Thursday, September 2, 2010

DOWN BOY! the story of a man and his shank... and the people he shanked

Suffice it to say, this bar far is one of the prettiest games I have played in a very very long time. I first heard about it at PAX 2009 when the developers (still without a publisher) were showing off this retro styled side scroller filled to the brim with bullets and bloody violence! Struck with awe I followed their Dev blog to get any and all info about this game. Finally got in on XBOX Live Arcade and played the hell out of it... here is my review.

Setting: The entire backdrop of this game is a piece of art in its own right. The the backgrounds are beautifully hand drawn and blend so well with the character models. In particular its how they approach scenes like the image above, lighting is actually pretty dynamic in this game... especially for a side scrolling beat em up. The sunset bridge scene pretty much dropped my jaw when I first played it, and I found myself failing time and time again because I wanted to stare at the backdrops longer. I found all the levels very well designed and really enjoyed the dynamic of shifting from climbing walls to running and even the parts where Shank has to slide down an embankment or ledge and jump to at the right time, lest he face a gruesome death. The levels design had its challenging points and at the same time was very easy to navigate. The placement of certain ledges where gunmen shoot down at Shank while he's being bum-rushed by what I can only surmise as an army of crazy motherfuckers created some pretty intense gameplay set pieces. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed everything from the times I executed an awesome combo to when I got my ass handed to me by a hooker with a giant staff... yes there are hookers with giants staffs. 5/5

Graphics: The visuals are gorgeous! The character models to the backgrounds and also the fluidity of the animations make this game an absolute treat for the ocular sensory inclined. While the gameplay may be reminiscent of classic beat em ups like Final Fight or Double Dragon, they never looked this pretty. The characters remind me of those classic cartoons on Cartoon Network like Samurai Jack and Dexter's Lab. Strong, pronounced outlines with lots of vivid color. Throw in some very over the top blood effects and some pretty graphic deaths, and we have Shank. The hand drawn models carry enough variation to not feel too much like killing the same guy 1,576 times, and I appreciate that they took the time to make several different character models of the same enemy type (not just cheap color palette swaps). You'll find yourself playing this game again and again, solely for the visual orgasm. Looks like I'll play it again after I finish this review. 5/5

Gameplay: Controlling shank is fairly simple. Each face button controls his quick melee attack, strong melee attack, shooting, and jumping respectively. Block is mapped to LT/L2, with grenades to LB/L1. What adds a bit of dynamic to fighting with Shank is using the RT&RB/R1&R2 buttons. RT/R2 makes Shank lunge and grab an opponent, where at this point you throw in a combo or shove a grenade in his mouth, this makes for a great way to neutralize some of the bigger regular enemies that seem to be able to take alot of punishment before being knocked down. With RB/R1, Shank pounce on an enemy, at this point you can punish the poor bastard with your repertoire of weaponry and even control the oncoming crowd by firing your gun at oncoming enemies. Now here is the part where I get critical, the charm of the control scheme does the trick and is alot of fun to play, but like any beat em up, it can get old pretty fast. There only so much you can pull of and without much variation this ends up playing alot like a repetitive button masher. Now I'm not knocking the formula, I loved the control scheme of Scott Pilgrim (check the last review) and how they broke the monotony with some easy Street Fighter esque moves built in with the existing combo system. Now while the overall combo system of Shank is better, the repetitiveness of it does drop it a point. Also, the lack of an online multiplayer for the Co-op campaign is somewhat disheartening, much like how I wished they had it in Scott Pilgrim, I doubly wish it was here... I mean they did it in Final Fight! C'mon devs, there's gotta be a patch to let me Shank bitches with a friend yeah? 3.5/5

Story: There really isn't much story here but the cut scenes are very well integrated into the gameplay. They're not in game graphics but still retain the Saw meets Dexter's Lab appeal of the gameplay. But my complaint isn't how the story is portrayed but the story itself. A revenge tale about a man who hunts down the people who killed his beloved and drove him to a maddening murderous craze prompting him to Shank hookers and dogs and all the other low life denizens of this world he's from... we've heard it all before. Whether it's the tame "you kidnapped my girlfriend/daughter/unrequited love" of Final Fight to "you killed my g/f and now I'm gonna kill you" type of story arc, it's been done and honestly I found myself caring less about the story as the game progressed and more about the gameplay, it was just cheesy, like eating a grilled cheese sandwich with extra cheese using sourdough asiago cheese bread and a side of mac and cheese... the story cut scenes and dialog were wrought with cheesy lines and sub par story development. I'll give credit where it's due and say that the story did not detract from my enjoyment, but it was pretty much a throw-away. 2.5/5

overall 4/5 GREAT GAME!

Sure the story wasn't the best and the gameplay can get repetitive, the campaign itself is fairly short and doesn't really have the length to make the shortcomings of the total package affect the overall package. I enjoyed this game very much and I think you will too! Give it a download on XBOX Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.

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