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Eensy weensy spider, climbed up the waterspout; Rainbow Studios gives arachnophobes the ideal therapy...
Do spiders and bugs freak you out? Does the thought of a spider crawling over your face when you're asleep send shivers down your spine? If the answer is yes, then the upcoming Deadly Creatures from THQ subsidiary, Rainbow Studios, may just be the sort of therapy you need. A Wii exclusive core title due to arrive across Europe in February 2009, Deadly Creatures places gamers into the experience of being a tarantula and a scorpion. TVG grabbed the nearest glass and sheet of paper to capture some hands on gameplay with the eight-legged title...
Here Comes The Spider, Man
Set in the Sonoran desert of California and Arizona, Deadly Creatures is a big departure for Rainbow Studios. Famed for the MX vs ATV series of off-road racers, its bread and butter franchise, Rainbow's attempts to broaden its horizons certainly raised a few eyebrows when Deadly Creatures was first confirmed at the start of 2008. Nearing release in North America (the game is due to ship in mid-December), with a European launch due in mid-February, Deadly Creatures aims to fill a very real gap in the Wii's core gaming line up over the coming months.
Taking on the dual roles of two creepy arachnids, creatures typically left out from the usual animal-based video games (when will Ubisoft release 'Imagine Spiderz'?), the story of Deadly Creatures sees the animals cross paths in a patch of desert land, with the backdrop of coffins and Civil War gold. Yes, you read that right - Civil War gold. A deft and intriguing move to inject some narrative depth into an invertebrate-filled world, the two deadly creatures 'hear' an unfolding storyline between a couple of treasure hunters voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper. Unravelling the thread with the occasional cut-scene and eavesdropped lines during the course of a chapter, the two secondary characters play an important part of the game as it runs towards its climax - not that we'd ever spoil it here.
With such a background story, Deadly Creatures immediately sets out to show that it's an action-adventure game; it is not a wildlife sim, Bill Oddie and David Attenborough do not feature; this is not Autumn Watch Arizona: The Game. What it is shaping up to be however is a solid debut for what Rainbow hopes will eventually become a franchise. Bringing together the two natural world protagonists as they face a multitude of encounters against all sorts of real world predators, from lizards and rattlesnakes to aggressively psychotic tarantula hawk wasps and adversarial spiders, Deadly Creatures mixes the standard fare of battles, sub-boss battles, quicktime moments, and puzzles, with species that can (somewhat scarily) be found in Rainbow Studios' backyard. Even the staple features of collectibles (white grubs) and health packs (crickets) make it into the game - though it's probably a first for us to try and regain health by catching a jumping first aid kit!
The decision to use a spider and a scorpion as the playable characters is also allowing Rainbow to create two very distinct attributes for each of them, mixing up the strategies in the gameplay. For instance, with its natural nimbleness, the tarantula very much takes up an almost ninja-like role, using jumps as a way to dodge attacks and (thanks to the power of artistic license) mix swiping attacks with bites and a 'hurricane kick'-like move that would make Ryu and Ken proud. The ninja allegory can also go one step further when the web line skill is unlocked, enabling the tarantula to throw out a web at certain points and use it as a grappling hook to travel effortlessly to a ledge or corner of the landscape.
If the tarantula is being made out to be the Bruce Lee of the arachnid world, the scorpion is more of a tank, with its armour and block capabilities coming in handy, along with its pincer attacks and tail lunges. Like the spider, the scorpion also has some nifty moves, including a burrowing technique that can be used to launch an attack on an unsuspecting enemy moving over it. It too however isn't without a fantasy move, which in this case Rainbow dedicated to King Kong. One of the quicktime kill sequences (yes Deadly Creatures has its share of gesture-based finishing moves) sees the scorpion pull back the head of a lizard and snap its spine. Vastly over the top and probably the most extreme example of Deadly Creatures' liberty taking, it's sure to get the target audience muttering 'Cool!' under their breath time and again.
Wisely creating a control system that doesn't go overboard with Wii-remote gestures, Rainbow is mixing button mashing and gestures, with the end result looking like a pretty intuitive and solid set up. Light attacks, for instance, are based around a button press, whilst stronger attacks and special moves are more often gesture based. The gestures for the special moves are also pretty unique to the individual creature, with the scorpion's burrowing technique activated by simply twisting the Wii-remote upside down. It's all part of the studio's attempts to differentiate between the two creatures during gameplay - and so far, it's looking like Rainbow have succeeded in doing that.
A Walk On The Wild Side.
The thought of setting a game solely in a patch of desert may make the gameworld of Deadly Creatures sound quite bland. After all, it's only going to be dusty rock formations and tumble weed, right? Not quite, as the environment for the debut instalment is looking surprisingly diverse. For instance, Deadly Creatures' chapters feature sections as contrasting as a black widow spider's nest inside a dead cactus plant (cue plenty of web walking and more slight enemies dangling creepily from the top of the screen), to dusty burrows and tunnels, and thorny brambles. There are even parts of the game set in the fly-tipped waste of humans. The two creatures can also scramble up the sides of objects too, allowing Rainbow to be creative with the game's level design. Wall walks - and later, trips upside down - are far from uncommon, with the camera sticking to the perspective of the playable animal, which almost causes a sensation of vertigo at times.
But beyond the mix of scrub, bare dust, burrows, cactus plants, and spiders nests that make up a surprisingly diverse gameworld (considering it is set in the desert), the main focus is being placed on the two controllable creatures...and it certainly shows. The animation of the two characters is particularly creepy if bugs aren't your thing - a sure sign that Rainbow has ticked all the boxes. Scuttling at speed down a burrow or around the outside of a cactus plant is one thing, but the subtle motion of the spider when the analogue stick is barely being pushed in particular is impressive, with its eight legs moving purposefully and delicately. In fact, the attention to detail on the two creatures is one of the more outstanding elements of the game, especially considering the relative power of the Wii. The tarantula even has furry legs!