In the months after the Wii’s launch, as it exploded in popularity and consoles flew off the shelves, I breathed a sigh of relief. As a Nintendo fan I’d hoped that the company could pull itself out of the dismal GameCube failure, and with such a dramatic success Nintendo’s console might become the hotbed of industry creativity that the NES and SNES had once been. I never predicted that the Wii would become a dumping ground for minigame shovelware; I thought that with such a massive install base and an innovative new controller, the Wii would be like the PS2. Publishers would be willing to take more risks and promote more oddball, creative games on the console. With so many Wiis out there, an obscure game would sell well by virtue of the law of averages. Maybe the Wii would play host to games like Katamari, Ico and Rez.
Well here we are in 2009 and through the likes of Wii Music, Wii Fit and their innumerable imitators, the Wii has become the world’s most popular shallow baby toy. Still, there are a few good people pushing creativity, like THQ and their stable of developers. THQ might be known for doing a lot of licensed stuff but they also support original games like De Blob…and Deadly Creatures. Developed by Rainbow Studios (and originating in a dream had by lead designer Jordan Itkowitz), Deadly Creatures is the out of the ordinary, creative idea game I’ve been wanting. Don’t let the developer’s past credentials fool you; Deadly Creatures isn’t about ATVs or MX bikes. It’s about bugs.
It’s such an intriguing concept that I’m surprised nobody has done it until now. You play as two arthropod predators—a tarantula and a scorpion—working to survive in their natural habitat. This isn’t a kiddy, family friendly game. The bugs don’t have goofy voices or googly eyes; it feels like an interactive National Geographic documentary, with a well written human sub plot running underneath. The objective is to survive and explore, using nothing but your nature-given abilities. It’s fascinating, and even though the basic formula is that of an action game the overall design makes it very, very different.
Rainbow didn’t go overboard with the waggle controls and I appreciate that. The exoskeleton-clad protagonists are maneuvered with the Nunchuk analog stick, with the A button dishing out primary attacks which can then be combo’d with gestures for stronger, flashier attacks. The B trigger isn’t used at first, but after the first level or so it activates venom attacks. The Z and C buttons are context sensitive and activate creature-specific abilities, like blocking, jumping and web use. The IR pointer handles the first person camera, for aiming webs or simply taking in the scenery.
The game consists of ten levels, and you alternate as the tarantula and scorpion each level. You’ll often find yourself exploring the same terrain twice, but Rainbow did a good job of rearranging the goals and progression so it doesn’t feel like backtracking. All levels can be explored two ways by virtue of the two creatures’ differing abilities. For example, you might traverse a series of cacti by web-zipping back and forth as the tarantula, and as the scorpion you’ll explore the subterranean tunnels by digging underground. The level progression is fairly linear but there are plenty of branching paths and secret areas to explore, often leading to unlockables and extra features.
As you progress through both creatures’ campaigns (if you can call them that), you will unlock new attacks, moves and abilities. The spider gains the web-zip early on, and eventually a long-range pounce and the ability to crawl on upside down surfaces. The spider’s abilities focus on agility and dynamic exploration; you’ll be doing a lot of jumping, wall-crawling and webline-casting. The scorpion by comparison is a tank. He’s a bit slower and can’t leap around but he can block weaker attacks and remove environmental obstacles, like dirt walls and dead weeds.
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