.
For all of the options that DeathSpank offers, it’s a shame that none of it is really necessary outside of just hacking and slashing with your weapon of choice until you’ve defeated the enemy and picking up whatever is dropped. The shield can be useful to block attacks and it can also refill your Justice meter with a perfect block, but we got through the game just fine without ever using the block since there is a ton of health items in the game. DeathSpank is an easy game even on its hard difficulty, so the only real obstacles are the occasional deaths and that using the tons of food you’ve collected takes eight seconds to eat the whole thing. The co-op is a bit disappointing since your friend is limited to just playing as Sparkles the Wizard, who shares the same health bar and a limited amount of attacks that plays more like a support role than a co-operative role with a legitimate character. Despite these nitpicking issues, the writing was strong enough that having little challenge wasn’t a deterrent since it made it easier to finish your quests to hear more dialog.
The world of DeathSpank is displayed with an extremely round world that evokes a similar style that the last two Animal Crossing games on the DS and Wii. Add in a pop-up book style to the trees, buildings, and other objects in the environment that gives the game an interesting style that goes well with the medieval fantasy style. The game does have some issues with a noticeable drop in framerate and some screen tearing on both the XBLA and PSN versions when you’re zoomed out and a ton of enemies and objects are on the screen at the same time, though it’s not a common occurrence throughout the game.
DeathSpank features an impressive amount of voice acting for every single non-player character in the game that has a quest for you and all of the voices are unique despite being mostly British and Irish stereotypes. The only issue with the voice acting is that DeathSpank himself has a deliberately slow pace to his lines that can even become tedious enough to skip them later in the game as much as we enjoyed listening to him early on. The soundtrack that plays in the background fits DeathSpank well without overpowering the rest of the game.
DeathSpank certainly isn’t a perfect game by any means, but it does a very good job of bringing the loot RPG to the consoles with a good story that made us want to search every inch of the world that Hothead and Ron Gilbert has created. This game definitely won’t satisfy the urge of people looking for an experience that mirrors what you can get on the PC, but those that either don’t have the means or the ability to handle games like Diablo will find a lot to like here. There is plenty of content to be worth the $14.99 or 1200 points that the game costs on PSN and XBLA, respectively.