When we were kids, one of the many things that separated the girls from the boys was the tolerance of creepy, crawly things. The boys would go, "wow," and the girls would say "eww!" THQ is hoping to snare both the traumatized and the curious in its web of critter-on-critter combat with Deadly Creatures for the Wii.Deadly Creatures is really two tales told at once. On one side you play as a scorpion and a tarantula living Darwin's dream underground. The objective here isn't clear, except that your travels follow those of two humans above ground in an old gas station. It seems that legend tells of buried treasure somewhere nearby, and the two yokels--played by Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton--are determined to dig it up.
This is where the paths cross. As the pair goes prodding in the ground looking for the gold, they inevitably dig holes in all the wrong, or right, places. It's an interesting concept, and let's face it, your options are kind of limited when you're making a video game about bugs. Even so, the interactions between the two worlds could occur more often. The intentions of the bugs is never made clear, nor is their role in the treasure hunt, so ultimately, half the story hardly even exists.
The game is designed so that you play one level as the tarantula and the next as a scorpion. There's some retreading similar ground with each creature, but otherwise, playing as each one is quite different. Initially they're both capable of simple melee combat, but as each is upgraded with new attacks their differences become apparent.
Since spiders and scorpions have the ability to climb on walls and ceilings, be prepared to experience true 3D navigation. It can get confusing at times, particularly in dark areas. Yet you can always press a button for a handy arrow to point you in the right direction. Without it, the game would be infuriating. Though there are some hidden paths that hide collectible grubs, you're basically herded down a linear path determined by obstacles the creatures cannot traverse.
There are 10 different chapters to play through, and three different difficulty settings that you can select before loading any save. Playing on normal, you'll get around 10 hours of play out of it, but there's little reason to play it again with just galleries and behind-the-scenes videos to unlock. Each chapter is broken up into several checkpoints, and some will force you through a gauntlet of tough battles before allowing you to save. Crickets are scattered around to give you health boosts, and you'll have to ration them later in the game when things get tough.
Deadly Creatures features some pretty standard design. The two lead characters provide some semblance of variety, and the attack upgrades provide motivation, but otherwise, it's structured like a standard action adventure.
Deadly Creatures features a near-equal mix of level navigation and combat. You'll go upside down, right side up, and all places in between as both arachnids cling to each surface. You platform for a bit, and then the level breaks open into an arena where you throw down.
Combat is surprisingly deep with each creature packing an impressive arsenal of attacks that eventually become unlocked as you progress. Utilizing an invisible lock-on system, your vermin will automatically square up with whichever creature in the direction you shove the analog stick on the nunchuk. It works fine when you're taking on a creature by itself, but when attacked by multiple foes it's completely random. This can be annoying when you've whittled down an enemy to nothing but can't seem to land the final blow.
When the scorpion brings an enemy near death, you can press the C button to initiate a finishing quick time event. These over-the-top moves obliterate any sense of realism, but all is forgiven when you drive a stinger into a rat's skull. You get a small health boost for completing one, and if you botch one of the gestures you can just press the C button to try it again. It takes any semblance of skill out of the equation.
As the game wears on, the moves really start to pile up, giving each creature an identity. The scorpion is a tank that can dole out punishment. You can sting, dive underground, and perform all manner of melee attacks, but they rarely work the way they're supposed to. You're better off just jamming the A button.
The tarantula is much more versatile, and fun. He's agile, and can shoot a stream to tie up enemies or fly to webs. Playing with the spider requires that you play both offensively and defensively, and for the first half of the game it works out great. Then you learn to perform the pounce attack using the pointing functionality of the Wii remote. From there, the combat is just an inconvenience.
The rest of the game is balanced by light exploration to collect grubs, and boss fights that are hit or miss. Taking on a rattle snake in a game of cat and mouse or a giant lizard is great, but there are far too few of these types of encounters.
The gameplay features a nice mix of exploration and combat, but gesture recognition is spotty and a couple moves are way overpowered. Yet Deadly Creatures does an amazing job of making each showdown epic, and the finishing moves will give you a new perspective on skittering critters.
We'll give Deadly Creatures some credit. There's undoubtedly been some TLC given to the presentation. It runs in 16x9 at a 480p resolution, and features a crisp, clean display. The geometry is pretty basic and the textures are a little blurry and drab, but some of the animation is really incredible. Both the spider and tarantula move like the real thing, and the sound of their little feet running will make arachnophobes cringe. Thornton and Hopper do a nice job of setting a serious tone, along with the incredible score that makes crawling around underground just as ominous as it should be. There are issues, though. Enemies will glitch on the level geometry, and the camera can go absolutely bonkers at times. It's no Super Mario Galaxy or Metroid Prime 3, but when you're talking about Wii games, Deadly Creatures features quality visuals and sound.
Deadly Creatures is a cool game, and in some ways, it's unlike anything you've played before. On the other hand, it has a lot of problems that many average games share. The combat is unbalanced and a bit archaic, and the linear design provides few surprises. Yet when you're side-stepping a rattler strike or finishing off a praying mantis, the stretches of gameplay in between are more tolerable. It's almost funny how seriously the game takes itself, but if you're looking for something out of the ordinary, this trip through the underground provides just enough of everything to be worth playing.