As I excitedly placed my preorder for the new DeathSpank game, The Baconing, via Sony’s new PSN Play program (See: Xbox Summer of Arcade), I realized that with all my muted excitement for games like Resistance 3, Uncharted 3, Journey, and Shadow of the Colossus HD, it turns out that The Baconing is the only game I feel truly excited for. The sort of excitement that actually makes me feel giddy.
Rather than taking this down the route of grim analysis over why the days of waiting for every new title like each were its own individual Christmas morning are over, I would like to make this an opportunity to praise the DeathSpank series.
Or, at the very least, I want to take a look at why I love the series the way I do. If The Baconing is the only title that can get me skipping in anticipation these days, there must be something truly special about the games.
Yet, when I take a look at the gameplay, there is nothing particularly interesting. The art style is pleasant and the music is catchy, apt, and even quite good, but neither are groundbreaking. The characters and dialogue are quirky and funny, but even the most intelligent of the nerds are not in full agreement about that.
In fact, when I played DeathSpank and DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, I was not always aware of why I was laughing as hard as I was. The games made some clever puns, but the humour did not originate from overt intelligence. I enjoyed the silliness, sure, but silliness alone does not a good or funny game make.
No, what I think I have realized is that DeathSpank succeeds with simplicity and consistency. The series understands that it is a silly and solid action RPG and so it only tries to be that. Therefore, the pacing, characters, quests, and humour are incredibly consistent. Unlike many other games, there are not giant lulls in the gameplay. The excitement is not limited to the beginning and end. DeathSpank is constantly entering new environments and meeting new characters that are as interesting and amusing as the last.
Sure, the quests are standard RPG fare, but they are balanced, well-placed, and worth playing out to gain the rewards and to enjoy the reactions when DeathSpank returns victorious.
Speaking of DeathSpank himself, it is hard to describe what makes him such an appealing hero. He is blindly vigilant, yet not devastatingly stupid. He is committed to justice, but he is not a sickeningly bland do-gooder. He will gladly help out the most pathetic of citizens, but will not hesitate to point out how pathetic said citizen is to his face.
Ultimately DeathSpank’s character comes back to consistency as well. He has never said something that struck me as out of character, yet the sincere and steady text and voice acting still shocks me often enough to make me laugh throughout my experience.
Every speaking minor character has the same attention given to them. They all have their quirks and personalities, so it is always exciting to approach a new NPC to discover what new weirdness the game has in store.
In fact, the DeathSpank series nails down that dangling-carrot approach that a good RPG provides. Quests supply money and loot, levels provide improved battle performance and access to higher-level equipment, and higher level equipment lets the player take down optional bosses that were too difficult before. The series simply understands the “just one more quest” mentality that keeps just enough tasks afloat in the gamer’s mind to make him want to never stop playing, yet never overwhelms him either.
However, this near-perfect mix of pacing, classic and simple Action-RPG goodness, and consistency does still hinge on a few things before one can enjoy the title. Those who hate hack-and-slash will not like DeathSpank. Those who think calling an ancient in-game artifact “The Artifact” is lazy and not funny will likely not enjoy DeathSpank. Those who do not appreciate the occasional rainbow-colour unicorn feces joke or major plot points relating to thongs will not enjoy DeathSpank.
However, for those who do – at $10-15 a pop – DeathSpank is one series that has so far been refreshingly more of an incredibly fun thing every time. I know almost exactly what I am getting, and it is good, and that is what excites me.