Deadly Creatures (Wii)
We're supposed to applaud any effort at originality in videogames these days. Any deviation from the usual teenage comic book ideas must be treated as an act of artistic courage: "These people spent not just creative effort, but money -- money! -- on something the public might not want!" Well, God bless them. But the overlap between an original idea and a good idea is not as big as one might think.
Take Deadly Creatures. It's an action game for the Nintendo Wii marketed to the "hardcore" gaming audience. Yet it's not set on the battlefields of a far-away space war, or in some evergreen hamlet where dragons threaten the local hemp crop. And the game features A-level acting talent -- Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper. I can hear you scrounging around for an un-maxed credit card. Don't bother.
If games are about living out our fantasy lives, Deadly Creatures fails on the most basic level: Never have I wished that I could be an arachnid crawling around on the desert floor, killing rats and lizards. Yet, that's the idea here, having you switch off between a furry tarantula and an up-armored scorpion as they battle other vermin.
The story takes up approximately two-and-a-half minutes of this six-hour game. The marquee acting talent? Billy Bob and Hopper turn in, at most, an afternoon's worth of easy-money work voicing a couple of amoral rednecks searching for a stash of gold in the desert. Your little avatars just happen upon these characters at key moments in the story.
The rest of the time, it's you and a thousand escapees from the zoo's entomology exhibit playing survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, the creepy-vs.-crawly combat feels clumsy, from simple quick attacks with the buttons to Hail Mary Wii Remote gestures. There is no flow to combat, and over time you don't develop the satisfying feeling of competence and skill that a good action game is all about.
The spider stumbles upon a mildly interesting heist movie featuring Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper.
For the most part, the levels in Deadly Creatures are sparse and ruthlessly vague. The desert setting, which makes up three-fourths of the game, is full of dull, loopy tunnels and secret dead ends (unless you really wanted that unlockable concept art). The promise of exploring the world with a character that can walk on walls and ceilings is dashed by infuriating inconsistencies in what is accessible. Sometimes you can climb up a surface; sometimes you can't. Invisible walls create lazy boundary lines. Often, your spider character will be able to swing onto a spider web far away, while being shut off entirely from a web nearby. It must be difficult to design environments for characters that can crawl over almost anything, but this just doesn't cut it.
Spoiler ahead: This game allows you to pilot a scorpion into the crotch of a bad guy's jeans and sting him in the junk. It's easily the highpoint of Deadly Creatures. I appreciate it when a publisher is willing to throw some money at an untested idea, but now this idea has been tested. Next!
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.