Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beaten : Deadly Creatures

Two things I like but are rare in the videogame world - refreshingly new ideas, and hardcore games on the Wii - came together last month with the release of Deadly Creatures, a great little action - adventure game where the player guides both a tarantula and a scorpion through one of the most unique gaming experiences seen in this generation.

Arachnophobes stay away, as the realistic, creepy - crawly presentation was enough to make my wife say "Eeeeew!" when she would walk into the living room and catch me playing the game. The creatures (except for the two human characters, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper) and environments are lifelike, not cartoony, and the tension is hightened by superbly moody music.

The nunchuck is used to move and everything else is used to fight. This is a combat and exploration game, and there are a ton of moves and abilities to unlock as the player progresses through the it's ten levels. The controls work generally well, but some of the more sophisticed moves are hard to pull off with any consistency. I seemed to revert to more basic moves in the heat of battle and did just fine, and if I pulled off a complex combo move, more the better.

One move that vexed me at first was one for the scorpion where the player twists the Wii remote 180 degrees and the scorpion is supposed to burrow into the ground, and then burst out at enemies above. It took some trial and error to figure out that you had to twist it slow, lest it count as a sideways movement and thus result in a tail swipe.

Fortunately, the moves that players unlock are easily reviewed from the pause menu, so they can stop and look them up at their leisure. There are moves unique to each of the deadly creatures you contol, with the tarantula having some web-spinning and stealth attack skills and the scorpion being more of a tough-guy "tank", usually getting the best head-on attacks and killer combos.

There are finishing moves, too, presented with those old favorites of mine, quicktime events. Press C or Press A or move the Wii remote and nunchuck downwards all of a sudden, in response to onscreen prompts, to get great cinematic finishes on some of your foes. Those crunching sounds can be very satisfying after a long battle.

The foes are great, too - ranging from other spiders and scorpions to beetles, wasps, small lizards, mantises, and rats. Bosses include a gila monster, rattlesnake, and a redneck. There's enough variety in the foes and their attacks to keep it fresh, and they are often quite challenging.

The player has no control over which of the deadly creatures they are playing, which might seen like a bad design decision to some, but makes perfect sense when the big picture is looked at. The story of Deadly Creatures is a concurrent one of a tarantula and a scorpion, both taking mostly different paths to the same conclusion. Their paths cross sometimes, but usually only briefly.

So play alternates between the two for each level played and the story unfolds, very deftly and cleverly crafted. This leads to some backtracking through the same areas a few times in the begining of the game, which may lead some players feeling a degree of tedium, seeing those areas over and over again. Trust me on this - it's totally worth playing through those first six or seven levels to see the last three.

In addition, the design of the levels is very good, with some gravity-twisting, dizzying viewpoints reached in some areas thanks to the ability to climb up walls and ceilings. There were several "which way is up" points that reminded me once again of Super Mario Galaxy, and more recently Prey.

Saves are frequent enough to avoid frustration, and health (gained through eating grubs and crickets) is fairly easy to regenerate. There are collection quests (find all the grubs and green crickets) that are tallied up for each level, hidden areas where these things are stashed, and concept art galleries to unlock. Other bonus features include behind the scenes interviews with Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper.

Bravo to the folks at Rainbow Studios for creating such a unique and moody game, and kudos to the suits at THQ for taking a chance and publishing it. With this title and ones like Madworld, it seems like the long drought of great Wii games is over, and hopefully these games will do well enough to encourage more innovative and/or hardocre releases for the system.

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