Review by BigWorldJust
"Death Jr. good but..."
Score - 6/10
Ah, Backbone Entertainment...These guys know handhelds. Having done games for the NGage, DS and mobile phones, it's not surprising that they were one of the first to sign up to work on the PSP as well. With a publisher like Konami behind them, they were sure to get a lot of press, and boy did they. By fluke, chance, and design they ended up being the first screenshots released for the PSP. No pressure, right?
Well...the PSP came out, but Death, Jr. didn't. An unexpected delay held it up, presumably to add to it and improve it. It's not a story that is unheard of, to say the least. Daikatana is probably the most famous, but Duke Nukem Forever is coming quickly on that legacy, I think. Daikatana turned out to be one of the worst games ever made...so how did Death, Jr. turn out?
Before I get into detail with the review, I should clarify the point system that I use. I believe that a ten point system should use all ten points. A one is utter garbage, a five is mediocre and a ten is perfection. I tend to shun the inflated scores of other reviewers in preference for a true representation of the number used.
Graphically, Death, Jr. is very stylistic. Somewhat simple, it has a definite Grim Fandango flair to it with the character design and the levels used. While there is a bit of repetition in each "world", individually they do stand out. You know when you are playing Dead Guppy's level versus, say, Stigmartha's. From a world of, apparently, cow worship to a twisted school and everything in between, it certainly covers all the bases with unique style.
The sound, too, is quite admirable and unique. I would agree with their decision to release a "limited edition" version that features the soundtrack, as it certainly deserves to be published separately. Robert Baffy certainly deserves a good deal of applause for coming up with a sound that fits the strange approach to a game.
Gameplay, however, is the meat and potatoes of any action game, and Death, Jr. is absolutely an action game. You'll be surrounded by enemies and forced to cut your way through with your scythe or just pump lead into them until they fall. This is, without a doubt, fun, but it's not nearly as much fun when you can't see what you're doing. To say that the camera is mentally incompetent is to be a bit kind, as is the strafe system that they implement. Normally, I would expect to strafe when holding down the strafe button and then stop when I let up on the button. Strafing with the "R" trigger, though, is more like a toggle that turns it on and off. It can be very easy to lose track of whether you are in free mode or strafing. There is also a centering button using the "L" trigger, but your positioning has to be exact or you'll lose it. When the camera works, though, the action is pretty non-stop. As with most action games, there are also hidden "objectives" to find such as widgets or health extenders that add a bit to replay, although not significantly. Overall, it takes patience to enjoy the gameplay in Death, Jr. and that's a shame considering the attention that was paid to the characters.
It's not surprising that Death, Jr. has branched out into comics, toys, etc. The characters are really great. When Stigmartha covers her eyes with her hands to avoid seeing the horror and you realize that she's peeking through the holes in her hands, it's pretty cool. And, of course, the entire concept of the character Dead Guppy...it's the best use of a totally dead character I've seen since Dead Jim from Muppet's Treasure Island, without a doubt!
Ultimately, though, great characters or not the game just seems to flounder. The story is there but it's not really gone into with any real depth. The characters are excellent but underutilized. The weapons are interesting and generic all at the same time. The outstanding graphical style and the music just doesn't save this title from the pits of mediocre, unfortunately. The best I can say for Death, Jr., ultimately is that it paves the way for a truly excellent sequel that I would absolutely love to sink my teeth into in the future. Here's hoping that Backbone is able to make that happen.
Just a snail's breath above the very definition of average, I give Death, Jr. a six out of ten. Hopefully, the next one will be truly great.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/05
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