We're a bit torn with Deadly Creatures. On the one hand, we applaud THQ for trying something so bold and original as making a mature adventure game in which the protagonists are revolting little creepy crawlies. On the other, we're tempted to hold our heads in our hands and whisper "what were you thinking?" Putting the future of THQ's hardcore Wii offerings in the hands (or, rather, pincers) of some of the most revolting, unlovable protagonists we've ever seen in a videogame smacks of insanity. Will anyone be able to stomach it? Well, we sure hope so, as THQ have delivered a genuinely interesting and really enjoyable experience.
Deadly Creatures has an intriguing set-up. In alternating levels, you take control of a tarantula or a scorpion in turn, as they traverse their way through a desert landscape populated by all manner of starving predators on the look out for a bug-shaped snack. Giant lizards, wolf spiders, black widows, enormous wasps, rattle snakes, blood-thirsty rats - if it's gross, it's in here. In a neat twist, our two 'heroes' aren't exactly on good terms and you'll actually face off against each other throughout the game.
So what's their motivation? At first it's not entirely clear. Every now and then you'll catch a glimpse of two men (voiced by Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton) searching for buried treasure. Could your mission be to protect your habitat's bounty? Suffice to say, all is not as it seems. It's a really novel, engaging way to tell a story and it had us gripped from start to finish.
In terms of gameplay, Deadly Creatures is a fairly standard beat 'em up. You'll battle your way through all those critters with the help of some good old-fashioned button mashing and a few motion sensitive gestures. At first, you'll only have a standard attack at your disposal but you unlock more moves as you progress, allowing you to build some impressive combo attacks. It's all very intuitive - for instance, when playing as the scorpion, a downward motion with the Remote initiates a stinger strike. Quick time events also make up a good slab of the gameplay, especially during the larger boss set-pieces. It's standard stuff but slick, imaginative and well-implemented.
Visually, this is one of the Wii's finest looking games and you can tell that a lot of care has gone into polishing the title. The game's dank tunnels, slimy bugs' nests, spiky cactus-filled canyons and run-down shacks present a unique setting for a game and the environments drip with atmosphere. Rainbow Studios have absolutely nailed the sound design too. Everything is spot on, from the skin-crawling pitter-patter of your tarantula's feet as it scuttles around, to the sickening crunch of shattered beetle shell as your scorpion gets stuck in with its pincers. This game takes massive pleasure in grossing you out.
On the downside, the environments can get a little repetitive, especially during the first half of the game as you slog your way through the desert. Things don't really hot up until you leave the natural world for man-made structures and the plot kicks in.
The gameplay is a little uneven, with the tarantula levels being much more enjoyable than those featuring the scorpion. The spider is much lighter on its feet, has a greater variety of moves at its disposal and there's more variety to the gameplay, thanks to its web-slinging abilities. In contrast, the scorpion feels heavier, clunkier and its levels are more of a slog.
It's no classic but Deadly Creatures is a really enjoyable, original title that deserves to do well. We can't help but feel a little concerned for its future though. With all those repulsive critters scuttering about, we can't see it finding an audience outside of bug-loving teenage boys. We really hope we're wrong...