Review: Death JR.: Root of Evil (Nintendo Wii)

Death JR: Root of Evil
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Publisher: Eidos
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 5/27/08

Even though I waited anxiously for GTA4, love survival horror, and look forward to the next game where I can slaughter a whole alien race just because I can, I still love platforming games. I guess since it was the first video game genre I really enjoyed that I keep on playing them. kind of like how if the first girl you date wears glasses for the rest of your life you’ll be interested in women with poor vision. Ever since games went 3D there have been a lot of bad platform games, some really bad platform games, but no matter what there’s always some game that comes along like Mario Galaxy, Ratchet and Clank, Jax and Daxter or Psychonauts that reminds me why I love the genre in the first place.

Since I’m a fan of the platform games I was looking forward to Death JR: Root of Evil for the Nintendo Wii. The big question is whether the game joins the legion of bad platform games or if it rises above the rest of the junk.

I don’t own a PSP. Nothing against the system at all. In fact I’ll have to pick it up sometime just for games like Daxter, but I can barely keep up with my backlog of DS games. Plus many of the titles get ported later to the PS2. The original Death JR. so far has never been ported to any other system, and that fact almost caused me to buy a PSP just because I was interested in the game from the videos I had seen of it in action. I never got around to doing that, so I missed out on the original title and it’s PSP sequel, Death JR: Root of Evil. Luckily the sequel was recently ported to the Wii and I jumped at the chance to play what looked like a possibly fun platform game.

Well it’s a platform game, but there’s not much fun to be had.

The game starts off throwing you into the story right away with Death (Senior, the father of Death Junior) trying to grab a burger at the food court of a mall. Before you start to wonder why Death would need to eat what appears to be the Golly Green Giant’s ex-wife breaks through a wall and starts wrapping people up in vines, including Death himself. After that it flashes back to a school yard trip with Death JR. and his odd arrangement of classmates attempting to get a cocoon for science class. Even before the gameplay starts there’s a big issue here.

Who the heck are these guys? I know Death JR. because he is the skeleton looking kid that’s right on the cover of the game box, but there’s a whole cast of other weird characters which are there interacting with Death JR. that the game never really bothers to stop and introduce you too. Sure, I realize this is a sequel, but the first game was never released on the Nintendo Wii and as someone who has never played a Death JR. game before I didn’t know who these characters were. There’s a couple of points in the game that are awkward because of this, such as Death JR. making reference to something that happened between Pandora and him from the first game that is something I’m assuming you’re already supposed to know. Except for Dead Guppy, who is literally a dead guppy, the rest of the cast don’t really give their names or any background info. Which is sort of a shame since the art used for the characters look interesting.

Speaking of the character artwork and story direction, while playing I was confused what audience this game is aiming for. The easy gameplay and cartoon visuals suggest this is meant for kids, but the character designs suggest otherwise. There is Stigmartha with holes in her hands and feet, The Seep who is a limbless fetus floating in a container that moves around on tank treads, and Smith and Weston who are conjoined twins that are attached at the head. Seriously, a limbless fetus with a foul mouth as a kid’s game character? Who thought up that genius idea? Also while I’m not one that likes the media blaming video games whenever a kid goes crazy at school, but Death JR. himself is a middle school kid with twin pistols and large scythe. The story also is aimed towards older audiences as the main evil character purchases supplements that will help her enlarge her ego.

It’s a really weird balance of mature themes mixed with cartoon graphics and simple gameplay.

The graphics look pretty decent though. It’s nothing mind blowing, and there has certainly been better looking titles on the Wii, but the cartoon style in the game is sharp and has it’s own unique style going for it which helps lift the graphics from bland to interesting. For a PSP port, the visuals look pretty smooth. The biggest problem with the visuals, and with the whole game really, are the same major problem with almost every 3D platform game known to man:

The camera sucks.

For a third person game the camera is pulled right up behind Death JR., and that alone makes the camera a frustrating experience. The camera is pulled up so close to Death JR. that it is impossible to tell when there is an enemy behind him. It further compounds this problem that somewhere in development the team must’ve realized that if Death JR. gets surrounded, that it becomes hard to see him. To make up for that, when characters get too close to Death JR., they become invisible so you can still see the main character. The enemies don’t stop attacking you while they’re invisible though so there are times you’ll get hit and can’t tell if it’s an enemy to the side of you who is invisible, or if they’re right behind you where you can’t see them. Much like the PSP, the Wii only has one analog stick. You can reset the camera by pushing the C button, and during any of the games multiple battle or jumping puzzle you’ll find yourself doing this a lot. If resetting the camera isn’t enough to make you motion sick, then the shooting part will.

For shooting in the game, you hold down the Z button which brings up a targeting crosshair on the screen in the direction that you are pointing the remote, much like how the remote works for shooting in FPS titles on the Wii like Call of Duty 3 or Metroid. You then shoot with the B button, strafe with the joystick, and point the cursor to the edges of the screen in order to turn in that direction. This works well in theory, but in practice it falls apart because you’ll swing around the remote for fighting moves with the scythe, then switch perspective to shoot and until you get the crosshair on screen the screen will wildly spin around in whatever direction you were pointing the remote. So to sum it up, constant camera resetting + first person screen spinning = me throwing up from motion sickness.

In all other ways the controls are responsive and work for this game. There are different platform parts where jumping is occasionally a pain due to the camera, but apart from the camera issues the controls work well and the motion sensitive controls for special moves are fun.

The level design for the game is decent if uninspired. None of the platform jumping parts or fighting parts ever really evolve from basic jumping puzzles or button mashing combat. A lot of the levels seem to be designed as if there was an understanding that the camera sucked since there aren’t too many levels where there are areas where you can miss a jump and die. When there are jump or die situations, the checkpoint for the area is always close by so as to prevent backtracking. The enemies are split into three types throughout the whole game: ones that will rush at you, ones that will stand back and use long range weapons, and ones that come straight at you and blow up. There are some differences in appearance in enemies between levels, but they all follow the three basic archetypes I just listed. The on e exception comes from sections where you need to defeat all of the enemies before proceeding there are whole stretches of the game where you can just run past them. Death JR. ends up having a fairly large arsenal of weapons, and all of them are pretty much just the standard weapon variants that you see in almost every game, missile launcher, C4, shotgun, etc.

One nice feature is that the game lets you decide to play as either Death JR. or Pandora, though in the game they function and control the same way. The game also features a Co-Op mode where one person plays as Death JR. and the other as Pandora through the entire campaign. The Co-Op mode is split screen though, and when both characters are resetting the camera and spinning in first person then both you and a friend get to experience motion sickness. The Co-Op mode is not a drop in, drop out mode, so if you and a friend start playing together and they aren’t available, you either have to wait for them to finish the game with you later or you have to start from square one in the single player game.

The game does have a good sense of humor, some interesting artwork and decent voice acting, so it feels as though a really good platform game using these characters could be made, but Death JR.: Root of Evil is not that game.

The Scores:
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Enjoyable
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal: Bad
Miscellaneous: Bad

Final Score: Poor

Short Attention Span Theater:
yeager-1.jpgThe game presents you with interesting characters but give no background information on who any of them are, it’s plagued with bad camera angles, and the combat and platform jumping sections are too easy. Death JR. for the Wii feels like a really generic clone of Ratchet and Clank, only without any of the stuff that makes that game fun. I can’t imagine kids playing a game with a swearing fetus character, and the rest of the game is too simple for anyone older than the age of seven. Should be easy to find a copy of this game soon in the clearance section next to Ninjabread Man and Anubis II.

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