game reviews and playing tips: Sony PSP games Read our review of the PSP here!
Review posted September 2005 by Corbie Dillard
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: August, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T for" Teen
Genre: Third Person Action/Adventure
It's certainly no secret that Death
Jr. has gradually become the great hope of PSP fans everywhere.
With PSP game releases trickling out over the past few months,
Death Jr. has garnered a steady growth of anticipation in
the minds of PSP fans. Death Jr. is probably best known as
being the first PSP game ever in development, but more recently
it's become better known for its increasing number of delays.
Having finally been released, the questions now are, "does the game live up to the lofty
expectations heaped upon it?" and "is the game what
the DJ fans have been anxiously waiting for?"
The storyline found in Death Jr. is almost as off-the-wall
as its characters. DJ (Death Jr.) and his classmates are on
a school field trip at the museum. The group wanders off from
the other classmates and finds a strange box that has never
been opened. Wanting to impress his girlfriend Pandora, DJ
opens up the box and unleashes a flurry of evil spirits that
quickly snatch the souls of each of his friends, leaving them
in a vegetative state. Now it's up to DJ to enter each character's
levels and locate the 4 missing pieces of their soul in order
to awaken them.
The characters in the game range from
mildly strange, to completely obscure. You have Stigmartha,
who, as you would assume, has the trademark holes in both
of her hands that begin to bleed whenever she becomes nervous.
Then there's The Seep, a creepy little character that resides
in a glass vat and cracks rude gestures from time to time.
Next up is Smith & Weston,
a rather creepy set of conjoined twins, who are the brains
of the entire operation. Pandora is the black-eyed girlfriend
of DJ, that's mainly responsible for the trouble they're all
in. Last but certainly not least, is Dead Guppy, which is…well…a
dead guppy that never speaks or moves. The voice work in the
opening cinema that introduces the characters and storyline
all feature excellent detail and some spot-on voice dubbing.
Unfortunately the game intro scene is pretty much the only
time you'll see them in this fashion. The few times you do
get to see the characters again during the game, they're relegated
to speech bubbles which greatly detracts from the personality
they feature at the beginning of the game. It's a minor fault,
and certainly not something that takes too much away from the
overall flow of the game's storyline.
Here's where the game might rub some
players the wrong way. DJ has a nice arsenal of firepower
and moves in the game, it's making accurate use of them that's
a little tricky. DJ gets to use a wide variety of weaponry,
ranging from regular projectile weapons, to flame throwers
and even the game's trademark exploding C4 hamsters. The
game allows you to use the "R" shoulder
button as a lock-on function, but it's difficult to use when
there are flying enemies above you or large number of ground
enemies approaching. DJ also has his trusty scythe, a weapon
that may seem to pale in comparison with the big guns, but
a weapon that's going to quickly become your best friend. DJ
can not only use his scythe for destroying enemies, but he
will also use it to navigate the tricky platform elements found
throughout the game. Using his scythe, DJ can grab onto ledges
to pull himself up, grab and glide on wires from platform to
platform, as well as do wall-grabs that allow DJ to climb normally
insurmountable ledges. That being said, many of these moves
work in conjunction with each other, so it's very easy to time
these moves incorrectly and end up pulling off the wrong move.
This will make initially playing the game a little unpleasant,
but as you get the timing down for pulling off these moves,
the control becomes much more intuitive and playable.
What would a review about a 3-D platformer
be without talking about the camera system? The game tries
hard to keep the camera behind DJ at all times. The only
downside to this is that sometimes that's not the best place
for it. The developers have set the "L" shoulder
button with a function, that when you tap the button, it automatically
centers the camera behind DJ. Sometimes this works, and sometimes
it doesn't. During the platform portions of the game you can
generally take the time to keep re-positioning the camera,
but when you're being barraged by large number of enemies,
it's very difficult to turn and face them only to have the
camera stay pointed in its previous direction. It's safe to
say that the camera will at times be more of a hindrance than
the actual difficulty of the game itself, but it really just
takes some getting used to.
Death Jr. has a very non-linear feel to it, giving you the
choice of which character's levels you want to play first.
