Review: Deadliest Warrior

There are few things I love more in video games than the juxtaposition of two elements that clearly should not be juxtaposed. It's the peculiar desire which first attracted me to Deadliest Warrior, though, the sincerity of that attraction was questionable. Was I psyched to play a game that finally gave me the chance to see who would emerge victorious in a melee between a Pirate and a Viking? Yes, of course, because that's silly. Was I legitimately excited to play the game itself? Not so much.

Fortunately, behind all the comedically anachronistic battle pairings is a brilliantly simplistic and entirely entertaining fighting game engine -- one which rewards second-to-second survival instincts rather than a comprehensive knowledge of esoteric, nigh-impossible-to-execute techniques. If you're a fighting game purist, the absence of dash-canceling or air-to-ground linking might put you off. If you've never, ever understood, nor do you possess any desire to ever understand what those things are, then Deadliest Warrior will land right in your wheelhouse.
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Though it may lack the inscrutable complexity of a Super Street Fighter IV, Pipeworks' TV show-turned-fighting game isn't devoid of strategy. All of its mechanics are fully revealed to the player after just a few fights: there are high, medium, low and ranged attacks, two class-specific special moves, blocking, parrying and dodging. The limited scope of your fighter's actions ensures a fairly level playing field for combatants of varying experience -- nobody's going to bust out an Ultra Hyper Focus Attack which the other player doesn't know how to use.

Since fighters can be dispatched with one well-timed combo, or on rare occasion, one well-placed blow to the noggin, actions must be chosen from this short list with meticulous consideration. Players who attempt to rely on the same strategies without adapting to the tactics of their opponent won't last long in a fight. If you'd asked me six months ago if I'd predict Deadliest Warrior to be a thinking gamer's fighting game, I would have told you you were drunk. Yet, there it is.

Further adaptation is required when your opponent lands a crippling blow to your arms or legs, which disable your ability to use certain weapons or dodge attacks. If both your legs and arms are taken out of commission during a fight, your strategy basically boils down to "stand around undefended and pray for the sweet release of death."

Variation to this core combat comes in the form of the game's eight different playable characters: Apache, Centurion, Knight, Ninja, Pirate, Samurai, Spartan and Viking. Each requires its own strategy to play and defeat -- Apache and Ninja have zero armor, but can roll around enemies and attack quickly. Centurions, Knights, Spartans and Vikings all have shields which make them tricky to harm, but easy to outmaneuver. Pirates can throw grenades and shoot blunderbusses, which gives them a fairly distinct technological advantage.

Each class can unlock a second short range, mid-range and long-range weapon as well as a second set of armor by playing through the Arcade mode campaign. To unlock some of these items, you have to participate in two incredibly inane mini-games, which see you cleaving pig carcasses in twain or participating in a ten-second fight with an opponent whose limbs fall off with the slightest provocation. They are entirely pointless -- though they don't make unlocking new equipment any less rewarding.

The game features a fairly competent online multiplayer component, with asynchronous tournaments and ranked battles, the latter of which turned out to be surprisingly addictive. You can also fight with an Xbox Live friend in a private online battle as well, though there's currently no option to change match settings after a fight. If you and a friend want to change arenas or fighters, you have to return to the main menu and start a new game. It's a completely unnecessary annoyance, one which Pipeworks will hopefully be able to patch.

Networking quirks aside, Deadliest Warrior offers loads of enjoyment for its $10 entry fee. It strips away the mountains of abstruse techniques which characterize most modern fighting games, and revives the accessible short-form action of realistic brawlers like Bushido Blade. It's incredibly fun, and addictive, and -- fine -- on top of its strong core mechanics, it also lets you fight a Pirate against a Viking, which is utterly ridiculous and, in a way, magical.

This review is based on the full XBLA version of the game provided by Spike Games.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.