The Baconing - Staff Review  

A Game of Thongs
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Everything that made DeathSpank fun is still here.
- Not much has changed, for better or worse.
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   Have you ever gotten so bored one day that you decided to put on six pairs of underwear, just for the hell of it? Of course you have! So too did the ever-vigilant hero of The Baconing, a man who needs no introduction as evidenced by the removal of his name from the game's title. In his latest adventure, DeathSpank, hero to the downtrodden, gets extremely bored one day and decides to put on all six of the Thongs of Virtue at once, inadvertently releasing the fiendish AntiSpank on the world.

   Like the previous two games in the series, The Baconing revels in the mockery of various genre conventions. DeathSpank himself is as ridiculous as ever, and although Hothead Games lost the creative talent of Ron Gilbert for this installation, the humor maintains the same irreverent and deadpan style that made the first two games so enjoyable. While DeathSpank originally parodied the fantasy and fairy tale genres, and the sequel Thongs of Virtue poked fun at more modern settings such as pirates, the wild west, and World War II, The Baconing has its sights set on science fiction, beginning in a Utopian paradise called SpankTopia and moving on to a Mad Max style wasteland, the mutated forest home of a family of mad scientists, and even the retirement community of the Gods (and trailer park of the damned.)

   For his part, DeathSpank has to journey throughout the land in search of Bacon Fire, the one thing capable of destroying the thongs and weakening AntiSpank. As per his usual routine, he encounters a wide variety of bizarre and completely insane people who ask him to perform trivial tasks in order to advance the plot. Many characters from the first two games reprise their roles in new ways as well. As with previous games, the ridiculous story is the primary drive of the game and the main reason to play it.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow! Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

   The core DeathSpank gameplay hasn't changed much in The Baconing, but a few key modifications definitely make it the most polished of the three titles. Combat is the same Diablo-esque hack-'n'-slash it's always been. DeathSpank can equip four weapons of various types, bound to the four face buttons on the controller. Typically he'll have a ranged weapon, two regular weapons, and a weapon of justice capable of unleashing a powerful special attack when his justice meter is filled. Timing and alternating between weapons can build up combos, increasing the justice meter faster. DeathSpank can also equip a variety of items such as grenades, potions, and food, which can be bound to the directional pad and have fairly obvious effects. Finally he has a shield that can be used to defend from attacks.

   While not a lot has changed here, two major modifications stand out as particularly noteworthy. First, DeathSpank's shield is infinitely more useful in this game than in the previous two. In DeathSpank and Thongs of Virtue, the shield could only be held up for so long before it fell, at which point DeathSpank would automatically launch a shield bash attack, knocking nearby enemies away. This has been adjusted in The Baconing to be player activated. Rather than having to wait for the shield to drain entirely, it only has to be held down for a little over a second before releasing it to automatically launch a shield bash. This attack also stuns enemies briefly in addition to knocking them back, making it much more effective and easier to use than before. Secondly, ranged weapons have gained more importance thanks to a new charge attack. By holding down the attack button instead of pressing it, DeathSpank can launch a volley instead of a single bolt, the style of which varies between weapons. Late in the game, these volleys become explosive, making them extremely efficient methods of dispatching multiple foes. The arrows also stick to the environment, providing an amusing cosmetic detail, particularly given the ammunition of certain weapons.

Behold the AntiSpank in all his glory! Behold AntiSpank in all his glory!

   Apart from those two major changes, the gameplay, both in and out of combat, hasn't changed a lick. Every level, DeathSpank gains access to a new hero card, which improves his abilities in some way. The various quests involve adventure-style item puzzles as per usual. All told, there really hasn't been any sort of real evolution in gameplay, which is a bit disappointing. Although the game is still fun, one has to consider that at this point, it has essentially become a forty hour game based on extremely simplistic mechanics, and it's growing stale.

   One thing that thankfully doesn't need any change is The Baconing's unique visual style. With its pop-up book design and unusual rounded world that creates a truncated, artificial horizon, the DeathSpank series has a style of its own that sets it apart from its peers. Though its 3D models can still look a bit out of place against the 2D backdrops, they are definitely getting better with each incarnation. The game's music and voicework are likewise still above par, with catchy and appropriately goofy melodies acting as a backdrop to DeathSpank's insane antics.

   Overall, the DeathSpank formula is alive and well in The Baconing, and that's both its greatest strength and biggest weakness. It's a fun game that fans of the original two are sure to enjoy, but there's absolutely no reason for anyone not fond of the first ones to play The Baconing, nor is there any reason for new players to jump in at The Baconing rather than the original game. A new post-game difficulty setting and multiple save slots will provide a little extra life for existing fans, but the series is going to have a hard time going anywhere unless Hothead Games pulls something new out of their sleeves.

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