DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue

I ought to preface this by mentioning that had I played Thongs of Virtue when it was first released – a few weeks after DeathSpank originally emerged – I probably wouldn’t be feeling quite as generous as I am having returned to the hallowed world of this comedy loot-em-up just this week.

That’s because Thongs of Virtue is the second (and third, according to Hothead) act in the DeathSpank story and as such, it’s almost indistinguishable from the first.

Events pick up where they left off with DeathSpank, having subjugated the evil Lord Von Prong to an almighty beat down at the hands of justice, heading north. Those having conquered the first game will find no reward waiting for them at the outset of Thongs though; it’s straight back to level 1 for all.

This time round, never-say-no quasi-hero DeathSpank begins amidst the unwelcoming battlegrounds of World War 2. With blood-red skies and burned out tanks dotted between smouldering cities, it’s a far cry from the lush meadows and blue skies that formed the fabric of the first game. But there’s plenty of vibrancy after the initial couple of hours. DeathSpank’s sophomore adventure boasts everything from dinosaur graveyards and snowy mountains to the Wild West and pirate towns and they each flaunt that same seductive hand-painted  look.

DeathSpank’s remains a wildly endearing world then, and it’s one rampant with curious personalities, dungeons and, of course, Orques (as well as dinosaurs, pirates, leprechauns, ghosts, robots, trolls and killer rabbits, to name but a few).

There are more boss fights this time – a feature tied to the narrative. With a distinct Lord of the Rings vibe, DeathSpank embarks on a hunt for the three evil thong wearers, culminating in an all-out assault on the North Pole. Boss fights are no more profound than the shallow combat elsewhere (button bashing ahoy) but the run-ins with the screwball bosses are all brimming with typical Hothead humour. As with the first game, comedy is the backbone of DeathSpank.

The only really new inclusions to Thongs of Virtue are a pirate ship you use to sail to a series of bite-sized islands Wind Waker style, and a selection of guns and bazookas. These ranged weapons work like the melee variety; assigned to one of the face buttons a quick tap or prolonged bash ensures any enemy within range suffers a wave of pain. Combat remains fundamentally simplistic (although there are some remarkable weapons, Shank’s Motor Saw is a highlight), but ultimately serves its purpose without becoming the focal point.

And DeathSpank’s quests remain of the pedestrian variety. You’ll deliver more parcels in 10-hours than the Royal Mail manage in a week and murder a country town’s worth of evil doers all in the name of reaching the next rank. But these proverbial quests are neatly folded within an exterior of shrewd writing, comedy and one delightful protagonist. If you’re not interested in the dialogue and interactions then DeathSpank probably isn’t for you.

But if you found yourself effortlessly falling in love with the endearing chump last time, you probably will again (assuming you’ve left a bit of a gap between plays).

Here’s the horrible hiccup though: regardless of how good it is, Thongs of Virtue is borked. Seconds before facing off against the final boss all that humour and pristine art amounts to sweet nothing because whisky-nosed Roodolph won’t drop the special earmuffs required for Santa-slaying. Wonderful dedication from everyone’s favourite reindeer perhaps, but without slaying Santa you can’t finish the game. Judging by the reaction on the net, this isn’t a particularly rare occurrence either (there’s a 50 page forum thread over at Hothead detailing the faux pas). But supposedly nothing can be done about it.

It’s criminal that such a wonderful game implodes at the final hurdle and a crying shame that nothing has been done to address the issue.

And so I’m in the unenviable position of having to not recommend a fantastic game. If you get lucky and make it through without stumbling across the glitch, DeathSpank’s latest quest to vanquish evil is every bit as rewarding as the first. Whether it’s worth the risk of never reaching the finale is another matter.

6/10

Having finished the game, so to speak, I did a little of that strange thing known as “investigative journalism”. According to the Hothead forums those playing Thongs of Virtue on the PC have nothing to worry about. Anyone who encounters the glitch on PS3 can send their save over to Hothead for a manual fix (link). A minor inconvinience but the fact that Hothead are going to the trouble of fixing individual saves is quite something.

As for the unlucky few afflicted by the 360 bug (less than 1% supposedly), you’re urged to get in contact with Hothead. The fine folk over at HH-HQ were deeply apologetic and – although for reasons supposedly beyond their control aren’t able to fix Thongs of Virtue on XBLA – they did offer me the choice of a previous Hothead game for free.

Full marks for customer service.

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