Tuesday, 5 February 2013

REVIEW - Derrick The Deathfin (PC / PSN)

They're going to need a bigger boat

Poor old Derrick, you have to feel sorry for him really. There he is, swimming along engaged in an important chat with his parents regarding the dangers of man, when suddenly, and rather ironically, Boom! Momma and Poppa Deathfin are hoovered up into a giant pipe lowered into the salty depths by the greedy and immoral M.E.A.N corporation. After being cruelly emulsified and reduced to tins of Sharkfin Chunks, Derrick's poor parents are no more. Being a shark, little Derrick doesn't sit around blubbing, oh no. He swears vengeance and immediately sets out to avenge his family and end M.E.A.N. Corps continual polluting and plundering of the sea's resources.

Developed by Different Tuna, with financial backing and support from Channel 4 and Screen Yorkshire, Derrick The Deathfin is something very different indeed.

It is always a genuine pleasure to discover a game with a unique art style all its own, and Derrick's style is certainly that. Possibly the world's only video game made entirely from card and paper, the look is instantly captivating. From the titular hero to the many varied sea creatures, backdrops and objects contained within its world, everything has been lovingly hand crafted using paper materials. The cut-scenes are introduced by the artist's hands, putting together the game's characters and backgrounds much like the intro sequence for the popular South Park cartoon. Only instead of a selection of human oddballs, Derrick treats us to a selection of adorable box-like aquatic creatures. The results are extremely impressive and absolutely brimming with charm. I have not been this enamoured with a game's homemade appearance since the wonderfully wacky claymation antics witnessed in the underrated 'The Neverhood', a point and click adventure from 1996 – and its equally bonkers sequel 'Skullmonkeys'. The stages are bright, colourful, and full of amusing backdrops that lend the game a light hearted and playful nature. The music is also a joy to the ears, with some slightly leftfield breakbeat electronic tracks similar to those heard on record labels such as Ninja Tune and True Thoughts.

At its heart Derrick is a sidescrolling racing game. An eclectic mix of gameplay styles that plays like a hybrid mixture of Sega's Nights : Into Dreams and Ecco The Dolphin, with some Joe Danger thrown in for good measure. A set of traffic light coloured fish signal the start before you speed off in a mad dash to the finish line. You have a health bar that is constantly depleting at an alarming rate, like an exaggerated version of Wonder Boy (Adventure Island). The bar is topped up by munching other fish, crabs, dolphins, and even any humans foolish enough to be swimming in shark infested waters. Derrick is a hungry little blighter and can devour almost anything living that gets in the path of his jaws. As well as munching he can also perform a chomp-dash that propels him forward, mouth agape. Also on the menu are, bizarrely, broccoli and chillies. Broccoli restores health to the max, and chillies act as a turbo boost, firing Derrick forwards like a rocket as a jet of flames erupts from his sphincter.

Scattered around the levels are purple diamonds to collect, and burning tyres in the sky that Derrick can launch through (causing a mighty explosion). Getting a certain amount of these special items is required to unlock the next world, so you will have to search the nooks and crannys of Derrick's stages in order to find them all. Everything eaten or collected gives you points, and chain eating other creatures increases your multiplier. There are also pure racing stages that pit you against the clock, with no health bar to worry about.

In the course of Derrick's underwater globe-trotting adventures he sees himself traversing 4 worlds made up of 32 levels. These are Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Arctic. Each world has its own unique visual style, often with amusing backdrops such as donkeys and doughnuts. Each is guarded by a boss, an ocean beast much larger than our hero, but with its own Achilles Heel that must be exploited in order for Derrick to emerge victorious. There is also a puzzle style level on each world, but these are very short and usually only consist of moving one or two items around in order to wreak havoc on M.E.A.N. Corps' sea-raping machinery.

It is a fast and frantic game that is a great deal of fun to play, but let down by some slight niggles. For one, it never feels quite as fluid to control as it should. Derrick often clips the backgrounds and misses diamonds due to the loose controls. It lacks the smooth accurate flow of both Sega's Nights and Ecco games, and due to the game's speedy pace, can lead to some frustration. Also, while I appreciate that a hand crafted game is going to require much more effort and time to produce levels, it feels quite short. I polished off the game in a couple of days' casual play and was left wanting more. It is a great score chasing game, but due to a shocking lack of online leaderboards, it offers little incentive to return once you have completed all 32 levels.

Even with its flaws it is hard to speak negatively about Derrick as so many elements tick the right boxes. From the lovable characters and cartoony backgrounds, to the quirky tunes and little loading screen quotes, everything is designed with love and care and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Any developer that demonstrates such creativity and obvious passion for their work deserve high praise. The fact that the gameplay behind the eccentric presentation is highly entertaining for its lifespan only adds to its appeal. It may be short but it is most definitely sweet, and  I highly recommend you dive on in and enjoy a slice of aquatic joy.

The Good

  • Absolutely outstanding paper-craft visuals
  • Great soundtrack
  • Quirky sense of humour
  • Fast paced, fun 2D racing gameplay

The Bad

  • Controlling Derrick isn't as fluid as it could be
  • Rather short with little incentive to return

Developer : Different Tuna
Availability : Out now on PSN and PC
Price : £5.49 / $7.99