An action-adventure game with RPG-lite elements, The Baconing begins with DeathSpank upon his throne, he has grown bored and tired of having no challenges to face. He has helped all that were downtrodden, defeated the undefeatable and put on all of the magical thongs. But suddenly, and much to DeathSpank’s satisfaction, the city is devastated by giant mechanical beasts. A worthy adversary – at last!
It turns out that wearing all those magical thongs at once has not only made him a superhero but warped time and space to create his ultimate foe – AntiSpank. In essence, little has changed since the last title. DeathSpank can equip four weapons at once, with four items available as shortcuts via the d-pad, and he still jogs merrily across the land, completing a range of tasks from reinstating a corrupt official, trying to get into a golf club reserved for the Gods and even destroying a bus of anti-gambling monks. A second player can also join the tale locally and choose from one of his side-kicks.
Like many children’s programmes from the ’80s and early ’90s, there are themes here that appeal to all ages. Younger audiences will laugh at the daft accents, bizarre monsters and the idea of a hero wearing multiple thongs, whilst older audiences will see the darker themes – the repressed woman unaware of a cheating husband, the dangers of gambling and how doing good can cause more trouble down the line.
In one quest, you’re tasked with helping a ‘repressed woman’ whose family has gone missing and whom can’t venture outside of the kitchen to find them. It turns out that the husband figure considers himself too manly to hang around the house and has been out building. What his devoted wife doesn’t realise is that he’s been creating a giant bed and pleasure bots to spend his days with. There’s the young boy who, through all his neuroses, just wants a friend, – in this case a four-legged, two-headed friend,. And then there’s the young daughter who’s been welcomed to the world of adult pleasures by something … not quite human.
With two children, their family surname (Nuclear) is both a joke on the American Dream and the fact they give off glowing explosions when angry. Like the writer Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe, HotHead Games uses their colourful land to poke fun at and make passing commentary on our own world.
As well as making numerous nods to a range of films such as Conan, Hot Fuzz and Planet of the Apes. Always subtle, many of the references will go over the heads of those that haven’t seen the movies. Yet all of these borrowed ingredients simmer together like one extra spicy chilli to create another absurd landscape that both adults and children alike can enjoy. Unfortunately it’s been left to simmer a little too long and some elements have now burnt to the bottom of the pan.
The opening and first main quest displays the game’s weakest elements. With no introduction to the controls, new players will be left confused and frustrated. Having a remix of the second game’s ending would have offered a quick recap and more importantly allowed newcomers to join in, showing the controls via an introduction that teaches the new abilities and changes. Instead the game starts of with a horde of orcs pouring into the room screaming, with no mention of how to attack or defend.
The rare case when a game gets better as it goes along, gaining the experience to hit level eight after the first main quest saw the weaponry, environments and combat finally come together. But for the third title in a series this is a glaring error, as the same combat music theme rings in the brain and reminds you that you’ve played this all before. If this was all-new music, like the catchy number with the clapping chorus and keyboard, then it’d be a step in making the series fresh again.
Defence has been expanded this time, with the ability to deflect incoming fire back at the enemies. This works fine, however, the ability is now at the forefront of all combat. And fans will no doubt die several times due to the shift in power to the ranged enemies who are both numerous and powerful, built to be defeated via this new shield ability.
While you can still charge in and hack them down, deflected shots usually take them out straight away. So what happens is combat dissolves into a cycle of holding block, taking reduced damage, and then timing the release of the shield to deflect fire back before finally taking care of the close-combat enemies that will have then surrounded you.
Carefully placed explosive barrels show that the developers were aware of this and aimed to help the player take out the hordes, allowing a carefully placed shot to clean out whole groups at once. The enemies are also unbalanced; creatures a few levels above you are easy to take down but then lower level foes will suddenly take you out with a few unblocked blows. Respawning occurs at the local Outhouse, also used for transporting between areas, and does lessen the frustration of death a little.
The inventory remains the same, doing the job via the standard screens: equipment, map and quests. These can be entered via a general menu or through shortcuts for each screen. The ability to have the best armour automatically equipped continues but isn’t expanded upon. The same should be available for weapons, guns, potions and other item sets. Older armour that’s automatically replaced should be instantly grinded for cash too, as there is no longer a purpose to them.
Many of the quests will require items to be used or combined, much in the same way as a point’n’click adventure. This is both a positive and negative: it gives the player freedom in solving puzzles but feels obtuse at times. If you don’t hold the correct item you’ll still be taken to the inventory menu, rather than being told that you don’t have what you need. Luckily, collected fortune cookies can be used to unveil up to three hints per quest, helping anyone that gets stuck searching for a pot to collect spit or finding out who murdered the God of Orphans.
All of these faults are carried over from the previous games and inherent with the DeathSpank bloodline. None of them ruin the undeniable fun you’ll have but are all unnecessary nuisances. Outside of combat, the biggest issue is the linear development of characters and events.
At times you’ll want to go off and explore, and during this diversion you’ll encounter empty areas. It was then that I’d sigh to myself; it was clear that I’d be staggering back here in ten minutes time once I’d activated the quest via a set conversation. Enemies and items should not magically appear, but instead should always be there, giving you the ability to be a real hero, encounter new areas and have the satisfaction of discovering sights before you’re forced to backtrack through a linear environment.
In context, though, no one would be complaining about the same visual style and small game mechanic changes if this was the third episode in a point’n'click series. And with that in mind, The Baconing does what it aims to do. Still, newcomers would do best to check out the first title. Those that have loved the series so far will no doubt have the niggling feeling that this was an unnecessary addition; one that risked tarnishing the work so far.
The Baconing‘s witty, daft and fun, but also doesn’t do enough to improve on the faults of the previous entries in the series, and in some cases pushes those issues to the forefront. The bacon is now well cooked and about to burn. And yes that pun was just used, but in DeathSpank’s world, that’s all right.