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Hands-on: DeathSpank (XBLA/PSN)


When a game is described as "Diablo meets Monkey Island," two reactions come naturally: "Neat!," followed by, "Wait a second ... how can that even be possible?"

Well, it is. I found this out for myself earlier this week when the 'Stiq had its first hands-on (we'd seen it at PAX 2009) with DeathSpank, the latest game from Ron Gilbert, designer of The Secret of Monkey Island (but not Diablo). His new downloadable game is a fast-paced, button-mashy loot-'em-up, as well as an adventure filled with interesting characters and diabolically funny dialog. Also, it's about bacon and a hero who's favorite number is ... plaid.

Gallery: DeathSpank (04/30/10) | 3 Photos

DeathSpank (the character) is a dispenser of justice and, as such, wields Weapons of Justice (WoJ). Not all of his weapons are special like these, but throughout his quest he'll happen upon or be rewarded with tools of mass dismemberment that behave a little differently when his Justice Meter is fully powered up. This happens at a quick pace, and, in the case of a hammer and cleaver in the demo, can cause the ground to quake or send enemies flying.

The NPCs respond with wonderfully odd answers and retorts to DeathSpank's over-dramatic questioning.

It all starts with DeathSpank -- who has brawn and bravado, but is about as clueless as The Tick -- seeking out the aid of a witch, said to know the whereabouts of the artifact he's destined to protect: The Artifact. Here's where the comparisons to Monkey Island come in. Each conversation in DeathSpank, is voice-acted and presented as a series of response options, some practical and some just plain funny. The NPCs respond in kind, with wonderfully odd answers and retorts to DeathSpank's over-dramatic questioning.

So, DeathSpank receives quests -- some are "Important Things I Need to Do" in his quest journal, others simply "Unimportant" side quests -- and sets out to complete them, using ranged and melee weapons. I was able to map one weapon to each of the four face buttons on the Xbox 360 controller; the D-pad works similarly, only for potions (insta-heal), drumsticks (flee danger while chomping on 'em) and support items. The whole interface was very intuitive, as was the equipment menu, which clearly indicates which items and weapons are better than what you currently have equipped, and which require a higher level to use.

Gallery: DeathSpank | 20 Photos

Oh yes -- DeathSpank levels up. In fact, there's a progress bar underneath his health bar. Pressing the Back button when you reach a new character level brings up the option to select from one of three special trait cards. In my time with the game, I got two: one that increased his movement speed and another that gave a +10% to ranged attacks. There were other options, offering enhancements to melee damage, loot drops and the like. The cards that aren't chosen get discarded -- there's no management of a deck in the game, just six card slots in total (although you can remove a card from it to make space for another, but it will also be discarded).

There wasn't time during my play session to make much progress in the main quest, so I spent most of it helping out a hapless fisherman who'd left his tackle box down by the nearby lake. Naturally, said lake was also a popular hangout for goblins, some of a higher level than DeathSpank himself. Luckily, there was an outhouse nearby. These are the game's auto-activated checkpoints to which he'll automatically return after being vanquished (and dropping some gold as a small penalty).

Honestly, I felt like I could have kept playing well into the night, the next morning and through the next day.

I found that I was enjoying using ranged attacks against these enemies, so I made use of the manual lock-on (Left Trigger) to strafe particular targets and fire whilst walking backwards. Otherwise, DeathSpank has a "soft" auto-targeting system better suited for melee weapons. Speaking of "suited," there are also myriad armor/gear pickups in the game, which -- like the upgraded shoulder pads I equipped -- actually make substantial changes to DeathSpank's appearance. In this case, he was a lot more, well, pointy-shouldered.

Eventually, I returned the fisherman's tackle box, only to learn that his prized lures were missing from it. One guess where they were. If you thought "Back at the lake," you'd be right. If you thought "Inside of the goblins," you'd be more right. I had to collect a few of them to complete this sub-quest before my time with the game was up. Honestly, I felt like I could have kept playing well into the night, the next morning and through the next day. Maybe longer. Judging by the map screen, the game's world is absolutely huge; the large area I explored comprised maybe a tenth of the total world map.

And never once while playing did the thought cross my mind that Deathspank is a downloadable game. Its production values and perceived amount of content are the stuff of full retail releases. Frankly, I don't care how it's released, I just know that I want to play more of it soon.

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