DeathSpank Hands-On

As the dispenser of justice, we hack-and-slash our way through the colorful world of Ron Gilbert's upcoming Xbox Live Arcade game.

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The last time we saw DeathSpank, Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert was still at Hothead Games, working to make DeathSpank "the most awesome game ever and have it win a Nobel Prize." Now that he has left the company, EA has picked up the game and will publish it through the EA Partners program. Gilbert came by our office not only to give a demo of the game, but also to give us the reins to slaughter some chickens for ourselves and chat with a few of the crazy characters in this "Diablo meets Monkey Island" XBLA game.

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As DeathSpank, you are a hero to the downtrodden, working hard to help people in need so that eventually you can obtain a precious artifact known as "The Artifact." It turns out that Heybenstance, a demon witch, has taken this artifact and sealed it away in the demon mines. The game starts off with you trying to convince the witch to help you retrieve the artifact, and along the way, you'll be sidetracked with random quests to fetch lips from chickens or pixie hair. Like Diablo, there's a lot of button mashing. You can also map any of the face buttons, as well as the D pad, to your arsenal of deadly weapons and delicious healing items. Non-player characters that you can interact with have a talking bubble over their heads, so anyone, including cows, can carry on a rather humorous conversation.

The part of the game that resembles Monkey Island has to do with the dialogue and the options you can choose whenever you start up a conversation. You'll likely take the time to pick all the different options just to hear what kind of oddball things the characters have to say. We started the game from the very beginning and spent the first few minutes fending off skeletons, as well as stoopid chickens. Silver treasure chests are littered throughout the world and hold useful items, but the gold chests require a key. Enemies are constantly dropping helpful items and there are plenty of barrels to smash for coins. You have a justice meter that is filled each time you take damage or deal it, and once it's full, you can unleash a special attack that is dependent on the weapon you're wielding. For example, your cleaver can do a powerful 360-degree strike, wiping out all the surrounding enemies. If you do happen to fall in battle, you'll respawn at the nearest outhouse with no penalty--other than the fact that you might need to do a bit of walking. The entire world is loaded when you start the game, so you don't have to deal with any loading times at all.

When you level, you get to choose from three hero cards that can boost your stats. You can hold up to six, so eventually you'll have to swap the skills around depending on your play style. This allows you to tweak your character based on how you play. Your menu keeps track of the important quests that you have been given, and they are the ones that advance the story. A log of your side missions is also available, and as you explore the various locations, you'll pick up fortune cookies, which can be used to give you hints for any quest. The way it works is that you use a fortune cookie to give you a vague hint on a particular quest. The more cookies you spend (around three or four), the better the hint gets. Eventually, they'll basically tell you exactly what you need to do.

Likely not the strangest thing you'll come across in DeathSpank.
Likely not the strangest thing you'll come across in DeathSpank.

DeathSpank looks a lot more vibrant and rich since the last time we saw it. And the last time we spoke with Gilbert, he mentioned that it could take anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to complete. The game is expected to come out on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network sometime this summer.

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