Derrick the Deathfin Review (PS3)
Derrick is a shark, and not a very happy one at that. Humans are ruining the ocean, mining for oil, storing nuclear waste and floating large flaming tyres above it. All the things that humans do. They have also kidnapped Derrick’s parents and turned them into shark soup, right in front of his eyes. Derrick, in response exclaims “Father, Mother, I’ll avenge your deaths. And pick up some bits and bobs along the way.” thus setting the tone for the whole game. It’s silly, it’s sometimes kinda dark and it never takes itself seriously. Even when it tries to tell some kind of environmentalist message, it’s followed by a shark blowing up an oil-rig and polluting the ocean.
A nice sense of humour is carried throughout the whole game, the loading screens in particular claiming some genuine laughs. It’s not uncommon to have quirky and witty loading screens in a game, but there’s just something about a stoned-looking fish saying “Increasing the amount of information on screen distracts users when loading” which tickles my funny bone. Speaking of which, every creature and some inanimate objects in this game look like they’ve been either doing a lot of drugs or are incredibly tired. These expressions are all rendered in a fantastic way. The developers of DtD created papercraft models of every character and landscape in the game and sent them to get scanned into 3D models, which they then imported into the game. The result is incredibly crisp models which really do look like they’ve been carefully hand-crafted. It’s a great art style that stays novel throughout the whole game.
Unfortunately the game’s humour very rarely turns up in the actual parts of the game that you play. There are three types of levels. The regular ones are almost platformer style where you travel from left to right defeating enemies, collecting collectables and trying to pass an end goal. You do this by swimming around and dashing to jump out of the top of the ocean and so levels consist of you swimming around to dodge obstacles while eating other fish. There is some light and generally clunky platforming involved when you jump out of the ocean to eat birds and jump through tires or over obstacles, but this is infrequent. You have a health bar which drops rapidly over time as well as when you get hit and is restored by eating other fish (and the occasional swimming human.) The result of this is that you spend each level swimming around as fast as possible eating everything in sight to stay alive until the end of the level, it’s actually a really fun mechanic and some risk-reward is added in if you want to get the Gold medal for each level. To get the gold you need to eat near enough everything there is to eat in a level, creating a risk that if you miss a jump and need to redo a short section of the level again you could run out of health with nothing left to eat.
A small number of levels are races, which are just like the regular levels but with the hunger mechanic removed and replaced with a timer, and they’re significantly less interesting. They are still pretty fun however and race-courses are more elaborate and involve far more precise swimming than the other levels. The final type of level however could have been so great if there were more than 4 of them and they weren’t so basic. These levels are incredibly light puzzles, which involve trying to reposition bombs to take out oil-drills or ships, or bowling them to take out nuclear mines. They’re fun, but I feel like the game would have benefited from having a variety of these levels included in the game, even if they were separated into their own campaign like Scribblenauts.
Adding a second campaign with more levels would also have helped deal with the other main issue DtD has. The game is incredibly short, my playthrough took just over 2 hours and that included getting gold in most of the levels. There just isn’t much game here, the developers even tried to artificially extend the game length by locking player progression until they collect X number of collectables in the previous levels. This archaic mechanic is as terrible now as it ever has been and simply makes no sense here beyond trying to make the game feel longer than it is.
It’s disappointing that DtD isn’t a better game, but it isn’t bad. The core gameplay is fun and interesting, the art style is fantastic and the sense of humour is great, but all this is squandered. The most interesting mechanics are never explored, the game is over just as it seems like it might be beginning to add a little challenge and the humour is restricted to a couple of cutscenes and load screens. It’s worth playing, and at the cheap price of £5.49 maybe these complaints can be easily overlooked, but when you could get far better games for the same price on the same service with much more content its also okay to skip this one.
6 smiling sharks munching men out of 10