Tag Archives: Shank

Charlie Murder is pure punk rock punching and kicking


Charlie Murder is one of the two free games given out last month on the Xbox 360 for Gold members, and I nearly forgot all about it, ending up downloading it on its last available day, a few hours shy of midnight. Whew. Thankfully, it’s a small game, somewhere under 400 MB, and so it didn’t take very long to go from Microsoft’s server to my hard-drive. Skip ahead a few more days, and I actually got to play a wee bit of it, enough to put some thoughts in my head, which I’m now sharing with y’all.

Let’s see. Charlie Murder from Ska Studios is…well, I don’t really know what’s happening story-wise at the moment. The game begins with our titular character in Hell, but only briefly; see, a paramedic is actually resuscitating Charlie, though I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Seems like the streets are now overrun with denizens of Hell because the end times are upon us. Three cheers for that. Now back on his feet, Charlie and his friends (if you have friends to play with, that is) must fight off this stirred evil. There’s also some story stuff about Charlie’s band, which I’m only just beginning to glimpse, though I imagine it is either going to be of the “rise to fame” or “fall from grace” ilk. We’ll have to wait and see on that for now, and I’m definitely more interested in that than anything else.

Charlie Murder‘s a brawler, a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up, which, to be honest, is not a genre that really excites. Sure, over the years I’ve had some decent fun with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, Streets of Rage, Shank, X-MEN Arcade, and so on. Heck, I’ll even openly admit right here, right now, that I put many hours into the demo of Fighting Force because, in 1997, I just couldn’t stop hitting men with broken bottles. But for the most part, walking left to right and beating up generic goon after goon with fists or a range of weapon types until you can move on wears out its welcome real fast with me. Especially the part where you repeatedly mash the X button. Alas, that gameplay style seems to still exist here in Charlie Murder, but at least the game has personality, as well as some RPG elements to freshen tactics up.

There’s just one problem–I can’t read any of the text in this game save for the colored button prompts for quick time events. It’s tiny and scribbly, and yes, I’m wearing glasses and even sitting pretty close to my television. See, a big part of the game is using your smartphone, checking in on a Twitter-like app to see who is messaging you and how many followers you’ve gained, as well as reviewing your inventory, buying skills, and selecting which special powers to assign to what buttons. Y’know, key elements to make Charlie stronger and more unique, and I’ve ended up going on guesswork alone, hoping that this shirt is better than the other one based on some iffy color cues. Like, I know this is a bad image to begin with, but this is more or less what is like to be me and see the game and its text as I’m playing. Insert a grumpy face emote here.

So, that’s a bummer. Thankfully, the game has style out the wazoo, and you wouldn’t be wrong for immediately thinking of Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac comics and Invader Zim series. Muted colors save for greens and purples and dark, quirky humor work pretty well here, especially that one part where Charlie had to rough up a man in a hamburger costume at a fast-food joint. You can change how your character looks with clothing and tattoos, which is always a plus in my book, seeing your actual equipped attire reflected on the person, and it seems like there’s plenty to spend on, though money does not come fast or free, which might mean grinding, and now all I’m doing is frowning.

But yeah, this indie brawler is nice to look at and listen to, I just worry that playing by myself, especially unable to read most of the stats on weapons and gear, is not going to be a lot of fun. You can join up with other people online, which I tried once and got immediately booted, so there’s that option, but I don’t suspect I’ll be back to stop this punk-rock apocalypse from happening any time soon unless I magically receive two more Xbox 360 controllers and three new ready-to-go friends. It’s competent, but conventional, and I’m sorry if that hurts to hear, Mr. Murder and friends.

2012 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Shank

Glad to see Kill Bill
Get its own videogame
Great art, prosy fights

For all the games I complete in 2012, instead of wasting time writing a review made up of points and thoughts I’ve probably already expressed here in various posts at Grinding Down, I’m instead just going to write a haiku about it. So there.

Starting Shank’s story of sadistic and senseless slashing

The story of Shank: gang kills former gang member’s wife, said man kills everyone in the gang. At least that’s how I assume this will all go down. I’ve only just begun, but I mean, yeah. It’s all there. I’ve seen Kill Bill plenty of times to know what a tale of vengeance looks like. And I guess that’s fine. Really, this could be the story of a man named Shank that suffers from dementia and whittles pretty birdhouses during his flex time at Brookside Senior Citizens–so long as it looks this pretty.

As an artist, I love a game that revels in its artness. Like Prince of Persia and Bastion and Limbo and Odin Sphere and so on. If it looks hand-drawn, I’m in. If it’s colorful or has hints of cross-hatching or bold, thick outlines, I’m also in. Highly realistic graphics are uninteresting to me, and only help to make me feel more uncomfortable when shooting people that look like real, honest-to-goodness people in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3. No thanks. I’d prefer to blast apart something with tentacles.

But man, Shank. It’s a visual treat and like playing an episode of somethingSamurai Jack, perhaps–on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim. You control Shank in 2D, moving from left to right and jumping up and from platforms; the background goes deeper than that, with details like graffiti on buildings and telephone poles and a dreary and muted skyline that look absolutely gorgeous, especially to see it all in motion. Character models pop in that they are much more colorful and animated than everything else, slick with polish and personality. And story beats are covered in dramatic cutscenes and smaller scenes that actually take place directly during gameplay, which is a fun little trick that keeps the game’s pace frantic and fun.

Playing Shank on normal allows for unlimited continues and nicely placed checkpoints, which means I can just try again after Shank gets overwhelmed by too many goons. Which happens a lot. See, I have to learn to not get locked into a crazy-cool 15x combo when baddies are also standing behind me. So it’s a learning process, seeing what weapons work best and when to grab someone and how to toss grenades and so on. There’s a surprising amount of depth here, and I can’t even begin to imagine anyone playing without a gamepad. Like, really. It has to be nigh impossible.

Hmm. Okay, it’s Steam Achievements in your face time!

Just Getting Started: Take out 20 enemies

Making a Name for Yourself: Take out 100 enemies

The Wrong Guy: Defeat El Raton

My hands cramped up during the moving train level due to too many dogs and not enough health drinks, but I’ll be hopping back into it soon. It’s fun and fluid and immensely stylized and even though I kinda know where it’s all going it sure is a blast juggling enemies with knives, guns, and a chainsaw finisher. The only complaint I have with Shank is that the developers gave names to all the dog enemies, and it is ten times more hard to chainsaw a mutt’s face off when you know he’s called Thrasher to someone. Poor, poor, mutilated Thrasher. You probably didn’t mean to be so evil.