The prevailing theme of the Serious Sam shooter series seems to be “more is better.” What are you doing with just one revolver? Here take another. Is that a knife? No, you need a chainsaw. Sure, that rocket launcher is pretty cool, but you know what’s better? A man-portable shipboard cannon that fires expanding, explosive cannon balls. Now go take that hardware and kill ten aliens at once. No wait, make that a baker’s dozen. Ok fine, three dozen. Nah, that’s chump change. You’re gonna take that cannon and kill a horde of three hundred aliens
Croteam did this insanity right out of the gate with Serious Sam: The First Encounter, back in 2001. Then they did it again (naturally) bigger and crazier in 2002 with The Second Encounter. Croteam is getting ready to unleash a Sam prequel next month, but to get fans hyped up they’ve commissioned the Serious Sam Indie Series, a collection of games based on Serious Sam but developed by accomplished independent studios. The first of the indie series, Serious Sam Double D, is from Mommy’s Best Games, a studio known for their over-the-top 2D actioners. In translating Sam to the gameplay style they know best, MBG has taken “more is better” to heart. And then some.
“Double D” is an obvious double-entendre. Just like Croteam is saying that the “BFE” subtitle in Serious Sam 3
stands for “Before First Encounter” (har har, it is a prequel and all), “Double D” ostensibly describes the game’s 2-D shoot-em-up format when compared to the three-dimensional FPS format of the rest of the series.
Raunchy semantics jokes aside, I’ll cut right to the chase. Serious Sam DD can be handily summed up in two words: gun stack. This mechanic is the defining element that DD brings to the table and probably conjures a perfect image of the game in your head—Serious Sam, running through a side-scrolling level, toting a full arsenal of six diagonally stacked weapons.
While Sam’s entire classic arsenal returns—shotgun, Tommy gun, grenade and rocket launchers, laser cannon etc.—MBG figured that just wasn’t enough. Sam needed the ability to fire six of his guns simultaneously, and in any combination that the player desired. By collecting connector wrenches hidden throughout the levels, you can select any six of the weapons in your inventory and stack them in any given order. This means you can have a machine pistol on top of a shotgun on top of a Tommy gun on top of a flamethrower on top of a chainsaw—or the same in the reverse order.
You aren’t just limited to a single weapon of each, however. Once you gain multiples of each weapon, you can, for example have two shotguns on top of two Tommy guns on top of two machine pistols. Hypothetically you could have six of any given weapon locked and loaded at a time, and your inventory also lets you keep various combinations assigned to the number keys.
The only issue with multiple guns is that they all draw from the same ammo pool; if you have four shotguns in a stack your shotgun shells will disappear four times as fast. You’re better off using a variety of guns in your stack, both to conserve ammo and to combine the damage effects of various guns. A shogun might only fire every two seconds, but while the shotgun is reloading you could have a constant stream of auto fire from a Tommy gun or a steady jet of napalm from your flamethrower, with maybe a grenade or rocket in there for good measure.
Of course this wonderfully overkill gun stacking mechanic would be wasted if MBG didn’t also get the signature Serious Sam enemy horde right, but it just so happens that they do get it right—maybe even a little too right. Through smart understanding of the license they’re working with and probably hours spent playing the original games, MBG has translated the classic Serious Sam gameplay almost perfectly into 2D. Jumping a 3D franchise into retro 2D or vice versa is by no means an easy feat—over a decade since the Dreamcast and Sega is still trying to do it with Sonic—but MBG nails it with DD.
Just like in the First and Second Encounter, DD starts you off slow with a small selection of classic Sam enemies. At first you’ll be handling small waves of headless foot soldiers and maybe a Gnaar or two, but before you know it those damn Kleers show up, accompanied by kamikazes, massive biomechanoids and a few new bad guys as well. In the Sam tradition of bizarre and humorous enemies, MBG introduces jet-propelled chimps that hurl explosive bananas, and Vuvuzelators—stacks of pancakes that walk on two forks, and have vuvuzelas sticking out of their bodies. The headless kamikazes are also joined by their distaff counterpart, the femikazes, and as you’d imagine they have bombs in all the right places.