Each character has their own hallway in the museum, complete
with 4 levels in each one. As you complete a level you will
receive one of four pieces of that character's soul. You'll
also unlock more powerful weaponry that will come in handy
in the ever-increasing difficulty of each level. Some levels
have bosses and some do not, but it's worth noting that even
the levels without a boss more than make up for it with the
sheer number of enemies they throw at you. For players concerned
about learning the large number of moves in the game, you need
not worry. The game allows you to play two training levels
that will give you a good opportunity to learn the tricky timing
needed to pull off most of the moves in the game.
While Death Jr. isn't going to set any new standard for video
game visuals, the game has a very appealing, cartoonish look
to it. The explosions and particle effects in the game are
easily the highlight of the visuals, with most of the backgrounds
sporting a slightly bland and unfinished look to them. The
cinemas in the game, the few there are, are spectacular and
look fantastic on the PSP's crisp LCD display, but these gorgeous
cut scenes only tend to highlight the lack of detail displayed
in the other parts of the game. All of the characters, especially
DJ himself, animate fluidly and show a good amount of detail.
Since the game has a very dark look to it, especially early
on, the developers have given players the option of setting
the level of brightness in the game. You'll find this especially
helpful in seeing many of the enemies that will confront you
in some of the darker areas.
The music in Death Jr., although quite fitting, never seems
to take off the way you might expect it to when you first play
the game. It has enough spooky overtones to it, and can be
quite enjoyable at first, but it never seems to change in tempo
or variety enough to stay fresh. It also doesn't seem to fit
in with some of the intense levels in the game, at times feeling
like it's trying to hold the game's pace back somehow. The
sound effects try to make up for these musical shortcomings,
with some intense explosions and gunfire noises, not to mention
some absolutely fantastic voice acting at the beginning of
the game that somehow seems to get lost after that. Maybe Backbone
should have spent more time on the music than their cutting
edge PSP particle engine.
It's safe to say that any platformer or third person shooter
fan should give Death Jr. a try. The game has a lot of playability
to it, and despite some nagging camera and control issues,
is still an extremely enjoyable experience overall. Sure there
are areas of the game that lack the polish we'd like to see,
especially in a game that's been in development as long as
Death Jr. has, but it also can't be overlooked that at its
core, Death Jr. is still a solid and very playable game that's
also one of the few truly original and exclusive titles available
for the PSP at this time. For those that we're looking for
Death Jr. to be the PSP's first truly killer app, you may instead
find a game that shines brightly in some areas and dims a bit
Playing Hints and Tips
- DJ's scythe comes in really handy in close-quarter situations
so don't be afraid to tuck the big guns away and whip out the cold
- If you're having trouble with some of the moves or weapons in
the levels, take another run through the museum's training levels
as they'll show you all of DJ's moves as well as familiarize you
with the different platforming techniques of the game.
- Don't be afraid to unload on enemies as there are plenty of power-ups
strung throughout each level to refill your ammo supply.
- When you're jumping to a platform that has an enemy on it, be
sure to allow Death Jr. to firmly land on the platform before you
start swinging your scythe. If you attack too soon you'll likely
go flying off of the platform.
- Grabbing onto ledges using the scythe can be tricky. Just remember
to almost instantly swing the scythe after you've hit the jump button.
It's all about the timing, and it takes some practice to get a feel
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Although Death Jr. has some wonderful
moments visually, the majority of the game looks just above
PS1 quality and lacks any serious texturing or detail. It's
worth noting that the graphical style, while not groundbreaking,
does seem to fit the offbeat style of the game. The cut-scenes
in the game are the visual highlight, but it would have been
nice to see more of them.
The music in the game is definitely different
and does have certain catchiness to it, unfortunately there's
not enough variety to the different music tracks. The voice
acting in the game is outstanding, but it seems to disappear
after the opening scene.
Once you get past the quirky camera angles
and touchy controls, you'll see just how much fun Death Jr.
can be. Great platforming elements mixed with some intense,
and sometimes hilarious action, all come together to form one
of the more enjoyable action titles for the PSP.
Since you are graded on your performance
in each level, it's worth a return run through them to see
if you can get the best rating. Load times are extremely short
and almost non-existent in some areas, which makes picking
the game up and playing it quick and easy. The bottom line
is the more you play Death Jr. the more fun it becomes.