LOS ANGELES--The original Death Jr. arrived to a lukewarm reception, but it was nevertheless successful enough to receive a sequel. While the sequel ditches a number for Root of Evil as its subtitle, there are a number of improvements that ensure it's a true follow-up, as opposed to a simple update. We take a hands-on with the PlayStation Portable action adventure to find out more.
The first Death Jr. had a charming sense of humour but was criticized for its nonexistent storyline. Clearly, developer Backbone was listening, as the second game features a much stronger sense of narrative. The antagonist of the game is a girl called Fury, who wants to be evil more than anything. Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tries, things always seem to turn out well for her, and she has to put up with being a good girl. She decides that enough is enough, and heads to a store to buy a "how to be evil" kit, which places her into a cocoon that will increase her evil rating.
This is where Death Jr. and Pandora come in. They just so happen to be looking for a cocoon for their science-fair project, and on the way home, they accidentally break the cocoon open and prematurely awaken Fury. Annoyed at her early awakening, she starts sucking the power out of people by putting them in cocoons in an effort to make herself evil. As you progress through the story, Fury becomes bigger and more muscular, until she begins to change form completely. The story will develop through the game using cutscenes and full-motion video, and to combat one of the criticisms of the last game, the team has just finished recording more dialogue for this game. Death Jr.'s dad is also set to make an appearance in the game, and the humour promises to be just as mature as before.
On the gameplay side, one of the first changes that the team made was to the camera. The shoulder buttons are now used to rotate the camera left and right, which eradicates the problem of being backed up against a wall and not being able to see what's attacking you. You can also strafe by tapping the two shoulder buttons simultaneously, which makes dodging enemy attacks easier than ever. You can still use Death Jr.'s scythe to swing off obstacles, and while movement is not quite as precise as we'd like, the new melee combos were satisfying to perform. Also, Death Jr. can perform chimney jumps, where he can bounce from wall to wall to climb higher.
There are 60 unique enemies in Death Jr.: Root of Evil, and the graveyard level we played featured a selection of mangled old toys to destroy. There is a new set of weapons for each character, as well--Death Jr. has a flaming toilet-paper launcher, which he can upgrade along with other weapons through the game. You can choose to play as Pandora, who has better platforming ability, and you can even play through the entire game in co-op mode over a wireless connection. There was a lot of lag when we tried this at the show, but the two characters complemented each other perfectly, as they can approach jumps and challenges in different ways. Pandora has a few cool weapons that can be selected with the D pad, including a flamethrower and "shiny-sparkleys," which can be used to distract the enemy.
The game has been in development for nine months now and has about three months to go before release in Q3 2006. We hope that it delivers on its promise, and luckily, we don't have to wait long for the full game to find out.