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Aug 4, 2008

Review: Death Jr.: Root of Evil

Death Jr.: Root of Evil
Eidos Interactive, Backbone Entertainment
Available for the Nintendo Wii

When a seemingly simple school science project to locate cocoons goes hideously wrong, Death Jr. and his pal Pandora accidentally release the villainous Furi upon an unsuspecting mankind. A sexy plant-based vixen of pure evil intent on wreaking havoc across the world, Furi quickly employs hordes of undead creatures from the local toy cemetery to help carve her path of destruction. All of which, quite unsurprisingly, leaves Death Jr. and his ragtag band of mutants tasked with once again saving us all from the clutches of impending doom.

Arriving on the Nintendo Wii as a port of the 2006 PlayStation Portable original, Death Jr.: Root of Evil is somewhat of a departure for long-time series developers Backbone Entertainment in that it gives players the opportunity to tackle Furi and her minions with either Death Jr. or Pandora. While the standard platform game play is largely unaltered by the addition of a second playable character, Pandora's whip abilities and dry sense of humour does succeed in bring some new life to the game.

Rather than deliver a bare bones port of the PSP original, the development team has adapted its standard platform mechanic by adding subtle Wii Remote gestures that make the game feel as though it is actually native to Nintendo's home console rather than an adopted member its software family.

Likely a remnant from the PSP's reliance on a single analog thumb stick, Root of Evil's occasionally twitchy game camera can make jumping chasms, swinging from hooks and poles, and engaging/avoiding the enemy something of an irritating chore because the player does not have the advantage of full directional viewing. Indeed, the Nunchuk's 'C' button, which centres the camera behind the character, is the only viewpoint access given to the player while using melee weapons. The odd thing is, however, that when ranged weaponry is equipped gesturing with the Wii Remote instantly swings the camera freely, accurately targets enemies, and generally helps to survey the immediate surroundings. Of course, while constantly having ranged items equipped is a viable solution that delivers more complete and constant control along with a clearer screen view, it makes no sense to not have such an ability as default for both forms of weaponry; also, having to switch all the time for scythe/whip use only serves to kill the game play.

Considering the inclusion of exploding hamsters and death-by-pop, it's fair to say that Root of Evil doesn't take itself too seriously, and game progression is pushed along merrily by a steady stream of witty one-liners, throwaway movie quotes, and humorous banter during attractively rendered cinematics. So, while the in-game visuals may not be a huge step up from the PSP version and are certainly far-removed from current PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 releases, Backbone has still done a decent job of maintaining player interest through clever writing and a great sense of fun.

Root of Evil does throw up plenty of level creativity, an oddball sense of style, a vivid colour scheme, a great amount of boss diversity, and a pretty satisfying difficulty curve when you consider the 12+ age stamp on the packaging. And, for those disappointed with Backbone's decision to lock character selection throughout the single-player campaign, there's even a split-screen cooperative multiplayer mode that enables Death Jr. and Pandora to play through the game together while kicking butt simultaneously.

Ultimately, it may not help dispel the myth that the Wii cannot deliver visual flare and genre muscle - anyone who's ever played Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will know that's simply not true - but Death Jr. Root of Evil manages to convincingly sidestep the bargain bin kiss of death thanks to its character appeal, solid platform action, amusing and inventive weaponry, and a control system that largely succeeds in papering over any of its obvious faults.

Rating: 7 out of 10
Buy it

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