Calling Death Jr. a third-person action game loaded with weapons and gunplay is an understatement. Developer Backbone Entertainment has come up with a necro-themed blast-'em-up that borrows concepts from classic 3D action romps like MediEvil and Ratchet & Clank, and then takes those ideas to cartoonishly bloody extremes.
The game begins innocuously enough, with Death Jr. and his friends on a field trip to the local museum. Seeking to impress his would-be girlfriend, who is conveniently named Pandora, the son of the grim reaper opens a magical box and unwittingly unleashes his pop's nemesis, Moloch… who quickly imprisons Death Jr's friends and transforms the world into a hellish caricature of itself. Now, Death Jr. has to defeat Moloch's minions, re-capture Moloch, rescue his friends, and put the Earth back to normal before his dad wakes up–or else he'll be sent to military school!
From what we've been allowed to play, Death Jr. is shaping up to play like a cross between a traditional 3D action game and a PC style first-person shooter. Little Death can run, jump, and pick up items (of course), but his main repertoire revolves around his weapons. Initially, these include a sword-like scythe and an ecto pistol, but he'll also be able to pick up more than a dozen other sub-weapons later on (machine guns, flame-throwers, exploding rodents, and so on). Combo attacks seem to play a major role in gameplay. Much like games like MediEvil and Devil May Cry, repeated tapping of different action buttons causes Death Jr. to perform a variety of flashy combo moves–we've already seen a couple martial-arts style scythe attacks along with some John Woo style pistol attacks.
You'll be able to use Death Jr's scythe to slice up enemies, but the interesting thing about it is that it also acts as a platforming tool. The versatile killing implement can be used to hoist Death Jr. onto ledged, to retrieve health items and weapons, and to access environmental features such as switches, zip lines, and swings.
So far, the game's different environments include the museum, a school, a city street, and a freak-infest insane asylum. We've been told the final game will include at least 12 different environments with multiple areas. The museum acts as a central hub with doorways leading to the other play areas.
We're already digging the game's controls, which incorporate a Metroid-style lock-on feature to make aiming easier. All of the different moves and items can be activated with the face buttons, while strafing and target-lock can be activated by pressing one of the shoulder buttons.
More than that though, we're really digging the game's look and feel, which can best be described as "A Nightmare Before Christmas" meets Devil May Cry. Death and his enemies are drawn in a big-headed, minimalist style that comes across as artistic rather than "cheap," because of the way that numerous facial expressions and clothing accents are used to give the characters a hint of personality. The environments also seem kind of plain in the overall, but we honestly didn't notice how coarse the textures are and how simple the structures look unless we made it a point to critique them. Frankly, what we did notice were all of the surreal touches incorporated to make the environments look so twisted–things like slabs of meat resting in hallways and pudding oozing out of the walls. Not to mention all of the spine-backed demons patrolling each area. It's worth mentioning too that the art team has put a lot of the system's resources toward the game's special effects, which include blood splatters, transparent flames, falling gun shells, and all sorts of environmental damage.
When we played Death Jr., it was 50% complete. Konami plans to ship the game a few weeks after the PSP's North American launch, sometime in April.