So I’ve been playing Deathspank, the hack & slash rpg-lite game from Ron Gilbert and Hothead Games. You can find it on PSN or XBLA for $15, or whatever arcane equivalent that is in Microsoft Points.
It plays basically like a Diablo or Torchlight, though it’s stripped down somewhat. Still, I’m really enjoying it but there’re reviews all over the place. So I’m not going to review it but I do want to tell you a story.
The other night I was on a quest to rescue a lost orphan. I have a special orphan sack in my inventory so I can carry lots of orphans, you see. I’ve heard one of these little tykes is in the Demon Mine. So off I go. The fighting is challenging but not impossibly so. I’m level 12 and the demons are 12-14. I can do this thing. I follow the signs to the Orphan Storage Area and finally I come face to face with the Demon Nanny, who is responsible for taking care of the captured orphans.
And I find that this Demon Nanny is a lot tougher than her Demon colleagues. I die. And die again. And again. And finally decide that I’ve bit off more than I can chew and that it’s time to head back above ground to take on easier tasks until I level up a bit. But it’s nearly midnight so I save my game and quit for the night.
So tonight I fire up Deathspank again and start making my way out of the Demon Mines. But all the baddies I killed on the way in have respawned. No worries, I killed them once, I can kill them again, and I need the exp. Then I run out of food. Uh-oh. As far as I can see, in Deathspank you don’t regain health automagically (if you do, it’s very, very slowly). You need to eat or drink potions to heal. Eating takes time and combat ‘breaks’ the process, and potions are instant regens. When you die, your drop a bunch of coins and respawn with about 1/3rd health at the Outhouse you most recently passed by.
So I was trapped. A horde of demons between myself and the exit, and me with no way to heal myself. The only thing I could do was whittle away at the baddies: kill one or two, die, respawn, kill another couple, respawn. Sometimes I wouldn’t even kill a single demon. Other times I’d get through three of four. I did find a couple of mushrooms (food items) in my pack which I used very judiciously.
It was *awesome* to be stuck in this position. It took me back to my days of playing Diablo when death meant dropping all your gear on your corpse and hoping you had backup stuff in town. Sometimes you’d died a second time and lose even more gear. Sometimes you’d start doing naked corpse runs… run through the monsters frantically clicking on gear and picking up a few bits before you died (you’d drop equipped gear but not stuff in your backpack, and clicking on fallen gear put it in your backpack). We’d curse up a storm in these situations and wind up playing much too late into the night and when finally we had all our stuff back it was *so* satisfying.
Kill-die-respawn. Kill-die-respawn. Slowly, painfully, I made it through the dungeon and finally saw the light of day once again. Deathspank was saved! He immediately ran back to town to gorge on pizza and fries.
It was the most fun I’ve had gaming in quite a while. And I’m sure most of today’s gamers, in that situation, would be complaining about how the game was broken, or too grindy, or something.
So here’s a salute to Ron Gilbert and Hothead Games for building something that can tickle the fancy of us old-timers who remember when games sometimes stacked the odds against you. Sometimes its good to be a punching bag.