Sure, the self-obsessed hero of Hothead's first two DeathSpank games is still there. There's still a whole bunch of quests strewn throughout a whimsical and colorful world. And yeah, the writing is still laden with puns and excretory humor, and is presented by a cast of solid comedic voice actors. The hero to the downtrodden still gets wacky loot like the mafioso-looking Pinstripe Platemail as he hacks and slashes his way through bizarre enemies. All that stuff is still there -- but, sadly, it's hidden under a mound of major problems.
This sequel's largest misstep is immediately apparent: Its focus has shifted drastically towards combat. Most of the hilarious adventure game-esque puzzles that made up a good portion of the quest logs in the first two DeathSpank titles are gone, tragically replaced by straightforward "go here and kill stuff" missions. Some of the older quests could be obtuse, and occasionally too difficult to solve, but replacing them with hack-this and slash-that hasn't worked in the series' favor.
It doesn't help that even on the easier difficulties, you'll be banging your head against the wall of slightly-too-tough combat during one of the game's numerous difficulty spikes. The 'Spank will be rolling through hordes of enemies only to run across a group of particularly difficult foes, kicking off a long process of slowly whittling down the group while strafing and using fistfuls of health items.
You'd think that a guy who carries around four weapons at any given time -- including one that can call in a nuclear air strike -- could do a bit better against some mountain lions.
The combat mechanics haven't changed at all from DeathSpank's first two outings. You'll still shift back and forth from weapons like the aforementioned Mobile Nuker to your World Smasher hammer, building up your combo meter to release an uber-powerful Justice attack. Fighting has never been the strong suit of the series, but the combat-oriented nature of The Baconing makes its deficiencies far more evident. Melee weapons feel sloppy and inaccurate, often leading to crucial misses in difficult situations. Locking on doesn't help much, especially when dealing with large numbers of enemies, as the top-down vantage point makes it difficult to target the right foe.
Again, frustration tends to stand in the way of the humor. For instance, that one quest where you have to combine spit with a spittoon in order to get your hands on some DNA to create a clone of an estranged wife's husband, so you can take her two headed dog for a walk? It's funny in concept, until you start fiddling with the completely unwieldy inventory. Unimproved from the first two games, its huge grid of item squares is unnavigable, especially when looking for an easily overlooked quest item.
Generally, when iterating on an established formula, sequels try to polish and improve on what made them successful in the first place. Unfortunately for The Baconing, Hothead Games has done just the opposite. By obscuring their comedic voice under a fog of poorly (and frequently) implemented combat and a still-questionable inventory, it's difficult to enjoy DeathSpank's new adventure. That genuinely funny experience that DeathSpank once represented is still around; it just takes a little too much hacking, slashing and digging to get to it.
This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of The Baconing provided by Hothead. It's available on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, PC for $15.