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JadeDragon's game reviews and playing tips: Sony PSP games
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Death Jr.

Review posted September 2005 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: August, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T for" Teen
Genre: Third Person Action/Adventure
Price: $39.99

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 in others.


Screen shots:

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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 steel.

- 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 for it.

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.

Fun Meter

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.

Total Score= 3.625 Dragons, 72.5%

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