"DeathSpank? What a ridiculous name!" I can hear you saying it now. Yes, it is a ridiculous name, for a ridiculous game which revels in the fact that it's ridiculous. Well, that and damned funny. Oh, and a super-fun, retail-caliber yet downloadable action-RPG.
If you haven't been following all things 'Spank, know that it's the creation of Ron Gilbert (one of the mad geniuses who brought the world the Monkey Island series) and Hothead Games (makers of the delightful, and also downloadable, Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain Slick-Precipice of Darkness). Also know that it stars a hero, DeathSpank, who possesses enough machismo to fill a football stadium. His grasp on reality, on the other hand, would barely fill a football.
DeathSpank (the game) emerged from creator Ron Gilbert's fondness of hack-and-loot offerings such as Diablo and its ilk. As such, it features lots of hacking (and shooting) using myriad weapons (and protected by equally diverse armor and support items) that make up the loony loot that said combat results in.
I share Gilbert's appreciation for the genre, so it was plain to see where it had manifest. There's a lot of loot, and even the most basic of items embodies the charm that permeates the game. DeathSpank's lowly health-restoring chicken leg is, logically, produced from killing chickens -- but not just any chickens, "stoopid" and "vicious" ones. You may very well find yourself using chickens as a weapon, too, firing off volleys of summoned chickens to mob your enemies.
DeathSpank's arsenal includes weapons that dispense "Justice:" unique special attacks which add to the fun (and strategy) of combat. I think they're great, as is the system whereby upon leveling up, players can choose a skill card (to create a deck of six, at most). These include cards that make our hero move faster, deal more damage, get more loot, equip higher-level items and more. If you choose the same card twice in a row, that stat boost gets ... boosted. Neat stuff.
The bad guys and, er, things that populate the game world -- and, really, the game world itself -- are chuckle-inducing takes on RPG and fantasy staples, from orcs and imps to dragons and the dreaded ... unicorn? The game world and everything in it resonates with charm created by artists, animators and Gilbert's own writing. The quests and dialogue tree-driven conversations with quest-dispensing NPCs are clever, often hilarious, and unmistakably the work of someone who helped create one of the greatest comedic adventures ever in Monkey Island.
So it's a lovable (and lovely) adventure. Down to the core gameplay, well, it's a lot of hacking and/or slashing from start to finish. The more you do it, the better you get at doing it, the better the loot and the better you feel about yourself as a person. (Well, from my standpoint, at least.) Here and there, Gilbert and company sneak in a puzzle. How do I make these tacos spicy? These imp horns red? These thongs ... ahem. Drawing once again from Gilbert's past works, DeathSpank compliments its combat with these bite-sized brain teasers -- quests that don't just ask you to kill a certain number of enemies, or find a certain number of items, but actually do something interesting with them.
For a downloadable game that weighs in at a "mere" 1 gigabyte, DeathSpank is a big adventure covering a large and diverse gameworld. It's a land where you can (and will want to) spend days completing every last quest -- with a friend using couch co-op, even! For comparison sake, I played both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, which are nearly identical -- save for some unsightly screen tearing in the PS3 release.
This is a high point for comedy in games.
With the exception of food, water and, if necessary, important medications, I can't think of anything more worthy of spending $15 on this week. This is a high point for comedy in games, built on a solid foundation of time-tested gameplay and bacon that everyone should experience.
This review is based on the full PSN and XBLA versions of DeathSpank purchased by the reviewer.