torstai 25. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue | Xbox 360 | 2010

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: September 21, 2010 (PS3)
DEVELOPER(S): Hothead Games

Just a snag over two months after the release of DeathSpank, Ron Gilbert delivered the second episode, widely regarded a sequel, named DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue. With notable changes to level and weapon design, and the game's general length, even with fully identical gameplay basics, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue did indeed feel more like a sequel than a direct continuation of the original game. As relatively small as them tweaks may seem, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is notably better than its predecessor, and no less than one of the most interesting digital downloads available on Xbox LIVE Arcade.

Saving the world from underwear

After vanquishing their revered human leader Lord Von Prong, DeathSpank has been captured by Orques, who are now at all-out war with the humans. Peeling potatoes in an Orque dungeon is no job for a Hero of the Downtrodden, so DeathSpank puts his potato peeler to a more recreational use and breaks out of imprisonment, only to bump into his old friend Sandy, who gives our Dispenser of Justice one more Evil to Vanquish. As the end of the world draws nigh, the time has come to liberate the distinguished bearers of the six Thongs of Virtue - including Santa Claus - of their evil, possessive, and extremely skimpy underwear.

It turns out the most popular fast food in the
world is made of people.
I got DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue right after I'd completed DeathSpank. I didn't really care about it being the "second (and third) episode of the same game" at all; the reviews were slightly better, it seemed that Gilbert and his team had focused on the right things to make the game better, and finally, I had the firm belief that Thongs of Virtue would be to DeathSpank what LeChuck's Revenge was to The Secret of Monkey Island. Relatively speaking, I was quite right - but make no mistake about it, it does look and feel like the exact same game for the most important part. The basic rules of gameplay are exactly the same, 100% - Thongs of Virtue is just presented so much better than its predecessor, from every angle.

Due to the identical gameplay, this review probably won't be very long; just refer to the previous review if you're in need of some pointers. Though the graphics are exactly the same, the level design is so much better and littered with variety, just full of hilarious surprises every step of the way. There are a few larger settlements scattered across the map, and towards the end of the main storyline, you even get a ship which you can use to scavenge a few islands in the ocean that's bothered you up 'til then, after all that puddle swallows up about 30-40% of the world map... DeathSpank's even got a couple of off-key, improvised sea shanties to keep himself, and you the player, entertained. Most NPC's from the previous game return to accompany several truckloads of new ones; the quests they offer you are better than before, as well as their jokes. The character of DeathSpank is also somewhat more charming and less annoying, one step closer to Guybrush Threepwood. Which reminds me, not only does Thongs of Virtue feel more like Ron Gilbert's design, it pays direct homage to his earlier games. For example, the library puzzle from LeChuck's Revenge makes a slight return.

Some French town. Luckily, the great big
guidebook of heroes comes with a crash course
in French.
Although the weapons are better in both variety and basic effect, advanced combat tactics are still weak. Not only are the Justice attacks useless, I'm still not a fan of those Runestone abilities (which, again, prompt you to stick to a couple of low-level weapons to unlock a devastating special ability), 'cause the inventory limit is even more strict than it was before, due to many more truly useful weapons and items than you can possibly equip to get them out from cluttering up the inventory. For example, you need to carry a certain type of sword with you at all times to easily dispose of certain types of undead enemies. There's a ranged weapon which serves you well from the moment you get it right up 'til the end despite its low level, but it won't work on all enemies at all; you'd best have a whole array of disposable weapons, such as bazookas and flamethrowers, with you just in case you bump into a whole horde of tough enemies you must avoid melee contact with. That happens. A lot.

Bazookas? Flamethrowers? What you've got to understand right away is that this game knows no rules. That's why it's so exciting - so much funnier, smarter and less predictable than its predecessor throughout. One minute, you find yourself breaking out of a medieval dungeon. Then figuring out a way to destroy a haywire supercomputer smack in the middle of a dark forest, shooting every passer-by. Then, rescuing damsels in the Wild West - by hilarious means - and doing pest control for the local sheriff by going all John Marston on several groups of bandits. Then, becoming a pirate captain. Then, bypassing the impossible security of the North Pole to rescue the world from an evil, possessed Santa Claus. ...Yeah, it's insane. Insanely funny. Not much of those repetitive quests that plagued the first one, no constant running back and forth (thanks to more outhouses for saving and fast travel), and an all-around fantastic world to explore.

Dashing through the snow, DeathSpank's out to
Here, the level cap gets hit a bit too early for avid sidequesters; it's obvious, 'cause your level goes up at the exact same speed as in the first game, but this one's got much more content. The single DLC dungeon released for the game - and which is needed to collect all of the Achievements - raises the level cap by 1, perhaps exactly due to the early base cap. All of the 12 Achievements are a little bit harder to get than before, but not in the usual sense; they just require attention which you probably won't be able to pay to the game on the first playthrough unless you're using a guide. One or two Achievements aren't enough to raise the replay value of the game, especially if you've already scoured through all of the sidequests on the first round. There are a couple of endings to the game, but even the other ending is easy to achieve by loading the game after completion; it's all about one simple choice in the very end. The supposedly canonical ending paves the way for a prequel which never came, the other one the way to another sequel that did come, but which Gilbert wasn't a part of. So I guess they're both canonical, in a way, though completely different. Which makes just about as much sense as the whole game.

DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is definitely worth its steep price, placing yet another question mark on the first game's equal price tag. It's lengthier, funnier, smarter and all-around better, one fine way to feed your hunger for video game parody. I don't think it's totally necessary to own both games, but if you do, be sure to play the first one first. As identical as these two games basically are, the first one is bound to disappoint if you're doing it in the wrong order. As for the third game, just leave it where it is. I'll perhaps return to cover that one later, but for now, let's fare our epic hero of awesomeness well with a high note.

+ Faster. Better. Stronger.
+ Fabulous level design
+ Great artillery
+ Less repetitive quests, and better control over the use of humour in general

- Advanced combat tactics are still a blur
- The level cap comes too early, along with the best equipment

< 8.6 >

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