Deathspank is a platform for creating jokes. It uses the framework of a Diablo-alike role-playing game to hang gags from, but that’s what you’re here for. The fact that Monkey Island developer Ron Gilbert’s name is attached to the whole thing is what’s going to make you pay attention, and because of that you expect a certain amount of humour. And it’s there, keeping you on a level of constant amusement that occasionally bubbles over into laughter.
There’s a nonsense story in there about Ancient Evil and Kidnapped Orphans that moves from Demon Mines to Enchanted Sinister Forests, and the look of the game is as much of a facade as the premise; all the buildings are just cardboard cutouts, and it looks like the sky is on a runner, but that’s part of the joke.
All of the genre tropes get whacked. Fetch quests are rife, but they’re accompanied by Deathspank’s assumption that he must do these things, for he is A Hero, and that’s what Heroes do. It’s this brazen, cavalier stupidity that makes it all gel. By the time you’re presented with a retired hero asking you to finish off his ‘Kill Ten Turtles’ quest by killing the remaining seven, because he so desperately wants the experience, you can’t help but chuckle.
The item roster isn’t huge, but each of the items is nevertheless a joke of some kind – ‘Fire Axe 3: Fire’s Revenge’ and ‘The Broadest Sword’, for example. The humour in Deathspank is so pervasive, so unrelenting, that you’re rarely forced to dwell upon the game’s major downpoint: the combat.
Fighting is a mess of desperate clicking and trying to remember how the whole thing works. If you alternate your weapons, you build a combo, which increases both damage and critical chance. Except that requires precise timing, which isn’t something a Diablo-alike lends itself to. There’s blocking, too, although that’s so infrequently necessary that by the time you actually need to use it, you’ve got no idea how. Perfect Block? How on earth do I do that?
Throw in some enemies that need to be taken out from a distance if you don’t want to lose a bunch of health, as well as a criminal lack of useful ranged weapons, and there’s a good deal of frustration to be had. I only hit a slow patch a few times, but it was enough to make booting up the game something I didn’t want to think about all that much. At least until I hit the next joke.
So you’re left with something that’s funny, full of character both visually and verbally, and which has a mildly frustrating combo system piled on top. For the level of amusement I derived from Deathspank, I think I can live with that. There was something about thongs in there too. Thongs are pretty funny.
A parody that’s funny throughout, Deathspank only struggles when the game gets bogged down in combat.