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Deathspank was born to become a legendary hero. A fortune-teller proclaimed it, so it must be true, even though the seer failed to mention such vital statistics as when and where. Guided by the vague prediction, the masked vanquisher-of-evil dedicates every moment of life to fulfilling his destiny. His latest quest is to track down the "artifact," without a single clue as to what it may be, but a hunch that it could save the world.

Deathspank is either the bravest man in the world, or one seriously messed-up mental patient in tights. Emerging from one of the minds behind Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, Ron Gilbert, Deathspank is probably a little of both.

The cartoonish hack-n-slash has the humor of Gilbert's previous titles - our hero's signature piece of armor is the Thong of Justice - but bears more in common with games such Diablo and Champions of Norrath. Deathspank is likely to be a gear-junkie's playground, with "hundreds of items," according to Product Manager, Alex Charlow.

Each piece of gear is visually represented on Deathspank, which is always appreciated in this genre (hear that Diablo 3?). There will be silly items like the Weapon of Justice - a hammer made out of a handle and a boot - but there is also a wide range of serious, spiked, plated, buckled, and sharpened hunks of metal to wield. Instead of relying on traditional classes, Deathspank's combative abilities are largely dictated by his gear. If you want better melee-damage, find a better sword, and if you want better ranged-damage, find a better crossbow. There will be options for customization through Hero Cards. As you level up, you will be forced to choose from three cards, each with its own special ability.

The hack-n-slash is an old genre, but Hothead Games is finding ways to tweak and improve mechanics that haven't changed in a decade or more. Lost & Found tops the list. Don't you hate it when you're holding two awesome pieces of gear, but only have room for one? Check the Lost & Found box later, as any item left behind has a chance of being dropped off.

Another innovation comes by way of Fortune Cookies. When you're absolutely stuck on a quest, you can crack open a Fortune Cookie for a hint. If you still don't get it, you can try for a second, or third. If you still can't find the solution, perhaps you should try a different game.

The style of Deathspank is one-of-a-kind. It exists in a 3D world, with foregrounds, middlegrounds, backgrounds, and everything between, but it looks very much like a 2D side-scroller. This is achieved by using two-dimensional cutouts for all of the environmental objects, such as bushes, trees, and buildings. The effect is best witnessed, and looks like an after-school cartoon come to life.

Multiplayer is still under wraps, although I caught a glimpse of an option for a second player to join. I hope that online PvP makes it into the final version, but even without, Deathspank has more than enough style to have me intrigued.

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Brian Rowe
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