It's somewhat odd to think about, but Ron Gilbert's -- or "Ronzo" as we affectionally like to refer to him as -- last game was actually released almost 20 years ago. Sure, he has been involved with plenty of kids games, and there have been contributions to everything from Total Annihilation to Tales of Monkey Island, but his honest-to-god true last game for grown-ups was 1991's LeChuck's Revenge.
Fast forward to July 2010 -- after a year of embarrassments of riches for Mojoers -- and we have DeathSpank, Ronzo's RPG/action/adventure hybrid.
There is something decidedly old school about DeathSpank. I mean that not in a bourbon-swilling-grandma kind of way, but rather in a subtle and classy Pimm's-sipping-distinguished-uncle manner. It's a classy game; like a psychedelic Fable or a King's Quest on mushrooms. All three good reasons why our own elTee should enjoy it quite a bit.
In fact, DeathSpank is something any reader of this site should like. It might not be the adventure game some had hoped for, and I think someone might have mentioned they would have liked to see it on PC (it has since been released for the PC, woo!), but in the end this is a really fun game.
A large part of the charm comes from the titular character. DeathSpank is in many ways Guybrush Threepwood turned upside down. Both characters will do whatever it takes to reach their goals, and so be it if that means stepping on a few bodies.
However, while Guybrush was naive but clever, DeathSpank is someone who prefers to use his fists over his wit. In search of the Artifact -- pretty much a MacGuffin used to fuel the main quest -- you can guide the hero through more than a hundred missions in a very odd world, battling creatures and solving quests, and using outhouses as teleportation devices.
DeathSpank's universe really is something else. There are dozens of settings, ranging from a Dream Theater inspired forest to demon caves, all with their own distinct looks. And while the side-quests might be repetitive -- they almost exclusively center on killing and bringing proofs of the acts back -- the variety of the world makes the game feel fresh throughout.
There are plenty of inhabitants to interact with, and the rather hilarious Monkey Island style dialogue holds a high standard. The voice actors should get their share of the credit for executing their lines pitch-perfectly, and particularly Michael Dobson shines. His DeathSpank is a boasting, egotistical, clueless sap you just can't help but like.
Add the ever-present music, often quite rocking, and you have a downright strange and wonderful world, one that is very different from what we saw in Monkey Island but equally fascinating in its own right.
And again, to make it clear, this is not Monkey Island 2010: Repeating What I Did Last Time. This is, if anything, a continuation of Ronzo's canceled Good and Evil, a game that looked similar to DeathSpank. It is more RPG than adventure, with a simple but fun button-mashing combat system thrown in. There are some puzzles, certainly, but they are for the most part simple, and weaponry, armory, and leveling up are the more important aspects of the game.
DeathSpank is more than anything a crazy fun universe. It's quick and easy to pick up, yet highly engrossing; a gaming equivalent of crack-cocaine. You want to explore every corner of the world and interact with its inhabitants and kill its unicorns.
With a sequel coming out next month, the future is looking bright for us Ronzo-fans. Hopefully we won't have to sit here for another 20 years, waiting for a new franchise while discussing what the secret of the Artifact really is.
DeathSpank, meanwhile, is kind of brilliant.
A review by the Remster who can reveal "Ronzo" was first used in public on July 27nd, 2004.