MBG hasn’t just gotten the hordes right, they also make them behave with the same overwhelming herd mentality. You’ll still face the seemingly infinite waves of enemies that, just when you think you’ve splattered them all, they keep going for another full minute. As soon as the second level you’ll be grabbing miniscule, isolated health and armor pickups only to have enemies spawn out of nowhere and ambush you. MBG has handily recreated Croteam’s devious cruelty, but if you weren’t gasping for breath and inches from bloody death while fending off herds of ravenous Kleers it just wouldn’t be a Serious Sam game.
The only place the difficulty proves irritating is during the boss fights, where an endless supply of smaller enemies constantly swarms you, making it difficult to focus on the boss. MBG’s experience with their bullet hell shoot-em-ups shows up here, somewhat unwelcome, but if you manage to concentrate on the boss, avoid the flying bananas and crowd of kamikazes that make the very ground lethal, the chaos stops when the boss takes that final bullet and explodes in a cloud of gore.
MBG has also manages to replicate Croteam’s strange sense of humor. As a developer in central Europe, Croteam’s humor has always been just a little left of normal for American gamers and this is part of what makes it so off-the-wall and funny. MBG does this through surprisingly clever dialogue between Sam and his trusty computer implant Netricsa. At one point Nettie warns that kamikazes are up ahead, and Sam quips that it’s a good thing he brought their only weakness: bullets. Unfortunately the short conversations between the enemy general and his minions tend to fall flat.
Thankfully MBG has worked Croteam’s more subtle winks and nods into DD’s secrets. Not only has MBG successfully imitated Croteam’s penchant for hiding weapons, ammo and oddball items in hard-to-reach places, they’ve done it in 2D and made it just as funny. Early on I found a secret cave that contained a large health item, but instead of the usual giant red heart it was a massive Boston crème. As soon as I picked it up I also received the secret donut-eating achievement.
My only real issues with DD are with its presentation, and its other new gameplay element. In addition to the gun stacker, Sam can also launch a jump pad that adheres to any surface, including dead enemies. This pad essentially doubles his jump height when he bounces off of it but it can be a bit difficult to place control. I can understand that MBG wanted to do more than just give Sam a double jump; the pad lets you do cool things like wall-jump by quickly sticking it to the sides of a vertical shaft or even bounce off piles of monster corpses. It just feels like the jump pad could’ve used a bit more playtesting.
DD’s graphics are an interesting conundrum. At first blush they look like something hastily animated in flash; the character movements are somewhat jerky and for the most part the backgrounds are static, and on the whole it’s animated like something you’d find on Newgrounds. That said, the art is excellent. All of Sam’s weapons and enemies have been re-imagined in a vivid digital paintbrush style, and this translates over to the levels as well.
While DD apparently starts off in the same old ancient Egypt setting, Sam later time-travels to deadly crystal-filled cavers and the Jurassic period, among other exotic and original locales. One particularly gruesome level is comprised almost entirely of some creature’s massive, eviscerated carcass. You’ll be platforming across enormous chunks of dripping meat and bone, only to have swarms of parasitic worms burst from the corpse and charge you.
For the most part I also enjoyed DD’s audio presentation, but probably because the majority of it is lifted straight from the old Sam games. All of the enemies and guns sound exactly the same as you remember, and while Sam doesn’t have any spoken dialogue his grunts, laughs and pain sounds will also be familiar to any fan of the series. I do admit to being a bit disappointed by the music; it serves its purpose well enough but consists mostly of generic, driving guitar riffs. I found myself getting into the action more on the rare occasions that MBG inserted a track or two from the original games.
Serious Sam Double D is far from a perfect or even excessively polished experience, but then again it doesn’t need to be. When scoring games I place a heavy emphasis on value, and at only $8 on Steam, Double D is one of the best indie deals you’ll find on the platform. What DD lacks in overall polish it more than makes up for in sheer quantity of gameplay and raw, guilty pleasure fun. It’s a no frills, no pretense, old-fashioned good time at a budget price: exactly what the original Serious Sam was when it came out a decade ago. In that respect, Double D is carrying on the Sam tradition admirably.