DeathSpank: Thongs Of Virtue Review
Fans of Heroism and Justice (both capitalised, obviously) need not adjust their headmeat. While it’s been only a few months since DeathSpank first appeared on Xbox LIVE Arcade and the PlayStation Network, the sequel – or more appropriately, concluding episode – is indeed live. You are not seeing things. Stick around. People who aren’t yet fans of Heroism or Justice should probably stick around too because as much as this is the second part of the DeathSpank saga, it’s as good a place as any to start and, while extremely similar to its predecessor, is perhaps a little bit better.
Thongs of Virtue picks up pretty much where the first game left off, with our musclebound dunce of a hero in a prisoner of war camp. Obviously, our favourite Vanquisher of Evil (again, capitalised) can’t be held for long, and before long broken out and embarked on a Lord of the Rings-inspired quest to defeat the corrupt holders of the powerful Thongs of Virtue. If you haven’t played the first game, don’t worry: the opening might be a little confusing, but barring not recognising recurring characters, you’ll quickly get the gist.
In terms of mechanics it’s familiar territory for anyone who’s played Diablo, albeit without randomisation: you roam the world, killing hordes of monsters and solving quests. Thongs of Virtue mocks the tropes of the genre even as it plays them straight; everyone has a quest for DeathSpank, usually requiring him to kill something for them, collect a certain number of something, or deliver a package somewhere else. Most quests play with this in a some way: one soldier asks our Hero to the Downtrodden to kill a number of enemies, and DeathSpank announces that as proof, he’ll bring back their teeth – a concept the soldier finds more than a little disgusting. A hermit who just wants to be left alone keeps telling DeathSpank to go away and do something borderline suicidal just so that he can be left alone… which our glorious hero accepts as quests, eventually culminating in a quest described simply as “Get lost.” Hell, one quest is conducted entirely in French, which causes less problems than you might expect for two reasons: it’s a rather simple quest, and an excellent hint system will always offer help and solutions if you spend your steady supply of Fortune Cookies on it. And there are so many more wonderful little things like this – did I mention that one of your goals is to kill Santa?
Combat adheres closely to that of the first game. Attacks are mapped to the face buttons, and alternating between weapons builds up a combo that will eventually knock your enemies back. DeathSpank also has a Justice meter that also builds up, allowing him to unleash super attacks with certain weapons or combinations of weapons. A spade stuns enemies, while the tomahawk has him whirl around, quickly hitting everything in the vicinity. Weapons are plentiful and varied, and you’ll constantly be managing your inventory, comparing each weapon and piece of armour to decide what you want equipped.
Ranged combat is rather more developed than in the first game, however, and this is thanks in part to the change in terrain. No longer is DeathSpank wandering a fantasy parody world: Thongs of Virtue takes place in a variety of more modern parody locales ranging from World War-esque battlefields through to robot-powered factories and the Wild West. As such, ranged weapons have been upgraded from the first game’s crossbow to more modern armaments like pistols, machine guns, grenades, bazookas, and ray guns, and they’re a hell of a lot more useful. Most have ammunition, meaning that you’ll likely save them until you need them, although this in turn leads to the age-old problem of never actually using them out of fear that you’ll need them more later.
You rarely will, though, as the game never gets particularly difficult. A couple of areas are tough, certainly, but as death simply has you drop some cash and move back to the last Outhouse (the fast travel-cum-checkpoints dotting the landscape) it’s never a big problem. In truth, the majority of your deaths will be down to your accidentally hitting TNT crates or exploding barrels when the auto-targeting decides that belting one with an axe is definitely what you wanted to do. Whether you blame yourself or the auto-targeting it’s a source of serious frustration, but you don’t lose much in the way of progress, so in the long run it’s not a major issue.
This lack of difficulty causes a bigger problem in the last third of the game. If you’ve done most of the sidequests – which you likely will have done, as they’re where the meat of the game and much of the humour is found – you’ll walk straight through the closing stages of the game without a hitch, making your climactic battles a little… well, anticlimactic. This is in stark contrast to the earlier boss battles which, if not difficult, are at least clever; each incorporates a little puzzle of its own that can make the fight much easier. Sadly, there isn’t much else in the way of puzzles, but the ones that are there aren’t too brain-bending – and there’s one that Monkey Island veterans will recognise right away. It’s all about the combat and exploration: walk around hitting things with axes, swords, and shovels, quaffing health potions and chowing down on everything from tacos to burgers.
Really, DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue is fun, which is a dreadful way to describe anything. The gorgeous pop-up book visuals and the constant jokes (both good or bad) get you in step with the game’s sense of gleeful exuberance, and from there it’s cheerful, genuinely amusing, and easy enough that you won’t get stuck or annoyed. This easy but entertaining progression makes putting the controller down a difficult proposition, and it always feels like there’s one more line of dialogue, or quest, or area to see – and there usually is, as this is one of the largest downloadable titles I’ve played, clocking it in 15+ hours. Thongs of Virtue charms you with graphics, audio, and script right the way through, and while a bit light on actual substance, you’ll certainly enjoy this Diablo-esque RPG while you wait for something meatier to sink your teeth into.