The Baconing Eyes-On10 Aug 2011
It begins with a thong and it will end with a thong. Having adorned all six ‘thongs of virtue’ at the same time Deathspank has unwittingly fulfilled a long-forgotten legend and unleashed the ‘Anti-Spank’, a Godzilla-sized monster of evil intent on destroying the world. The only way to rid the world of the monster is to burn five of those thongs in the ‘Fires of Bacon’ and use the power of the remaining one to fight Anti-Spank.
And so begins The Baconing.
If you’ve played either of the previous two Deathspank games then such an outlandish storyline will not come as a surprise. Those that haven’t indulged in such thong-based delights will have likely read the above through a couple of times to make sure they’ve gotten it right.
What players of the original are likely to be more surprised by is the game’s title. According to producer Mike Inglehart, the removal of the ‘Deathspank’ moniker comes as a result of not wanting “people to think that playing the first two games is required to play and enjoy this one.” Given the relative success of the previous two games this may seem like a bold move but, Inglehart is not worried: “having the world’s most popular meat in the title will help people connect with it,” he said.
An “I like bacon, I like videogames… so I’ll like a videogame named after bacon” approach may seem like a slightly delusional line of thought but, we’ve seen crazier things from the industry; the continued chart success of Zumba Fitness, for example, or Peter Molyneux.
The focus for The Baconing is on improving gameplay. According to Inglehart, in previous games “gameplay wasn’t a massive focus… [Players] only did what was needed to get to the next cut-scene. We wanted to bring the gameplay up to a level that brings challenge and choice to the player. If the gameplay compliments the other aspects then those cut-scenes will present a bigger reward.”
I may be wrong, but I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone associated with a game’s development admit that gameplay wasn’t a primary focus. Anyhow…
Like previous games, the major gameplay element of The Baconing is its combat. Inglehart conceded that combat lacked much in the way of variety and long-term appeal in Deathspank’s past adventures and that the focus with The Baconing is to offer more choice to players. There’s been a big push away from the repetitive button mashing that would see you safely through previous games, replaced by an emphasis on timing and staying out of harm’s way.
The new shield bash allows you to deflect arrows back at their shooters with the right timing and the crossbow now has a new charge attack and various ammo types – including multiple ‘spread’ arrows and those of the exploding variety. Rather than just firing arrows ad nauseum until foes are vanquished, a few button pushes can result in pushing an enemy back with a shield bash and following it up with a one-hit-kill charged crossbow attack.
Given the fact that Deathspank’s health bar has been significantly reduced, frequent and intelligent use of the shield is essential (doubly-so when you take into account the AI’s new ability to flank and attack from multiple angles). It’s hardly Bayonetta but things do seem to be more absorbing as a result of the minor increase in complexity.
The ‘Weapons of Justice’ special attacks (built up by successful blocks and attacks) are now split into three levels, similar to Street Fighter IV’s charge gauge system, in a bid to allow players to mix things up more regularly. Apparently, these attacks come in various forms but we only got to see the ‘Laser Designator,’ a stream of fireballs shot from a hovering dragon.
With these new abilities, the difficult level has been increased to compensate and to answer a number of criticisms from past games. “We found that even casual players found [past games] way too easy,” said Inglehart. “People want an experience that’s going to test them, so we’ve really tried to deliver on that.”
Despite the tweaks to the combat, The Baconing is still an action-RPG at heart. There’s still loot to be looted, puzzles to be puzzled and locations to be located. Then there’s the series’ trademark craziness with areas such as the Rainbow’s End, a garish Leprechaun Las Vegas stuffed full of neon horseshoes and dollar signs and The Forrest of Tomorrow, a sarcastic take on Disneyland complete with ‘Mutoe,’ a genetically engineered freak with two brains sticking out of his head which casts an identical silhouette to that of Mickey Mouse.
Want some more crazy? How about a hammerhead shark in a business suit for a sidekick? In what is surely a reference to Austin Powers, it’s a hammerhead shark that shoots “freckin’ lasers” no less. If you like silly then there’s probably going to be something for you in here somewhere.
The influence of Ron Gilbert has, despite his departure from Hothead Games last year, remained very much intact. Nowhere is this more obvious than during a speech puzzle in which Deathspank must defeat a group of ‘Adepts’ (read: monks) to prove himself worthy of being let in on a password that will come in handy later. These moments bear more than a subtle nod towards the Monkey Island series’ insult swordfighting moments. Get a response wrong and the Adept transforms into a monster which you’ll need to defeat.
Other puzzles see you memorising the order in which coloured rings appear and helping a wannabe leader get elected. In short, there seems to be a much greater level of variety than past games but a retaining of the wacked-out vibe.
I’m still a bit miffed at the decision to cut the ‘Deathspank’ title but, hey, it’s a game about magical thongs… there’s a lot to be miffed about.