Deadly Creatures Review
Unless you just can’t get enough of mini-game collections, lame licensed titles, neutered ports, and fitness “games” then your Wii library probably doesn’t stand more than 12 games tall. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Wii when it gets it right—No More Heroes was one of my 2008 favorites—but more often than not I find myself powering up the competition’s consoles because that’s where the good games are at. Thankfully 2009 looks like the year I could be changing the batteries in my Wii-remote; a slew of promising mature titles, core gamer games, and original offerings are in the pipeline. And while many are waiting for the Wii’s newfound appeal to begin with the release of the gore-fueled Mad World, I urge them to begin re-breaking in their Wii-waving skills right now with the recently released Deadly Creatures.
THQ’s out-of-nowhere release steps out of the console’s comfort zone to offer an original, engaging effort that’ll remind you what the family-friendly platform is capable of. At first glance the stars of this inspired title might trick you into thinking you’re playing another game aimed squarely at the 12-year-old boy demographic; it features a tarantula and scorpion in the title roles, and all the peripheral characters come from the same creepy crawly family. But this is no cartoony Bugs Life or Antz rip-off; the multi-legged protagonists of Deadly Creatures are more reminiscent of what you might see in a skin-crawling National Geographic special than in a Pixar flick.
Players control these realistically rendered creepers through 10 chapters, using them to navigate lovingly detailed outdoor environments and beat the hell out of other bugs. You begin as the hairy tarantula, but then alternate between it and the scorpion at the start of each level through the remainder of the adventure. Both have unique attacks and powers that are a good deal of fun to master. Simple strikes include a sting of the scorpion’s tail or a quick spin of the spider’s body, but more advanced moves such as the scorpion’s ability to burrow into the dirt and lie in wait for an unsuspecting hornet to land close by, add depth to the bug-versus-bug battles. Boss encounters also mix up the pace and further ramp up the attacking arachnid action with some inventive face-offs. Very early on you’ll take on a rattlesnake, but rather than playing the offensive, you’ll need to dodge the slithery foe’s attacks, forcing his face into a prickly cactus.
From rodents to reptiles, you’ll be tasked with taking on plenty of your larger enemies, but it’s also fun to pick on the little guys, too. Munching on grubs will restore your health, snacking on enough crickets—which can be tough to catch—will permanently extend your life bar, and fighting all sorts of other antennae-sporting, wing-flapping, web-spitting pests will keep your critter busy and help you unlock new moves. Fighting with the motion-sensing controls is fairly intuitive, too, with the exception of a few moves that don’t always register your Wii-mote inputs correctly. This frustration is pretty common-place in most Wii games, though, so it shouldn’t serve to pull players who are accustomed to this hardware flaw from the action.
Deadly Creatures is also one of the better looking Wii games I’ve seen in awhile. I’ve already mentioned the scary realness of the bugs, but the levels can be just as impressive. With a story that mostly unfolds in the desert dirt, you’d think keeping things visually interesting would be a challenge, but the developers stick with an authentic vibe that works quite well. Nature elements like rocks and plants are well detailed, but it’s actually the inclusion of foreign objects that steal the show; passing a cracked cell phone, with LCD still flashing, looks very impressive, not to mention ominous from the perspective of a spider. Old sneakers, dirt bikes, and my personal favorite, a garden gnome whose broken stomach serves as a lair to some red-streaked spiders, add tons of unsettling atmosphere to the production. I actually would have enjoyed seeing many more of these human items; maybe they can stage the sequel in a cluttered basement or garage.
The rich visual presentation is nicely complemented by some equally engaging audio work. From the sound of little buggy legs scattering over the sand to the satisfying “crunch” of biting into a baddie, it’s absolutely oozing with squirm-inducing sounds. In fact, the marriage of disturbingly real fluttering wings and snapping pincers, with the well detailed modeling of the titular menaces, makes it easy not to recommend this one to arachnophobes—my wife wrenched her head in disgust several times while I was playing, and she didn’t even see the dead rat imprisoned by the spider web.
In addition to all the creepy crawly fun, Deadly Creatures weaves an engaging background yarn involving two backwoods bumpkins (superbly voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper) searching for some long lost treasure. Some of the game’s cooler moments actually see you passing by these two as they drop cryptic hints to the larger story; just wanting to learn exactly what they’re up to will keep you crawling till you’ve downed your last grub.
Deadly Creatures is not a perfect experience; there are the aforementioned control hiccups and the camera can get kind of crazy in close quarters combat. It’s also too easy to get turned around and lost in some of the darker underground environments—a help arrow is just a click away, though, and it will become your best friend. Despite its flaws, though, it’s also the best Wii title I’ve played in some time. I really dug the original concept, core gameplay mechanics, and interest-piquing storyline. If you’re looking for a refreshing respite from the Wii’s line-up of me-too mini-game collections and other familiar fare, you should let Deadly Creatures infest your game library.