Review: DeathSpank – Thongs of Virtue

It’s no secret that Rachel and I love DeathSpank. Shortly after discovering that we were going to be hanging out with Hothead Games at PAX 2010, we were overcome with giddiness. It would be a shame to have one of us review the game and not the other, so we decided to deliver this as a joint review in two parts. It’s the Rachel and Amanda show!

Rating: T (for Teen)
Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)
Developer: Hothead Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: September 22, 2010


Amanda’s Heroic Journey of Heroicness

As much as I loved the first installment of DeathSpank, I had many a bone to pick with the designers, including shoddy level design that was so confusing that it made me want to quit the game more than once. Thankfully, with Thongs of Virtue, Hothead Games took feedback to heart and improved the DeathSpank experience. DeathSpank’s charm remained unchanged while his world was turned upside down. I no longer felt that I was sending DeathSpank on a quest to the wrong part of the world. The quests were well-written, elegantly implemented, and aside from one mission in Strumfuquel, well tested. Quests were far more varied. Unlike the first game, it felt more like you were advancing the story and less like you were being errand boy.

That’s no way to treat a Hero, is it? I mean, you don’t send Batman to settle marital disputes, do you? Of course you don’t. That’d be silly.

The introduction of a puzzle element in a couple of dungeons introduced a little more diversity to the regular hack ‘n slash DeathSpank style. The puzzles weren’t entirely complicated (no need to flex your Professor Layton muscles) but it was a welcome break from busting up enemies.

Improving and diversifying ranged weaponry was one of the best decisions that the design team made. As much fun as it was to shoot a repeater crossbow at enemies until they (slowly and painstakingly) died, having the ability to blast them with a grenade or a bazooka is just that much more satisfying. It made battling Greem Queens much more manageable. To keep the ranged weapons from being overpowered, you have to pick up ammo to keep using them. Or, if you’re using the flamethrower, you have to replace it entirely.

The familiar elements of the game – shopping, executing wicked combos to fill your Justice Meter, traipsing around the countryside with your sidekick and running into rocks, and interacting with NPCs – remained identical to the first game, which was appreciated.  The introduction of Steve – a unicorn riding, shuriken throwing, double rainbox wielding, Ninja who loves to hear the sound of his name – was, to put it mildly, awesome. I had a lot of fun introducing the game to some of my friends and getting them to play Steve; he is infinitely less lame than Sparkles the Wizard (as Rachel would tell you).

When you got tired of traipsing about (and given there was enough rum), you could hop aboard a Pirate Ship and sail your way around the sea while DeathSpank sang his own versions of pirate-y sea shanties. Ah, there’s nothing quite like the sound of DeathSpank’s off key singing to really wake you up the morning after a Civ 5 marathon.

To put the cherry on the Undowntroddened Cake, the story for Thongs of Virtue was far more interesting than the first game. Instead of steadily making your way towards one end boss, Thongs of Virtue was all about getting you defeat several more difficult bosses throughout the game. As tasked by Sandy Bravitor (the mysterious redhead from the first game), DeathSpank set on a quest to collect the other Thongs of Virtue. The voice acting, poop jokes, and other various bits of low brow humour kept me laughing most of the way.

Sadly, there is still very little in the way of replayability. Once you’ve played through all the missions, you’ve pretty much experienced all there is to experience with the game. If you played it through single player, the multi-player experience is fairly similar (even if Steve the Ninja is infinitely awesome). The combat system is highly simplistic and the hero cards are mostly useless. I hope that if there is going to be a third DeathSpank game, they’ll improve the combat and level-up so that the more experienced and hardcore gamers (a la moi) can get their gameplay as well as their humour and sass.

Rachel’s Epic Adventure of Epicness

While it seems like only yesterday that Sparkles and I were roaming the countryside vanquishing evil and shooting at barrels, DeathSpank is back for another full play adventure. Sparkles, presumably a POW camp casualty, has been replaced by a tiny unicorn-riding Steve. Other than that small change, there is not much that has changed between the first game and the second. Though it’s good to stay the course with a success, I really feel like Hothead Games missed an opportunity to expand the world of DeathSpank.

First, let me explain that if you liked the original DeathSpank, you’ll like it’s sequel, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue. The humorous writing style is unchanged, and the controls and attacks are just as you remember them. Of course there are new enemies and allies as well, like dinosaurs and robots and a man-sized leprechaun, but unfortunately it feels like Hothead didn’t develop these ideas fully. For example, one of the first quests you are sent on involves gathering dinosaur poop (Hothead loves poop); when I finally reached the dinosaur area, it was a diminutive desert with a couple raptors running around. This is not the case with the entire game, obviously, I just wish they would’ve taken the time to expand the game internally.

I had a couple other frustrations with the game that I’d like to get out, which included problems with the map and frustration with the quests. I don’t know how Hothead gets feedback, but I was not alone with my complaints about the map in the first game; when you complete a quest, you don’t know where you need to go back to cash in and get your XP. The best you can do is shoot for the general area you think you might’ve picked up the quest and look for a green check mark. With a game as expansive and quest-heavy as DeathSpank, I would’ve thought they’d make it easier to turn in quests once you complete them. The last problem is probably my own fault, but several times I found myself wandering the explored area looking for where to go next. Did I miss something? Is progress based on turning in a specific quest? I found myself getting angrier and angrier about wanting to progress but not being able to, though I don’t know how much of that I can assign to the game.

Although my review sounds largely negative and grouchy, please understand that I’m criticizing things that I dislike in a game that I enjoy so much. It’s like complaining about the stomach ache you get after gorging on candy during Halloween. For fans of the first one, it’s more of the same brilliance you’ve come to expect, and I highly recommend it. Plus, I never get tired of spelunking.