DeathSpank: review

  • Format: XBLA (version reviewed), PSN
  • Unleashed: Out now
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Hothead Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site:

DeathSpank is a game that was made with love. Games in this category are few and far between, but they are easily spotted: unique art styles, tight characterisation, self-aware sense of humour. Most importantly, games in this category give the sense that they would have been made no matter what. And it’s a good thing, because such games also tend to break up a monotonous game market. Think Team Fortress 2. Think Borderlands.

And now, think DeathSpank.

Ron Gilbert, the creative mind behind classic adventure games like Maniac Mansion and the Monkey Island series, conceived of DeathSpank years ago. And while Gilbert has since left developer Hothead Games, DeathSpank still manages to deliver its originator’s unique take on design and humour. Immediately noticeable is DeathSpank’s graphic style. Call it cartoony, with a kind of cel-shading and a world that rolls (rather than scrolls) with the character’s movements, as if it was all drawn on a giant tube. DeathSpank himself is an overly confident justice addict obsessed with helping the downtrodden but also disturbingly suspicious of others, like orphans. The characterisation of DeathSpank and the world’s other inhabitants is delivered clearly through an impressive array of dialogue options. Unfortunately, much of the humour is plain and predictable. But the amount of work put into the dialogue and voice work is respectable. Again, the attention to detail demonstrates the creators’ affection for the game.DeathSpank combines the best elements of adventure games and hack-and-slash RPGs, including dungeon-crawling, plenty of loot, and leveling up. There are new, humorously named weapons to pick up at nearly every turn. These are mapped directly to the controller’s four face buttons, so it’s simply a matter of mashing away to vanquish evil. One smart move—and hopefully something other developers will learn from—is the Grinder. You know those useless items taking up your inventory slots? Just toss ’em in the Grinder and they instantly turn into cold, hard cash.

Another of the game’s valuable traits is accessibility. The rolling world is seamless; there is no loading necessary as players make their way through the game. Saving and fast travel is made possible through an array of…outhouses. (Funny, right?)

The co-op system, while not entirely robust, makes the game a lot of fun to play with kids or less experienced gamers. As DeathSpank is controlled by the first player, a co-op partner can join in as Sparkles, a mage who plays a support role. Sparkles can heal and provide other benefits, but he cannot level up or take advantage of all of the game’s benefits as can DeathSpank. Calling DeathSpank a “two-player game” might be a stretch. It is more like a “1.5 player game.”

The amount of quests, loot, and dialogue in DeathSpank ensure its value to anyone who appreciates a good hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. While some of the humour is obviously contrived and falls flat, there is no denying that Ron Gilbert and the game’s other designers put their all into DeathSpank.


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Written by MarkP

I am a 32 year-old father of three--twin boys age 6 and a one-year-old baby girl. Gaming is a fundamental part of our family life. We game together. We talk about games together. We shop for games together. But we also each like different things. My preference is for shooters, action games, and RPGs. I have a degree in English. When I'm not playing games, I'm reading or writing.

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