canuckeh's DeathSpank (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

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Will somebody think of the children? No? Okay.

Deathspank flows through the system like a combination of mixed drugs. It’s a video game speedball; the mixture of coke and heroine that killed your favorite actors and musicians. In my case, the injection of Deathspank caused heart failure to my social life, diet and exercise routine. Or at least it did for all of 12 hours between first downloading the game and now. I am kind of astonished that I finished it at such a quick pace, survived and was eager to write the review so soon. If anything, the game being about 8-10 hours long (completed with almost every side quest) is actually fortunate. I dread the weight-gain that an RPG four times the length could bring forth to my abdominal region. 

 A man of choice underwear, thrashing enemies while listening to Sisqo.
 A man of choice underwear, thrashing enemies while listening to Sisqo.
The first half of that lethal combination is Diablo-driven loot. Your medieval trooper loves to equip armour and weapons, and the desire for higher levels and better gear is strong. Maybe it’s because this is such a small-scale game as opposed to an MMORPG who’s monthly fee is double the price of all of Deathspank, that makes the game appealing. There isn’t the sense of commitment needed to make any kind of significant progress like the life oath World of Warcraft demands of its players. (And World of Warcraft does get name-dropped at one point in the game.) I feel like I can obtain the Level 20 level cap without making any sacrifices to my Saturday nights. 
The game is constantly throwing new weapons and gear with colourful names and powers to entice thee. Swords, axes, hammers, crossbows, poles with metal fists at the end and more. Armour with ice or death-based motifs. You can go through the menus and read all kinds of comedic descriptions for everything you acquire in the world. Deathspank’s unique life views (which are kind of like Batman’s, but with more hyperbole and less grammar) are prevalent in every quest log, tutorial and menu screen. Your Deathspank will go through a variety of unique and wonderful wardrobe changes, which adds to the game’s sprinkles-filled flavour. 
I should probably talk about the titular hero. Deathspank is the medieval Tick. He loves righteousness, heroism, violence and himself. His quest involves seeking a Macguffin that pretends to be nothing more than a Macguffin. His journey ultimately leads into a battle with a crazy blonde emperor and a search for missing orphans. What follows is a series of astonishing orphan jokes that were as funny as they were painful to my conscience. (I’m entering the field of child services. Given the chance, I would probably place a restraining order on Deathspank, SWAT teams and everything.) 
The other half of that proverbial injection into the arm is adventure game humour. Ron Gilbert of fame (that also gets name-dropped) lends the game a mix of wit, charm and black humour to the ‘deathspankings. I’m at the position where I have to bite my knuckles in hesitation and try not to spoil anymore of the great jokes and moments. But the game has many great moments, between character conversations, cartoon-cutscenes and other things starting with C. The only time I was indifferent to the game’s liners are when they break the fourth wall; there is one character too many telling me to check the quest log for quest information and calling me a buffoon. 
If you tried to speed-run the game and lunge straight for the orphans, you’ll probably get yourself thrashed. And I’d have to call Children’s Aid Society immediately. Enemies level up at a faster pace than you, thus bringing up the importance of engaging in side-quests to earn that precious XP and loot. Most of these are of the MMO-variety. Get ten pelts, go to that location, fetch that toy. There are a few brief moments that ask for adventure-game logic, in particular of the item-mixing variety. (Ron Gilbert represent?) But otherwise, many of the quests are of the “fetch” variety. And some of them are outright shameless about it. There are two quests that consist entirely of you walking back and forth on the same road repeatedly, collecting some new item that magically appears after you bring back the last magic item. The only reason this becomes tolerable is because of the dialogue Deathspank has with the quest-giver. You at least feel that the game also knows these are annoying game-lengtheners and makes no pretense to pretend they aren’t. Being able to scroll through the inventory and see what Mr Spank thinks of the doohickey he just obtained barely justifies the elbow grease you put into fetching it. 
I would say that the action is as rudimentary as video games get. You attack the enemy, then block their attack, then take a swig of your weapon attack again. Deathspank, manly individual he is, can quad-wield four different weapons in what is kind of a welcome instance of overpowering might. You’ll pick up a bevy of potions and special items with various area-of-effect attacks or buffs, but I merely stuck with the healing foods and tonics. Doing so resulted in the often hilarious situation where I’d be running circles from a legion of skeletons while trying to munch on a chicken leg for its slow-healing effects. Combat is less about being tactical than it is about your willpower to smash, slaughter, rape and pillage the orc hometown with your newly-obtained spiky sword. Which is as good a motivator as any. 
There are a few minor flaws that should perhaps be brought to the attention, so people don’t believe I come from the EA marketing firm. The inventory system can be a bit sluggish to deal with, given the Xbox’s mouse-free nature. Each item must be dragged individually to Deathspank’s personal grinder to be ground into money. I found myself running into the late-game problem where my inventory was filled with items I was too low-level to utilize and quest-specific tools that I didn’t need anymore. A treasure chest or Deathcloset in which Deathspank could tuck the things he’s too embarrassed to hang on to would have came in handy. Finally, the ending is a cheap cliffhanger. I can renege and admit that cheap cliffhangers may have helped the sales of major franchises like Assassin’s Creed, games so well-advertised as to be popular before the first game was ever released. But smaller, internet-only games whose success comes heavily from word of mouth can ill-afford any kind of negative gossip about a cheap cliffhanger. So forget I said those last three sentences. 
Deathspank is a ten hour game that you’ll probably finish in a day. Not because the game is brief but because certain additives creep into your brain and compel you to play onward. I never cared for the psychological urge players have to watch a level number incrementally increase from grinding, or obtaining fake equipment with names you’ll forget about once the game is finished. But the grim humour and colourful worlds seem to throw me off my guard, encouraging me to play this over more artful games. (I postponed reviewing Flower to play Deathspank. Sorry thatgamecompany.) My last endorsement of Deathspank; this will be the first game I ever make a conscious attempt to obtain all of the Xbox Achievements. 
4 stars  

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