A few years back, Hothead games (makers of Penny Arcade Adventures) collaborated with Ron Gilbert, who many will know was one of the creative minds behind Monkey Island, in order to produce DeathSpank, a series of action-RPGs meant to be both a tribute to and parody of games like Diablo. Set in an over-the-top fantasy world, DeathSpank was all about hacking, slashing and questing, but its self-aware and patently ridiculous style won it quite a few fans.
Though we initially overlooked the first two games, Hothead have been steadily churning out DeathSpank games since 2010. The third and most recent in the series, The Baconing, was released last summer. Dropping the usual DeathSpank prefix for reasons not entirely clear, and the first game in the series not to be contributed to by Ron Gilbert, The Baconing is an by-the-numbers action-RPG which relies more on its humor than its compelling gameplay to keep things moving. While entertaining, ultimately the game suffers from several issues with its game mechanics and design, and depends on its witty dialogue and characters a bit more than it should.
I will admit right off the bat that The Baconing is my first game in the DeathSpank series. As such, my frame of reference for the game is different than those who have played the previous games. I have done my research, though, so have a pretty solid idea of what's new and what's not so new.
Story? What's That?
DeathSpank, the game's hero, is basically the ultimate stereotype of the big, dumb good guy. Dressed more like a Marvel superhero than a fantasy game protagonist, DeathSpank's bravado is only matched by his general ineptitude at anything other than hitting monsters with big weapons. The game opens with him living in the lap of luxury after his previous world-saving outings in the previous two titles. Unfortunately, his previous quest to collect the Thongs of Virtue hasn't been so successful after all - his simultaneous wearing of the all undergarments has caused the creation of an opposite version of himself, the AntiSpank. DeathSpank's quest thus requires him to destroy the Thongs of Virtue in the legendary Bacon Fires throughout the land to weaken his nemesis. Does it make any sense? Not in the least, but then, it doesn't really need to.
The story in The Baconing is really just an excuse to get the player from once ridiculous setting to the next, and to give a series of sub-goals to work towards. Apparently technology moves forward at an alarming pace in DeathSpank's world, as now the game is set in a more-or-less modern time period (although computers still seem to run on punch cards). This new theme gave Hothead more opportunity to expand the game world. My favorite area was probably Barnacle Lake, a more non-linear section where DeathSpank has to captain a pirate ship from island to island. Others, like the Irish-themed, leprechaun-filled Rainbow's End casino, feel a little under-developed in comparison, but are still absurd enough to be entertaining and offer nice visual variety.
Spanking Out Death
As I mentioned earlier, The Baconing is a very standard action-RPG - the game employs a top-down perspective and more or less plays out in two dimensions. The Baconing is built almost entirely around combat, although you will have to solve a few adventure game-style puzzles along the way - Hothead clearly showing their roots here. There's a good sense of pacing as you'll never stay in a given location for too long, doing the same thing over and over, as new quests, characters, and puzzles appear pretty regularly. If there's one complaint I have about the non-combat stuff, is that it's a bit heavily reliant on fetch quests. The game is at its best when you're working out its puzzles or figuring out which order to complete tasks in, and no amount of dialogue can make "collect 14 bundles of felt for me" any more interesting than it sounds.
When you are fighting, you have a few options available. Melee attacks are obvious enough, but ranged attacks are surprisingly useful, as they can be charged up to fire explosive rounds, or in an arc based on the weapon you have, and the damage they do can be considerable. As you do damage, you fill up a "Justice" meter, which allows you to unleash a special attack when filled - although these are limited to certain weapon types. It's pretty simple, but smart choices like making ranged weapons, grenades, and elemental weapons useful in different situations means you’ll need to take advantage of most of your arsenal.