Death Jr. 2: Root of Evil - PSP - Review
Even the good ones couldn't make a name for themselves. Klonoa and Jumping Flash are two of the PSone's best titles, yet only a handful of people know, let alone care, that they exist.
Having been in the third dimension for over 10 years, action/adventures just aren't that exciting anymore – on game consoles. On handhelds, however, they're a much newer experience. Looking back on what developers did for 2D on the Game Boy Advance, it's only natural to expect equally good things from 3D games on the PSP and Nintendo DS.
Death Jr. II: Root of Evil takes a shot at being one of those memorable, groundbreaking games. It dares to be different, having a darker tone and more violent gameplay than most. The weapons are true weapons, loaded with ammo and targeted directly at your vicious adversaries. Water guns and vacuums – you won't find any of that nonsense here. But you will get to wield two pistols, set enemies on fire, and blast them away with a shotgun, Tommy gun, or rocket launcher.
In Open Season, Boog and Elliot playfully throw rabbits to stun enemies and trigger switches. In Root of Evil, you'll use hamsters as deadly explosives. C4 – the favorite explosive of many Metal Gear Solid fans – is strapped to the back of hamsters before they're let loose on your enemies. The hamster runs as fast as he can, seeking out the nearest enemy, and will explode as soon as he makes contact.
These weapons are just a portion of Death Jr.'s darker, semi-comedic antics, all of which are geared toward that illusive teen and young adult market that grew up with action/adventures but have since left them behind in favor of more viable franchises. (Fewer Mario sequels and lower-quality Crash, Spyro, and Sonic sequels have caused many to lose interest.) The story also reaches out to an older audience, starting with an amusing sequence of a grim-looking fellow at a fast food restaurant. He wants the usual artery-clogging materials, despite the fact that he doesn't have any arteries (or skin, for that matter – just bones). His gray skies darken when he, having realized the world is in danger once more, has to leave the restaurant to call upon the services of DJ and Pandora.
You pick one of the two anti-heroes just before the quest begins. Afterward, you're set free in a world not unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas. The worlds are eerie and dreary. Every day looks like Halloween. Giant, man-eating plants stand guard at scenario entry points, while combative mushrooms litter the waterways (a nod to the plumber brothers, perhaps?). Colors are generally limited to various shades of gray, dark red, and black. Fiery lands – usually looked upon as a place of light – are kept in the game's decidedly evil state with dark shades of orange and purple.
Anti-hero #1: DJ
Life sucks when you're the kid of a wanted mob boss. Fortunately for DJ, his dad went into a more ethical profession: he's the Grim Reaper. The hungry skeleton in the intro – that's him. He's taken captive by a character that could be described as a she-man Green Giant. I would have expected him to offer me some canned goods had he not spoken with such an effeminate voice.
DJ comes pre-equipped with a freshly sharpened scythe, the perfect enemy-slicing weapon that doubles as a tree-remover. In between platform jumping, vine sliding, and hook swinging, DJ will have to cut down a few trees that block his progress. Though his actions may seem damaging, there's no need to call an environmental group – it's just polygons.
Knowing the value of a good weapon when he sees one, DJ can pick up and use a small selection of weapons: Icer (freeze and shatter enemies), Proximity Gas Mine (a deadly trap), and the self-explanatory Electric Gun. DJ also has access to the aforementioned shotgun, rocket launcher, flame launcher, and C4 Hamster.
Anti-hero #2: Pandora
What's inside her box? An arsenal including non-stop destruction (Tommy Gun), explosive ice (Freeze Gun), a deadly booby-trap (Shiny Sparkles), and a burning sensation that no enemy can deny (Flamethrower).
Pandora's weapon of choice is a whip. It whacks enemies with different animations, but the attacks and combo results are typically the same. Like DJ, Pandora can swing from mysterious hooks that appear for no reason. She can spin her whip quickly to hover over great distances (DJ can do the same with his scythe). Both characters will use their respective weapons to launch themselves up to platforms that would otherwise be too hard to reach.
Through the Cracks
Death Jr. II had the makings of a hit: two characters, new worlds, and an entertaining story. The story lives up to its promise of delivering something creepy, humorous, and different. The rest, however, does not meet expectations. DJ and Pandora start out feeling as smooth and responsive as any platform leader, but quickly become an uncomfortable mix of button confusion and camera management. Swinging, jumping, and gliding – three elements that should be second nature to nearly everyone – do not come across very well. I've played every action/adventure I could get my hands on since 1989. It doesn't take me long to get used to a game's controls when they're done right.
It’s hard to judge which is the bigger problem: the fumbling controls or awkward stages. The world design, though clever in its look and presentation, is very dull. You're stuck following a linear path, with exciting moments being a rare occurrence. Many of the platforms look the same. The screwy camera angles and bland colors can hinder your judgment, as can your lack of ability to press exactly the right button at just the right moment. I wasn't looking for simplicity. But this is an action/adventure meets third-person shooting. The adventure moments aren't all that adventurous – but shouldn't action and shooting have prevailed?
Review Scoring Details for Death Jr. II: Root of Evil
Death strikes twice in Jr.’s first sequel, but the result is not a game that’s twice as engaging. Action, platforming, running ‘n’ gunning – that’s all good in theory. The culmination of each element, however, is not that spectacular.
Death Jr. II’s interesting worlds are shot down by weird pop-up and fade-in effects.
Upper-tier voice-overs from a more professional group of actors and voice directors. The dialogue isn’t always funny, but at least it sounds good. Musically the game is missing a few beats, opting for a less potent soundtrack.
Either easy or frustrating. Death Jr. II fails to capture an element of challenge.
An action-adventure / third-person shooter combo meets the Grim Reaper and his son. Original, just not very effective.
Two-player co-op lets you and a friend finish the game together (assuming both players have the patience to stick it out).
Death Jr. II is essentially a kiddie game designed for an older audience – as if Crash Bandicoot picked up a machinegun and decided to shoot up the place. Unfortunately, when it comes to adult content, games tend to fall asleep at the wheel. You can’t make a choppy action/adventure, darken the imagery, add a less childish lead character, and expect players to come running.