The RPG had it coming.
DeathSpank, a comedy role-playing game from Monkey Island vet Ron Gilbert, simultaneously skewers and streamlines the venerable videogame genre one quest at a time. Released earlier this month for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the downloadable game is one of the best of the summer thanks to its sublimely silly writing and simplified RPG gameplay.
Players take on the role of DeathSpank, a hero clad in a blessed purple thong and in search of an artifact called “The Artifact.”
The object you seek is just the first of many MacGuffins scattered throughout the adventure. Gilbert and his team at Hothead Games have crafted one long wild goose chase. Sure, DeathSpank must rescue orphans, slay mythical beasts and defeat evil overlords. But he’s also tasked with fetching a taco, special-ordering a 6-by-6 square of green felt and convincing unicorns to poop.
The whole ridiculous affair is made all the more entertaining thanks to oddball characters, masterfully executed running gags and an over-the-top voice performance by Michael Dobson, whose voicework is one part The Tick, one part Gary Owens. Play DeathSpank without exploring every dialogue option and you’re committing a cardinal sin.
DeathSpank plays a lot like Blizzard’s seminal hack-and-slash Diablo. You’ll dive into screenfuls of enemies, hacking and slashing until only loot remains.
If you don’t like sifting through massive inventory screens, you can choose to have the game automatically swap in any cool new gear you find. But if you don’t rifle through your goodies every so often, you’ll miss out on truly clever flavor text and hilarious item naming conventions — more subtle digs at the RPG genre.
DeathSpank also makes leveling up easy. Every time you ding, you’re given the choice of upgrade cards. One makes you hit harder. Another may give you more long-range damage. The last might give you more gold when enemies die. It’s stat management for the numerophobic, suiting the breezy feel of the game just fine.
Those who demand customization and depth will find it. Adventurers eventually discover a wide array of magical arrows, spells and weapon combinations. Since you can map all of the game’s death-dealing implements to the D-pad and controller buttons, you’ll have lots of room to experiment with a wide array of one-two punches.
But DeathSpank is mostly about finding the next thing to whack, then whacking it before it whacks you. Only a few of the nastier boss fights take more than one try to get right, though you’ll always have a super-powered spell or potion in your sack that’ll do the trick.
DeathSpank isn’t the sprawling zillion-hour epic that most folks expect from their role-playing games. The game only takes a handful of sessions to finish. And you’ll be hard-pressed to pry yourself away: Rewards come frequently, and it always feels like the next one is only a couple of steps away.
Its Ron Gilbert’s goofy writing and warped world-building (executed in a handsome style that feels a bit like the Mad magazine margin cartooning of Sergio Aragones) that makes DeathSpank worth playing.
There hasn’t been a funnier, more singularly creative videogame since Brütal Legend. And where Double Fine disappointed some with odd game design choices, DeathSpank does nothing but please.
WIRED Funny writing, quirky world, well-honed gameplay.
TIRED The game is over before you know it, and DeathSpank’s adventures may not continue.
$15, Electronic Arts
This post has been written by Gus Mastrapa on July 23, 2010 12:42 pm couresy of blog.wired.com/games.