DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue

DeathSpank, hero of the downtrodden; such an absurdly named protagonist could only come from the questionable mind of Ron Gilbert, the man who brought us the Monkey Island series and its star, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™. But since his creation of the legendary SCUMM engine (central to almost all of Lucas Arts best loved games) and his involvement on the first two Monkey Island games, it didn’t seem like the man had been up to much. Sure, he’d founded two studios, but their output was questionable: Humongous Entertainment, which made games aimed at children, and its grown up sister Cavedog Entertainment, at which Gilbert created Total Annihilation, a RTS title that is considered a spiritual precursor to Supreme Commander but has absolutely nothing in common with the games for which the man is known and loved. After almost two decades in the creative doldrums, Gilbert’s involvement in Telltale Games’ wonderful Tales of Monkey Island series provided a spark of hope, which was fanned into a modest flame with the release of Deathspank.

Sporting a deluded protagonist seemingly inspired by spoof superhero, The Tick, and a uniquely colourful aesthetic with amateur theatre styled 2D trees and houses, it was immediately apparent that, despite his name, DeathSpank was a charming title, as well as perhaps the first great IP Ron Gilbert had come up with since Monkey Island. The clever thing about it, though, was the way in which it uniquely married elements of the point and click adventure to the RPG genre, so rather than the complex moral choices of a Bioware game, the player is presented with dialogue trees full of zany, colourful and ultimately pointless humour. There was even evidence of the notorious puzzles of the point and click genre seeping in: the quest involving demon horns, a farmer’s prized cherries and an anvil in particular perfectly incorporating RPG looting with point and click logic.

None-the-less, DeathSpank is certainly an acquired taste. For those who didn’t click with the game’s python-esque sense of the ridiculous-sublime, it seemed a juvenile pastiche. For me and many others, however, it was a compelling romp with a wonderfully silly story and a very satisfying hack and slash mechanic, in which the game allows you to equip weapons to each of the face buttons and seamlessly alternate between them in a humorous barrage of death. Much like the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett, which are no stranger themselves to great videogame adaptations, Deathspank gently pokes fun at the fantasy genre without forgetting that it’s a part of it.

After escaping from a POW camp armed with only a potato peeler in the prologue, Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue sees our eponymous hero continuing his quest to uncover the secret of the thongs, whilst also finding time to help the military invade Santa’s North Pole HQ, to sail a pirate ship (a sequence that brings to mind Ron Gilbert’s involvement like no other), and of course to collect some poo. If anything the narrative here is even richer, faster-paced and sillier than in the first game, even though almost everything else about it remains unchanged, with the exception of trading in bowguns for bazookas and flame-throwers courtesy of the pseudo WWI setting.

But it’s wrong to criticise the game for lacking development because Thongs of Virtue isn’t really a sequel at all. Although Ron Gilbert has since left Hothead Games, in his blog, Grumpy Gamer, he clarifies his involvement, describing how it was originally conceived as a series of episodes fused into one huge game. However, it was decided that that game was too large for a digital release, so it was split neatly in two, the nearest comparison perhaps being Kill Bill, which is also a playful, self-mocking genre parody.







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