While some people can't stand games with blood and guts, monsters jumping out at them from dark corners and the mere site of a flickering light, others take it all in their stride. On the other hand, bugs, the kind that creep and crawl around the floor and leave a pool of mess when 'accidentally' trodden on, can make even the toughest shriek in fear. This reaction exactly what THQ is hoping for with its bug infested Wii game Deadly Creatures. Although set in a world that seems almost alien, the horrors here are all too real.
Deadly Creatures has a unique concept, with you playing as a tarantula and a scorpion through ten combat-heavy levels, but developer Rainbow Studios has actually made a third-person hack 'n' slash that has a lot in common with its genre stable mates. Both these creepy crawlies can hold their own in a fight and the game makes use of the classic ability upgrade mechanic we've seen in countless other games over the years.
Despite these things, Deadly Creatures doesn't feel like just another button mashing action game. One reason for this is that the two characters play very differently. The tarantula is more nimble, able to climb walls and ceilings, has excellent speed, and can use its silk spinning ability to target distant enemies and reach far off platforms. He's not the best as an out and out brawler though, despite having a decent set of moves in his locker. It's here that the scorpion comes out on top.
This stinging nasty can't jump and isn't able to reach all the areas the tarantula can, but he's far more deadly in a scrap, able to pull off some incredibly cool slow-motion finishing moves. He can also dig, which enables him to (rather conveniently) dislodge heavy objects and break through thin walls. The key point is that Deadly Creatures isn't a game that will simply let you breeze through by hammering the attack buttons and waggling the Wii Remote. Each enemy type (you'll encounter everything from tiny spiders to massive lizards) requires a certain attach approach, and it's very easy to assume that a feeble looking flying bug is no trouble, only to roll over and die, legs curled inwards, moments later.
With a mixture of button presses, Wii Remote gestures and Nunchuck shakes there's a lot to get your head around in Deadly Creatures. New moves and advanced combos are unlocked as you earn combat points (given for defeating each enemy you encounter), so before too long you'll have countless ways to tackle each fight. Although clearly better than an overly simplistic eight-hour button basher, the early going can be quite tough. As you alternate between the tarantula and the scorpion from level to level, which have very different control schemes, it's easy to try and take on some bugs with an attack move only possible with the other character and have your lower abdomen handed to you on a plate. You'll get your head around it all, but there's definitely a learning curve.
Something that you'll have a much harder time getting used to is the camera. With no manual control other than the ability to reposition it behind your bug, you'll encounter plenty of moments where you'll completely lose where you are. Combine this with a fairly loose targeting system (generally you'll attack what you're facing, but not always) and some awkward movement when you're trying to get into the right position, and you've got a game that often frustrates. A Zelda-style lock-on system would have solved many of these issues, but thankfully they're not bad enough to suck all enjoyment from the game.
After hearing about THQ's quite brilliant decision to cast Hollywood A-listers Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper as the game's two human characters, looking for gold buried in the desert during the American Civil War, we had high hopes for Deadly Creatures' story. Sadly, the end result is something insignificant. While you're fighting for your life down below, up above these two guys are digging for treasure, in ground that has seen its fair share of death - something the very dead human bones you encounter testify too. From time to time you'll come within range of the humans and overhear them talking, which is a great way to tell a story. The only problem is there just isn't enough of it to be engaging. There's also a story of sorts down below, with a snake doing its best to become your arch enemy, but calling it a story might be stretching things a little too far.
There's a lot of talk about how third-party publishers don't make the most of the Wii hardware, and Deadly Creatures somehow manages to both live up to our low expectations and exceed them. From an art design standpoint Rainbow has done an excellent job. The world it's created puts you in a desert location, just a few centimetres off the floor, with everyday items dwarfing you quite magnificently. From time to time you'll even get to see the only two human characters in the game, standing like giants that tower high into the sky. The soundtrack used throughout is superb too, helping create an eerie atmosphere, and there's plenty of unpleasant bug noises for the squeamish to freak out over.
Sadly, with all the good comes the expected bad. The biggest visual nasty comes from the game's often sluggish frame rate, which will hitch up during seemingly dull moments. The environments you run around in aren't the most detailed you'll ever see either. They certainly do their job, but at times they're too barren, even for a desert. Add to this a host of general bugs. We frequently hit enemies so hard that their bodies managed to move through walls and the camera often gave us an unpleasant look at what was under the surface our character was stood on.
Even with its control issues and visuals flaws, Deadly Creatures is a fun game that offers far more than your average hack 'n' slash, and is something of a rare breed on the Wii. Had Rainbow managed to solve a few of the combat problems and tidied up the presentation (and squeeze in a better story) THQ would have had one of the console's best games on its hands. For that reason it's a shame we've ended up with just an extremely competent and enjoyable one.