By Daniel Share-Strom
Most people are familiar with the sports phrase “What happened, kid !?!? You could’ve been a contender!” That’s what I was thinking while playing through Rainbow Studios’ Deadly Creatures for Wii. The game has so much going for it—unique premise, engaging use of motion controls, top-quality graphics and sound—that it’s just a complete shame how much the experience is weighed down by technical issues.
First, the basics. Deadly Creatures tells two tales. On one hand, it’s the story of a scorpion and a tarantula who attack one another at the beginning of the game, get separated, and make it their mission to find and kill the other. They don’t talk, they don’t have names, and they don’t have some morally ambiguous purpose for seeking each other out. They both exist, and therefore they must kill one another. Secondly, it’s the story of two guys (voiced rather convincingly by Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton) bumming around a desert gas station, trying to find buried Spanish treasure. As the game takes place entirely from the perspective of the bug the player is currently controlling, the sense of scale you get when you pass by these two is amazing. Both of these stories are interesting and fun, and there are some genuinely unexpected plot twists near the end, but all in all, it’s clear that Rainbow decided to make a game about controlling bugs and fastened a story onto the end.
For most of the game, the player takes control of either the scorpion or the tarantula (alternating each Chapter), and spends their time fighting other bugs and creepy-crawling around the environment. From a fighting perspective, Deadly Creatures does some engaging things with the traditional brawler formula. The Wii Remote and Nunchuk’s capabilities are put to great use here; perhaps more than any game in the genre has done so far. The basic weak attack has been smartly mapped to the A button, while vertical and horizontal swipes of the remote produce strong attacks and area attacks, respectively. As the player collects grubs (more on those later), they unlock combos that utilize all three of these attack methods, to satisfying results. There are only a few boss fights in the game, but they feel like truly epic confrontations. One particularly harrowing one, which has the scorpion trying to escape from a huge Gila Monster, made me sweat profusely as I used motion to help him dig his way to freedom while sidestepping the Gila’s lunges.
One particularly satisfying use of motion controls comes from finishing moves. When an enemy is weakened enough, the player can press the C button to initiate an elaborate finisher performed by moving the controllers to correspond with onscreen prompts. It’s VERY gratifying after a difficult fight to flip over a rat with your pincers and then physically stab your stinger into his brain.
Most games in the beat-em-up genre that feature multiple playable characters tend to have them all play very similarly. Not true with Deadly Creatures. The scorpion is the genre’s traditional tank—he’s tough enough to just jump into the fray and fight with the best of them. His brutal swipes and stabs are much more powerful, and he’s the only one that can block incoming attacks. The spider, on the other hand, has to play a little more stealthily. Instead of charging into battle, maybe he’ll stay on the wall, shoot webs into the rat’s face, leap onto the scorpion beside him, kill him while he’s stunned, then sink poisonous teeth into said rat. The tarantula’s ability to jump also gives him an advantage over the scorpion when it comes to dealing with flying enemies. Also, while both can walk on walls, the spider is the only one with the ability to crawl on ceilings. All in all, there are two very different fighting styles on offer in Deadly Creatures.
The other half of the game is spent in exploration mode. Ever wondered what it would be like to crawl around a room as a bug, with every tiny thing representing a big obstacle to get around? Deadly Creatures delivers. Inching your way across an overturned truck (especially sideways or upside-down), having your little crack illuminated by the glow of an old cell phone, and of course, crawling up and down a human’s body, all feel as ‘bug-like’ as they can be. The scorpion and tarantula each have different abilities that allow them to access different areas. For example, the spider can eventually swing on his web to hard-to-reach areas, while his counterpart can dig in weak gravel and chop up dead weeds. Traversing an area you’ve already been to, as the other character, feels quite fresh due to the alternate paths each must take.
There are quite a few collectibles in the game which make the exploration portions more than a simple A-to-B march. In addition to Leaf Crickets, which increase the player’s health bar, there are 450 grubs hidden throughout the game’s 10 chapters which test the player’s knowledge of the creature’s abilities. If there are two paths, and you know which one will advance the story, you’ll find yourself deliberately choosing the other just to find any grubs that might be hiding. It’s worth collecting them, too, as they unlock galleries of concept art and lengthy interviews with Thornton and Hopper.
