DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue Review
Fans of the Monkey Island series have waited a long time for a new, original project from legendary designer, Ron Gilbert. With the decline of the traditional point-and-click adventure came a seemingly similar decline in Gilbert's fortunes and he became better known for his “Grumpy Gamer” blog rants than his published game titles. Thankfully, the release this last June of hit action/RPG DeathSpank, marks Ron Gilbert's successful and much-anticipated return. This month, the Grumpy Gamer keeps the comeback momentum going with the deliciously absurd DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue—aka DeathSpank Part 2.
When Thongs starts, we find our favorite mask-wearing hero held captive inside an Orque prison, spending his days peeling potatoes. Not satisfied with spending eternity with nothing but his thoughts and a pile of dusty tubers, he soon devises a daring escape. From then on, DeathSpank is back in business, once again questing (and delivering packages) for the mysterious, armored red-haired lady. This time he puts his thick-necked hunger for justice to work searching for the all-powerful Thongs of Virtue, six sacred relics which have since been corrupted by their morally unsuitable wearers. Himself the owner of one of these powerful thongs, DeathSpank sets out to retrieve the other five—no matter how disgusting that errand might turn out to be.
Anyone who's played the first DeathSpank will find Thongs very familiar. The hack-and-slash combat, the cleverly cylindrical, ever-rotating environment, the amazing cut-out art style, the killer music, the over-the-top voice acting, the overuse of hyphens...ahem. As in the previous title, a good chunk of the game is spent talking to NPCs and doing petty chores for them while the remaining chunk is spent equipping, unequipping and grinding up more armor and weapons than you can shake a banana hammock at. Rest assured, you still get to beat the crap out of everything in sight, combining runes with weapons to access special attacks and oh yeah, there's still that pointless rhythm attack feature that wants you to chain attacks by timing them to match on screen multiplier icons. What? Let combat mechanics get in the way of my mindless button-mashing? Never!
Few things of significance change in Thongs (wow, that sounds weird) but what does change are your ranged weapon and co-op options. In addition to Sparkles the wizard, a friend can now jump in and play as Steve, the unicorn-riding ninja (alias, bastard son of evil Lord Von Prong from DeathSpank the First) and both of you can use better ranged weapons this time around, the best being the retro space ray gun. While there aren't a ton of changes or upgrades to the game, there really don't need to be. If something's already great, then I ask you, what the heck's wrong with more of the same?
What's not to love about a game featuring emblems of power embodied as multicolored butt floss? Yes, that's an immature way to put it, but then again, so is Thongs. The writing is the best part of the game and the funniest bits involve humor so childish, you can practically hear the writers snickering. How many games send you on a mission to retrieve a damsel's “embarrassing feminine products”? Or contain a western town called “Strumfuquel”? (latter half rhymes with “buckle”) Or have the hero suggesting he and a certain lady of the night “ride the bologna pony”? These kinds of jokes, which are found throughout the game, are stupid and juvenile and totally great. Fans of Gilbert's past games will love them and will no doubt also love the many in-jokes scattered throughout the game (two words—library lady). Whether you're enjoying the absurd dialog or the similarly silly combat—you know, talking to people or beating the snot out of them, Thongs is a ton of fun.
That is, unless you're one of those poor, unlucky bastards whose fun is brought to a completely unexpected, screeching, metal-on-metal, grit-your-teeth-in-agonized-chagrin halt. Late in the game there's a show-stopping bug; a necessary NPC doesn't spawn where it should, thus preventing you from obtaining a certain very necessary item. It doesn't always happen, but if it happens to you it's game over. At this writing, Hothead Games is working on the problem, but there is still no fix and although they've suggested that loading a previous save might solve the issue, this suggestion isn't particularly useful since the game autosaves and few players are likely to have taken the (paranoid) time to make alternate saves on a separate memory stick.
Having had my DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue experience so painfully truncated by the aforementioned bug, it's hard to comment fully on the game. It is possible however, to say that going by the entertaining action/RPG elements and the unparalleled humor of the game to that point, that Ron Gilbert's still “got it”. Still, a bug that prevents players from finishing the game (and that as yet has no known fix) just can't be overlooked. DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, I so wanted to love you but alas, it wasn't meant to be.