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PSP  header logo

Death, Jr II: Root of Evil

For: PSP

Minor heart attack

Product: Death, Jr II: Root of Evil | Developer: Backbone Entertainment | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Platform | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
 
Death, Jr II: Root of Evil PSP, thumbnail 1
Death Jr is the kind of kid you absolutely do not want to get into a 'My dad is harder than your dad' playground exchange with. Unless, that is, you really don't get along with yours very well or, of course, if you happen to be Jesus.

That said, having the Grim Reaper for a parent probably has its downfalls, too. Besides the years of inevitable therapy when you grow up – not to mention the pressure to carry on the family business once pop's gone – it's always going to be a pretty tough gig bringing a girl home for the first time.

Or so you might think. On that last point, circumstance has proven no obstacle to romantic success in Death, Jr II: Root of Evil, which sees the diminutive antihero now joined by his hot skeletal girlfriend, Pandora.

This is the follow-up to one of the PSP's earliest releases, a game that acted as a showcase for the system's abilities due to its good looks and rich, bright characters. That first (slightly tired) platforming action game certainly exuded visual charm, but it was blighted by a painful camera, underdeveloped story and repetitive level design, meaning it never won players' hearts in quite the numbers it was reaching for.

This sequel feels immediately fresher, with an overhauled camera, more vibrant animations, and the introduction of a co-op ad hoc multiplayer mode to further sweeten the deal.

You play as either Pandora, an obsessive-compulsive Goth, or Death Jr himself. Despite each character boasting a supposedly different move set, in practice they're very similar to control: one wielding a scythe and the other a whip; one firing ice, the other fire, and so on.

Both characters also share a basic repertoire of moves, including double jumps (needed in order to negotiate long distanced platforms), hook shots (to swing from branches across sheer drops) and wall jumps (to ascend up rock faces). And once you've picked your protagonist, there's no switching.

There is some flexibility in the system elsewhere, however, as by collecting energy orbs from fallen foes new moves can be purchased (while, on a related note, hidden throughout levels are new items used to upgrade weapons).

Despite its kiddie looks, Root of Evil can at times be extremely tough. The difficulty arises from a ménage à trois involving the endless waves of (admittedly varied and interesting) enemies, the over-convoluted control scheme, and a still not fully revised camera. While there is certainly visceral enjoyment to be had from scything through enemies, the novelty quickly wears off – especially as you often find yourself being attacked by enemies off-screen.

In addition, right from the start you'll need to be combo-ing together button presses to access new parts of the level and that's before you even start to unlock some of the battle combos. More significant still, the complexity of moves imposed on the PSP's buttons soon becomes confusing and unwieldy (for example, the L and R triggers control the camera but also, when tapped, put your character into sidestep mode).

As for the camera, it's much better than in the first game but remains far from perfect, too often leaving you to sort out your view on the action yourself. With their need for precise jumping and aiming, platform games always struggle with getting the camera behaviour right (it is something you shouldn't even notice if it's done well) and this is still one of Death, Jr's weakest aspects.

On a more positive note, the co-op mode is a welcome addition – especially as the entire game can be played through with two players (as long as you both have copies of the game). Annoyingly, it's not possible to use a single-player save meaning you'll have to start afresh and, sadly, in practice there aren't really any places in the game which actually require two players to work together – it's a simple war of attrition. Nevertheless, it's a worthy inclusion.

Overall, Root of Evil is a good-looking and creatively presented package with excellent art and animation. However, the level design remains lacklustre, the control scheme and camera are both over-complicated, and the level of difficulty is too hard for the wrong reasons.

At times, when the camera and action work in harmony, the game reveals all that it should be and is a welcome addition to PSP for platform genre fans who have rinsed Daxter. But, for everybody else, it only just noses its way above average.
 
Death, Jr II: Root of Evil
Reviewer photo
Simon Parkin | 2 May 2007
Death, Jr II inches its way closer to being a very good game but, too often, its action fails to match the creative promise of its scenario, character and art design
 
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