Greetings, humble Reader. I am DeathSpank, a hero of heroes who’s come to these humble lands to obtain The Artifact, administer righteous justice and to give those in need the hero-ing of their life.
Okay, so that’s just me typing, but that’s definitely how the character would open a review. The stoic, small-minded hero, with a very peculiar run, started life in 2004 as an in-joke on Ron Gilbert’s (he of Monkey Island fame) website Grumpy Gamer. Gilbert would subsequently use the character in the following months to poke fun at the games industry, but that idea went south when he decided that, actually, he quite liked DeathSpank. And thus this, a downloadable hack and slash adventure, was born.
This knowledge alone should be more than enough to tell you DeathSpank is not an entirely serious character, though the underlying genre frameworks behind the title are keen on playing it straight. At heart it’s a mixture of Diablo and Monkey Island, and while the combination is frequently charming, unique and intriguing, the end product never quite gels together with absolute success.
Still, it’s undeniably a bit of a visual treat as DeathSpank gallivants over a rolling pop-up landscape, chopping down foes across a variety of fantasy locales including ornate monasteries, red-hot demon caves and even a candy garden that’s home to a herd of evil unicorns. And, yes, there are also pirates. The oddball landscape has a distinctive visual style, too, created by overlaying hand-drawn 2D artwork on a 3D world. Unlike in every other game ever made, it looks delightful when scenery springs up on the horizon.
The plot is equally as daft as its slack-jawed protagonist. The first couple of hours see DeathSpank arriving at the all-powerful Artifact, something his clumsy hands have been yearning to touch for his entire life. Just as he’s about to celebrate another jolly good hero-ing well done, it’s snatched from his grasp by the orc henchmen of local rapscallion Lord Von Prong. Turns out, though, that Prong wasn’t even after the Artifact to begin with: he actually had his eye on DeathSpank’s strapping purple thong. Oh, and Von Prong has also nicked a group of orphans who DeathSpank decides to rescue (by throwing them into a sack) for a large cash reward.
The story takes a couple of hours to hit its stride, though as soon as you’ve built up a suitably fancy inventory the game goes and temporarily robs you of everything and has you rummaging around on a quest to make a taco. It needs to be extra spicy, but the local taco vendor isn’t allowed to sell extra spicy tacos after a dodgy lawsuit a few years prior.