Good: Death and despair as humorous subject matters
Bad: Monotonous shoot-a-thon with a horrible camera
Source Material: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Psychonauts
ROBERT: In the wasteland of racing games and regurgitated franchises currently on offer for the PSP, Death, Jr. looks like an oasis. It’s not an update, an offshoot, or a sequel—and the game’s characters have a touch of Tim Burton’s gothic-horror-meets-Saturday-morning-cartoon style. But unfortunately, this oasis is a mirage.
Death, Jr. is basically a third-person shooter. You watch the action from behind DJ as he plows through an assortment of monsters with his arsenal of guns and trusty scythe. Or that’s how it would work—if the in-game camera weren’t completely inept. It has a knack for sticking in place (resisting your L button calls to regroup behind DJ) and dumbly staring at a wall as your health drains away.
The game has you mindlessly shooting away as you crawl along from one firefight to another through boxy, dull levels. Many of the stages are actually similar to those in Psychonauts for Xbox and PS2 (Meat World = Meat Circus, Suburbia = Milkman Conspiracy, Asylum = Asylum), but with none of that game’s subtle detail or charm. And don’t even think about storytelling, which rears its head here just long enough for a fart joke. Death, Jr. is DOA.
SHOE: I’ve never gotten motion sickness from playing a game...until now. Death, Jr.’s stages are dingy and dark (even with the PSP’s and in-game brightness levels maxed out), the viewpoint’s constantly whipping around like an indecisive spaz, and the motion’s all blurry and choppy—I couldn’t stand playing DJ for more than 30 minutes at a time.
OK, so you’re the masochistic type who’s willing to sacrifice his eyesight at an early age. Well then, you can look forward to a better experience further into the game when you get all the big guns (and the options to upgrade them into even bigger guns). But still, with the bland levels, generic PS1-era platform gameplay, and cheap enemies, you shouldn’t bother.
CHRISTIAN: Between the Tim Burton style and the Jhonen Vasquez (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Invader Zim) screwed-up-kids-in-school motif, I was hooked the first time I saw Death, Jr.’s concept art. I just wish the developer’s reach hadn’t exceeded its grasp. It’s a fun game, no doubt, but it’s way too focused on combat. PSP may be big and beautiful compared to Game Boy, but airplane glare left me unable to dodge and weave as precisely as the game requires. Death, Jr.’s tons o’ guns can make for frantic fun, but when the enemies have unerring aim, it’s cheaper than Christmas cards on December 26—especially when the controls are floatier than a Thanksgiving Day balloon.
The verdicts (out of 10)
Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.