You play as Death Jr, more affectionately referred to as "DJ" by your friends. DJ goes to school every day like most kids, but his friends, including a dead guppy named...Dead Guppy, are as zany as the son of the reaper himself. As the class takes a field trip to the local museum, DJ and his friends get separated from the rest of the class. Pandora, DJ's romantic interest, finds a chest that she is unable to open. Being that she's that Pandora, this upsets her. DJ tries to impress her by whacking it open with his trusty scythe. By doing so he unleashes a monster that imprisons several of his friends and scatters their shards. You (DJ) then embark on a journey to retrieve these shards all the while not letting your dad know what trouble you've caused.
At the start, the game looks great. The characters are colorful and creepy in that lovable Nightmare Before Christmas sort of way. The opening cut scene is done very well and introduces you to what you would think would become a cast that grows on you, but it just doesn't. The levels are vibrant and generally good quality for the PSP, but they don't seem diverse enough. Most of the attention in the graphics department seems to have been focused on the characters, which they did do a great job with.
This is where the game truly falters, but it's not completely the fault of the developers. This just in...the PSP does not have a right analog stick/nub/whatever. What this means is that controlling the camera is a nightmare. And in a fast action platform/shooter game like this, the camera is a deal breaker. They decided to use the ancient practice of using the L button to center the camera behind you, as if that was supposed to be some form of consolation. DJ has an arsenal of tricks he can pull off with his scythe including wall jumps, hooking onto cliffs to pull up, Yoshimitsu-style bouncing, and many others but these are all ridiculously frustrating to pull off when you can't get the camera lined up correctly. Simple tasks like hooking your scythe onto a cliff to get to a basic demon who's shooting fireballs at you become ultimate tests of patience. The combat, in open areas, works great as the combination of the scythe and gunplay is quite fun. But since most of the levels are designed in the classic 3D platformer style, maneuvering through them can prove more than difficult.
The music in the game also seems half done. Every level seems to have the same background track. The track isn't annoying in itself, but the fact that it's basically the only thing you here for the entire game is a bit annoying. The voice overs are solid, but are few and far between after the opening sequence. Most of the in-game interactions are conveyed through basic text rather than voice-overs which would've only built upon the importance of these characters that you're just grasping for a reason to care about.
Well the journey is fairly short and although it has it's moments, you're not gonna be begging to come back and do it all over again. The only real thing the game offers in terms of replay value is that it grades your performance on each level. Better grades don't seem to net you any goodies or anything though.
The sad thing is that I truly believe there is a great game in here somewhere. It's hidden beneath the half-assed soundtrack, handicapped camera, truncated story, and lack of comedic influence. The game just doesn't seem like it was finished. The art style is similar to the recent release of Psychonauts, which is a hilarious game, but Death Jr fails to deliver that same comedic flair when it's so needed. Platform games need to make you immediately feel attached to the characters. This is how Mario, Sonic, and Crash all became spokesmodels for their repsective consoles. Death Jr has all the elements in place to do this, but simply doesn't deliver. If you can look past the expectations and eventually achieve some semblance of control over the camera, Death Jr is an action-packed, almost non-stop (very fast load times) ride. Games have been scarce for the PSP this summer, and although Death Jr didn't live up to expectations, things are about to pick up for the PSP. Hopefully Konami gives these guys another shot, because I think Death Jr still has potential.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***