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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews DeathSpank and Limbo.

Transcript Edit

They say that money is the root of all evil, but somehow I doubt Mrs. Hitler was being impregnated by a roll of Deutsche Marks. The saying works better if you replace "money" with "rich businessmen in tight suits who won't even put twenty cents in a gumball machine if they can't expect a return of investment" and "evil" with "bland, samey action-adventure clones kneeling on the bed of a dried-up watering hole licking the dirt for moisture." (And "is" with "are," if we want to be grammatically correct.) It's hard to find innovation in big-budget, mainstream games when you can't make a single design or suggestion without triplicate proof that Gears of War did it, and this illustrates the important of independent development. We're fortunate to live in a time when it's never been easier to get exposure for new and innovative ideas, and I'd like to grant a little more exposure to two recent XBox Live Arcade titles, starting with DeathSpank, a Diablo clone.

AAAAAAAAAAAA... actually, that's not completely fair. Just in case the title hasn't told you everything you needed to know yet, DeathSpank is more like Diablo mixed with hack 'n' slash and marinated in Monkey Island overnight, which makes sense, because it was served up by the same chef, Ron Gilbert. You are the stalwart hero DeathSpank; you have come to a faraway land of fantasy in order to acquire the mysterious artefact known only as "The Artefact", and do your bit to help the downtrodden along the way, with most of the downtrodden all needing the kind of help that involves killing strangely specific numbers of certain kinds of monster. DeathSpank is that particular breed of parody that basically just does all the same things as the kind of thing it's parodying, but occasionally points to itself and goes: "Hey, everybody, look!" (Then the Wayans brothers make a parody of that full of bodily fluids and pop culture references, and the collective IQ of the general public drops another precious notch.)

DeathSpank is a game that's all about its flavour text. Every character has a funny dialogue tree and every item has a funny description. Ha ha, my sides. It'd just be nice to be able to read the fucking things. It's got the Dead Rising problem of assuming that everyone either owns a six-foot TV, or sits right in front of it with their forehead Superglued to the screen, and all the text and details are smaller than a gnat's tit. The largest enemies are actually far easier to kill, because you can tell the difference between when they're raising their arm to attack or when they're just pointing out an interesting cloud to a friend, so they're easier to counterattack. Otherwise it's extremely hard to escape a battle without losing health when you're surrounded by little yappy murderers who look exactly like the crisps packets all over the floor. That's why it gets more and more irritating to have to sit and eat food to restore your health every ten seconds, since attacking or being attacked at any point while eating makes DeathSpank throw his lunch, unfinished, on the ground. Here is a man in dire need of a foam dome full of beef casserole. And it doesn't take long for the hilarious food-eating noise to start grating when it sounds like a dog eating watermelon next to your ear while discussing his favorite arsehole smells.

I guess a recommendation for DeathSpank depends entirely on whether you feel a game can be carried by humour, because there's certainly a lot of that. But strip it away and it's just a slightly annoying hack 'n' slash RPG, but hey, too many games these days are about scowling, serious tosspots with so many brooms up their arse they could lean against a wall and call themselves a cleaning cupboard, so perhaps humour is enough. Personally I stopped playing because gameplay just got too dreary and the voice-acting roughed me up like a bed full of biscuit crumbs, so let's move on.

And speaking of games that take themselves too seriously, our second XBLA game is Limbo, an arty platformer developed by manic-depressives for manic-depressives. There's a bit of an unspoken rule on "cuhs-blah" that the easiest way to get critically acclaimed is to make a bleak, arty platformer about a small child with an oversized head in a big, scary world, with bonus points if they have to lose their innocence at some point. Anyway, in Limbo you play the silhouette of a small child with an oversized head in a silhouette of a big, scary world, and your objective is to keep moving right until the game says stop.

And "bleak" is an understatement: This is bleak multiplied by grim to the power of Hot Topic. Absolutely everything is trying to kill you in needlessly gory ways. Because of the nature of the art style, there's no way of knowing they will do so until your disembodied head is ricocheting off a suicidal pallbearer's hat. There are enough auto-saves that this isn't really a problem, and it all adds to this wonderful sense of oppression and loneliness that I, as a horror fan, found quite stirring in my pants. There's a sequence early on involving a spider that I won't spoil, but if there's not at least one part of your conscious mind loudly evacuating its bowels throughout, then cancel this afternoon's appointments, because you appear to have died. Insects are a recurring theme in the game, because that's exactly what you are: a tiny, scared, insignificant insect, gazing up incomprehensingly at the towering food chain at the bottom of which you lie. The world is massive, cruel, and unsympathetic, and the best you can hope for is to end up in hedgehog poo. So man up, your highness.

Gameplay-wise, it's kind of like the evil parallel universe equivalent of LittleBigPlanet, with challenges based solely around platforming and pulling boxes around. After a while, the game abandons arachnid-based atmosphere-building and just becomes a sequence of physics puzzles, which was a little disappointing. I like how the game never repeats itself, but it is very short, especially for 1200 gamer points. It's like it ends at the very instant it runs out of ideas, clapping its hands and going: "Right, that's your lot. Here's your disappointing ending. Go home now, don't look back, you mustn't dwell..." I guess a recommendation for Limbo depends entirely on whether you feel a game can be carried by apocalyptic despair.

The final question, I suppose, is which of the two games I recommend most. Well, if you're rich enough to patronise the arts now and then, put on your tuxedo, uncork some pricey Chablis, and experience for yourself an evening of Limbo. But if you're more in the market for a bulk-buy economy brand kind of entertainment, then order out for a barbecue meat lover's with a two-liter coke and try DeathSpank. Alternatively, if neither option appeals and you'd prefer something bland and unchallenging, then why not try eating a dick!

AddendaEdit

Friend of the downtrodden game developer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

I dreamed something like Limbo once when I fell asleep while watching Eastern European cartoons and listening to the Cure

StarCraft 2 can continue sucking it


ScreenshotsEdit

DeathSpank 1

Rich businessmen in tight suits who won't even put twenty cents in a gumball machine if they can't expect a return of investment are the root of all bland, samey action-adventure clones kneeling on the bed of a dried-up watering hole licking the dirt for moisture.

DeathSpank 2

Here is a man in dire need of a foam dome full of beef casserole

DeathSpank 3

In Limbo you play the silhouette of a small child with an oversized head in a silhouette of a big, scary world

External LinksEdit

DeathSpank

Limbo

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017

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