The sound in the game is very well-done. The ‘tatatatatata’ of your insect’s many limbs pattering along the surface you’re walking on is very convincing, as are their various hisses and the utterances made by your dozens and dozens of varieties of insect and small-animal foes. The soundtrack is appropriately moody and desolate for the desert you’re exploring. You won’t encounter Thornton and Hopper’s characters often, but their performances are exceptional, and they were inspired choices for these roles. The one beef I have with the sound is a technical problem rather than an artistic one—there is some unacceptable repetition. Once, I had just finished listening to a conversation between the two men and had moved on, when I realized that I had forgotten to grab a grub I had seen. I went back, and to my surprise, the conversation restarted as if it had never happened. This is one little tick on an otherwise great soundtrack.
It’s clear that Rainbow Studios tried to show just how capable the Wii is, from a graphical perspective. The creature textures look convincing, there are often several huge objects making up the current environment, and the framerate is relatively stable. The main characters animate with such brutal attention to detail that I absolutely cannot recommend this game to any Arachnophobe. You will, however, find a lot of repeating, undetailed textures in the environment, particularly across the sand you’ll be spending a long time traversing. This detail isn’t too noticeable, though, as you wouldn’t expect to see much difference from one sandy area to the next.
“With all of the above checkmarks, there’s no reason for me to hesitate and buy this game right now, right?” Hold on, there, cowboy. As atmospheric as the visuals and sound are, and as visceral an experience that the fighting and exploration are, it’s the technical side that unfortunately may break the experience for the less dedicated player.
For one thing, there’s a big problem with collision detection. Nothing takes you out of the game as much as smashing an enemy into a corner, waiting for him to get back in the fight, and realizing that even though he’s standing up, he’s physically unable to move past some polygon or other. Once, while fighting inside a discarded doll house, I had the misfortune of knocking my enemy through a wall. When I crawled to the other side to finish him off, I found that he was stuck inside the wall, forcing me to leave him and continue on, depriving myself of the possible experience points. I also encountered a few moments where, climbing on a ceiling as the spider, I would randomly fall to my death without being anywhere near an obstacle. Issues like these completely kill the immersion that Rainbow has so lovingly built up.
Also, while the framerate remains relatively stable most of the time, the game will randomly crash for five to ten seconds, which would momentarily make me think I had to reset my console. Similarly, loading times seem to be in very random places. It’s not uncommon to knock an enemy several feet away (or is that ‘inches’ in this game?) walk over to finish him off, and be hit with a quick ‘loading’ message even though you had been standing in that spot earlier in the fight.
Value is where Deadly Creatures redeems itself. There are three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, and Deadly. I typically think of myself as a ‘Normal’ gamer. I don’t want to attempt the hardest difficulty first, so I have something to go back to, but I also avoid a game’s Easy mode as I like to get the experience that the developers wanted me to have. After the first level, I was absolutely forced to switch the difficulty down to Easy. The enemies were far too strong and fast for my current character. Luckily, the game encourages repeat playthroughs by allowing you to use your upgraded character on any unlocked Chapter, at any difficulty level. The grubs add another reason to return, as some levels have areas that can only be reached with an ability obtained later.
All in all, Deadly Creatures is a solid, entertaining game that could have been so much more. The combat is very intuitive, creative, fun, and makes you feel like the star of a YouTube bug-fighting clip. The exploration, when it works, really puts you into the role of a creepy crawler, as you ascend walls, dig, and swing on webs. The production values are clearly very high, with A-list voice talent, appropriately creepy sound effects and music, and animation so good that Aracnophobes should avoid at all costs. The concept behind the game is so remarkable, unique, and interesting, that it’s a shame that it’s so plagued by bugs, as it were. It’s very clear to me that if the developer had another month to polish all the little niggles, they could have had something truly great on their hands. As it stands, bug enthusiasts and adventure gamers will definitely have a great experience with the game if they can ignore the technical flaws.