IGN Review of Death Jr.: Root of Evil
There are certainly genres that just feel right on Wii, and the third-person action/platforming design fits that description exactly. Ever since the first hands-on we had with cursor-based aiming and camera manipulation – oddly enough, found originally in Chicken Little: Ace in Action a few years back – we've been waiting for some strong action titles to bulk up Wii's library. With Death Dr.: Root of Evil, we've got yet another poster child for why free cursor control and the action/platforming genre need more attention on Nintendo's latest system, as this now two year old PSP Wii-make still manages to hold its own despite a few design oddities and slight gameplay issues. It may be nearly two years old for multi-system owners, but Root of Evil still holds its own on Wii pretty well.
Death Jr.: Root of Evil first released on PSP back in October of 2006, but with the release of Wii the team went back into the original game, polished up the graphics a bit, added free IR cursor control, and have delivered the first Death Jr. product outside of Sony's handheld. The main story is simple, kicking off with DJ and his friend Pandora as they struggle to fish up a science assignment. Without realizing what they were doing, the two unleash an evil plant-based power into the world, and spend the next 20 missions undoing what they did and conquering the new evil. It's a simple story, but it manages to drive the also simple concept of jumping, fighting, and blasting your way from beginning to end in each level.
The core Death Jr. experience hasn't changed from the original two PSP games, so you'll control either DJ or Pandora though each level, upgrade weapons, learn new skills, kick the crap out of a few bosses (sadly only three main ones in the game), and upgrade the difficulty if you're looking for another run through it all. The entire game can be beaten in about five hours, so it isn't incredibly long, but for those that go out of their way to find every item, search every secret, and eat every level of difficulty, there's a bit more bulk to the experience.
And while the story isn't anything special, the storytelling makes up a bit for the predictable and familiar feel of Death Jr. to any other "beat the boss, save the world" action/platformer. In-level story sequences are housed with VO – some of it charming and witty, others annoyingly spat - and you'll occasionally get CG sequences that show off a bit more beauty in the game. The general look of levels still remain pretty low poly though, and follow the same design often used on PSP: Drop the poly count, but put heavy attention on the texture work. It's not uncommon to find a perfectly cornered set of steps with a dirt-based texture – rather than being uneven in actual terrain morphing, it's just painted perfect angles – but it's never really a bother either. In the end the graphical offering is better than what you'll see on PSP, but there's no doubt that Death Jr. is still just an average graphical offering; there's just too much of the core PSP geometry still used in the Wii version.
Gameplay is where you'll get a pretty significant boost over the previous version of the game though, and while we're not convinced that this upgrade is worth replaying an 18 month old game or dropping top dollar for what is essentially an up scaled port, it's certainly a great step in the direction for the series. Death Jr. has always had some issued with control and camera, mainly due to PSP's single analog stick, and it's obvious right off the bat that the series does much better on Wii, as IR aiming is well done, there are options for camera sensitivity, and it feels generally intuitive to just pick up and start blasting away. With that being said though, the button layout on the controller itself is a little annoying, and there's no configuration options at all in the game. Camera control is done with the – and + buttons, leaving the d-pad for weapon selection, but that makes general camera shifts a pain to deal with.
Luckily, the IR aiming takes care of that in some respect, as both DJ and Pandora will be able to pan the camera with free look whenever the Z button (gun mode) is held. We ended up playing through the entire game with Z held down, as it made the entire experience much stronger overall, but whenever melee combat is done that button needs to be let go of, again returning you to the clunky, virtually broken camera. Why there wasn't an option to have the on-screen cursor affect the camera when in regular melee mode is beyond us, as it would have made things much easier all-around, but Death Jr. can look and feel right if you're willing to work with what you've got; it just isn't as intuitive as it should be.
There are a few other odd quirks to be had, such as the very occasional frame dip, accuracy when firing compared to the cursor itself (no lock-on to be had in Root of Evil, which would have been interesting if kept from the original Death Dr.), and the occasional "we swear to sound cool" VO that's littered into the cut scenes from time to time, but overall the experience is still really fun for what's there. The two player multiplayer is also a decent choice for those looking for a good action game to play with a buddy, and while it won't last you more than a few hours (the game is even easier with two people), it's not a bad way to drop a couple hours on a weekend. The added motion control for special attacks work, the core design is fun, but short, platforming and basic puzzling is well designed all around, and more than anything the game proves that Death Jr. works on Wii, and deserves a true upgraded sequel.
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