When DeathSpank released on PSN and XBLA last summer it received no shortage of praise. Headed up by legendary Monkey Island designer Ron Gilbert, that title combined the strengths of adventure games with those of hack and slash titles like Blizzard’s Diablo seies. While there were some problems with gameplay execution, DeathSpank won gamers over with an irreverent sense of humor.
While The Baconing might not bear the moniker of its predecessors, DeathSpank is back. The hero to the downtrodden has put on too many undergarments and has thus brought on the apocalypse. He must cast the thongs into the fires of Bacon to stop the end of the world. Yes, it’s that typical sense of humor you’ve come to expect of the series. I wish I could say that the same quality was there. But that would be a straight up lie.
Most sequels attempt to recapture the magic that made their predecessors great in the first place, or better yet, improve upon it. In a curious turn of events The Baconing, however, does the exact opposite. Rather than improve upon the strengths of the previous titles, the game almost entirely revolves around combat — something that has never been one of the series’ strong suits.
Shifting focus away from the adventure game puzzles of the first two titles might have worked in The Baconing‘s favor had Hothead Games fine-tuned the combat. Unfortunately, rather than improve upon existing weaknesses, combat mechanics remain virtually unchanged from previous entries. As you might suspect, diverting time away from enjoyable bits to focus on the sub-par ones makes for a considerably less enjoyable game.
Quests are considerably less clever in nature and essentially all boil down to “go here, kill this”. While that sounds simple enough, fighting your way to your goal can be absolutely brutal even on the easiest difficulty setting. Quests will be going along smoothly when the player happens upon a particularly difficult group of enemies. These encounters lead to uncharacteristic spikes in difficulty that will send players back to the nearest checkpoint far too frequently.
One of the main culprits behind the frustrating combat is the ranged enemy. Archers attack from afar, slowly whittling health away while other enemies swarm the player with melee attacks. To solve this problem there is a shield bash attack that prevents damage for a few seconds repelling enemies and oncoming fire. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a way to retreat while using this ability. It’s all too common to find a fatal arrow in the back when retreating in desperation.
Also frustrating is the manner in which health is recovered. The number of health potions DeathSpank can carry at any given time is limited, so the majority of healing is done with food. Food heals you over time but unfortunately can’t be used in combat. This frequently leads to falling back to recover a bit of health, praying that a large enemy doesn’t come by and give you a smack, thus wasting your precious nibbles and sending you back to a checkpoint yet again.
Much of the fun in a hack and slash game comes from looting. Unfortunately the poor inventory system from the previous games also make a return. Menus aren’t clearly laid out and it’s difficult to tell which pieces of equipment are truly superior. Making something that should be one of the most fun elements of the experience into a frustrating, tedious one only continues to diminish an already disappointing experience.
It’s not all bad though. The art style, music and voice acting are all what you’ve come to expect of the franchise. Buried under the layers of frustration and inadequacy players will find glimmers of amusement. While not all of the jokes hit their mark, the irreverent sense of humor leads to a few genuinely comedic moments in an otherwise unenjoyable experience. Amongst all the excretory humor and innuendo are some hilarious commentary on politics, the state of the world, and tropes of the genre.
While some fans of the first two DeathSpank games might be willing to suffer through the sub-par combat to get that next pun, others will leave The Baconing with a bad taste in their mouths. This is a game that turns its back on what made its predecessors so fun to play in the first place. If you’re somehow still interested and have yet to play the first two games you’ll probably have more fun with one of those.