By Brendan Caldwell on September 6th, 2011 at 8:43 pm.
I was having my breakfast shower last Thursday when I got a message from Jim. So I got out of the water and put down my Wheetos. When I read the message bleeping away in my jeans I found it simply read: “The Baconing: Review?” I replied with a lengthy acceptance speech, pointing out many of Jim’s finer qualities.
I was naked. “A review of unprecedented amazingness please,” he replied. “No ‘editor called me’ intros.” I resolved to disobey him as soon as I finished my toilet. What do you think of THAT Square Brackets Jim!? [I think you are looking for trouble, Caldwell - Jim]
Anyway. I got back into the shower, sat down, closed my eyes and folded the flaps of my ears over my ear canals. In this way, I could hear nothing but the faint, distant patter of water on porcelain. This act is life’s F5 button and you should try it.
You know what else you should try? The Baconing. (Truly, I am the segue king. Do you see how I got from being wet and nude to being in front of a PC, blinking at all the pretty DeathSpank? And it is very pretty. Colourful cardboard cut-outs of trees and dogs and houses act as obvious movie set props among the 3D environment. Meanwhile, background cut-outs are silhouetted against the sky, their pop-up book animations looping constantly, and the whole world rolls ecliptically out of the horizon. Aw, just look at that. That’s lovely that is. Oh my, who left these brackets open?)
Remember when you were wee and you put your two fingers on the globe in the geography classroom? And then started running your hand along an axis, spinning the globe as you went, as if your hand was a giant, malformed man stomping around the world? Stomp, stomp, stomp. Goodbye, Budapest. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Goodbye, Hawaii. Yeah? That’s what it feels like to walk into the horizon in The Baconing. Well, nothing will ever feel that much fun again. Rather, that’s what it looks like it feels like to walk into the horizon in The Baconing. I hope that makes sense.
Admittedly, this visual lovely won’t be new to DeathSpank botherers. Neither will much else. In terms of running around and boshing things open with variants of a big stick, not much seems different. You still find weapons are either ranged, melee or elemental melee and many are reiterations of weapons you’ve already collected, which sucks a little variety out of the looting but not in any way that can’t be shrugged off. If anything, it’s worth checking out the item descriptions themselves. Weapons crop up with outlandish names. The Drill of Justice. The Extra Undeathly Blade. The Hellageddon. At one point you find a melee weapon in a mobster leprechaun’s casino called A Perfectly Legal Bat. The description reads: “Nothing wrong with carrying a bat around. IS THERE?”
And yet, not much else has changed either. You still hit baddies with sticks and you still collect all the loot and you still get bigger sticks and you still charge up a Justice Meter to unleash more powerful attacks. You still tick “auto-equip best armour” in the equipment menu because you’re a lazy nob-barnacle who simply doesn’t want to do mental arithmetic on his day off, not like one of those moany moaners who moan and moan about games being ‘dumbed down these days’ – “Mehhh mehh mehh, I don’t like fun. Mehhh mehh mehh, I want to click more things. Mehhh mehh mehh, Brendan, stop changing the settings on my game. MEHHH MEHH MEHH.”
Well, calm down. In fact, the only setting I changed was the difficulty, which on medium offers a stout challenge in response to some complaints about previous games being a little too easy. I switched the difficulty down a fair few times not because it got too frustrating but because I am rubbish at things and panic when faced with black slimes. Can’t stand those guys. Remind me of Guinness squits.
The rest of the enemies are fine and dandy. You’ve got your tribal island warriors, your undead legions, your ghouls, your leprechauns, your lions, beasts, dragons – all of which are well animated and lovely and detailed but none of which carry the same lasting charm as developed characters or the harmless fish bowls with mechanical legs that wander the beaches who flee screeching in abject terror as you approach them.
WhhhhrreeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEE! < That’s the sound they make.
All in all there doesn’t seem to be anything distinct from previous ‘Spanks in the way of swinging-swords-at-blobs. Not that the unflinching nature of DeathSpank Is In This Game: The Baconing is necessarily a bad thing. The dungeon crawling loop is still as appealing as it is in any other Diablonian spawn. And as [Jim] previously noted, it’s the personality of DeathSpank himself that carries you onward, even past the point where you otherwise might have gotten a little bored. All this despite the fact that Ron ‘I Invented Laughter, Bitch’ Gilbert left Hothead Games before development to saunter over to Double Fine to hang out with his good buddy Tim ‘Well I Made Grim Fandango So, Like, Whatevs’ Schafer.
A lot of this appeal is thanks to DeathSpank’s particular style of humour. It’s the pastel drawing of a child’s fairytale smudged with the twisted thumb of a doped-up newspaper cartoonist. I’m not just talking about the visuals style again here. I mean the style of the funnies. It’s reminiscent of that platinum age of children’s cartoons – the late 1990s to mid 2000s.
What’s that? The 80s!? SIR. Don’t talk to me about the 1980s. Screw the 80s, man. Screw every soulless cartoon ever made with the lone intention of selling toys that could turn into other toys. The platinum age of kid’s cartoons originates with Cartoon Network’s Johnny Bravo and The Powerpuff Girls. It peaks with Invader Zim and Fairly Odd Parents. You know this is true. Search your heart – or have you no heart? It’s this shiny peak of the modern cartoon age that The Baconing takes its humour from. A humour soaked in parody of Super Men and hung up to dry on the clothes line of Contradiction. I mean, it has jokes about willies too, like, but… yeah.
The only problem some may have with the humour is that it occasionally strays into the realm of Random. Which is a word that by now garners many sneers and rolled eyes. Perhaps forgivable. I don’t care if something is random (don’t you remember the good times? When randomness was once known as “surprise” or “the unexpected” or “the absurd”) but I know a lot of people can’t stand it. They can stand it less than I can stand DREADFUL 1980S SCHLOCK.
DeathSpank and co. can be nonsensical at times in this way but the comedy characters generally make up for it in their portrayals as cartoons gone truly wrong. These are genuinely entertaining characters, far removed from the non-descripts they so often lampoon. From The Mayor – a graphically realised fusion of Richard Nixon and Peter Mandelson – to Muto – a suicidal theme park mascot part Mickey Mouse and part Johnen Vasquez’ own ‘Filler Bunny’. I like them. I think they’re good. And I’m genuinely sad the multiplayer is limited to local co-op (WHY IS THIS SO?) with one player using an Xbox gamepad. Firstly, because I didn’t have any friends in real life to play with. Secondly, because I couldn’t then play as Bob from Marketing, the profit-driven Hammerhead shark.
Here is Wot I Deduce: The Baconing is worth a peek, even if you’ve never given Spanky a chance in the past. As a dungeon-crawler it’s mechanically sound. As an inventory-sorter, it is very satisfying. Most importantly, as a story it’s all a bit of light-hearted fun. Like eating your housemate’s Wheetos in the shower. You know – it’s tasty, it’s filling. It gets less funny the second and ninth time round, sure, but hey, that’s the law of diminishing returns. Or something. I don’t know, I’m not a fucking laughter economist. All I know is that The Baconing is quite good and you should try it.