DeathSpank is not a typical name for a role-playing game hero. But then DeathSpank isn’t a typical hero, and neither is Thongs of Virtue a typical RPG, as you can probably guess. If you’ve played the original DeathSpank game then you’ll know the score. Equally, if you’ve experienced Hothead Games’ On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect too. Ultra-sarcastic, fourth-wall-breaking plot lines and dialogue which pokes so much fun at the RPG genre it leaves mild bruising.
DeathSpank must recover the six thongs of virtue, which are currently corrupting the known universe. The mystical and tight underwear in question is wielded by a range of strange characters, including a nun gone bad and a nefarious Santa. Your main quest is to hunt down the corrupted thong wearers, but there’s a sizeable game world and a mountain of optional side quests which will keep you dying and spanking (killing creatures that is, not paddling them) long into the night.
Essentially, this is a basic Diablo style action RPG, with the emphasis on hacking away with a variety of weapons, building up simple combo moves and gulping down health potions when things are looking hairy (such as when a big snow yeti’s foot is right in your face). The game’s pretty much a loot grab-a-thon with some simple levelling mechanics, and an interface as smooth as a twenty-year-old malt. A single button push sorts your inventory into equipment types, for example. The controls are also laudably straightforward, and the camera fixed with a generally sensible viewpoint that rarely leaves you stumbling around in the dark.
Thongs of Virtue is very polished, and that’s true of the visuals as well, which bear a distinctive pleasing cartoon look with stylised elements such as buildings that look like cardboard cut-out frontages, as if they were scenery backdrops on the stage. The aesthetics are all tied in with the humour which runs through the entire game, from the weapons (the first one DeathSpank finds is a potato peeler), to the characters and of course the quests.
The dialogue is excellent. The non-player characters are genuinely funny little works of fiction, and the armour vendor is a good example. He’s French, and when you talk about the battle which rages around and about his town, he comes out with innumerable war clichés that take the mickey out of arty European film scripts. He then gives you two quests to deliver two packages, saying: “I am unable to deliver these, as I need to smoke and look dramatic.” DeathSpank then notes: “Delivering packages has become my speciality.”
In actual fact, many of the quests are basic deliver and kill tasks. There’s a whiff of repetition here, even though it’s intentional in terms of being an RPG parody; plus the strange characters, goals and tongue-in-cheek situations you get thrown into help add some needed spice to the missions. There are some more involved puzzles as well, where you need to do a bit of thinking. Should you get stuck, the game employs a system of fortune cookies which are found as loot and give out hints. Lost and found lockers are also dotted around the map, to make sure that you can’t destroy or lose a vital item to completely derail your adventure. It’s all very beginner friendly.
Thongs of Virtue is one of those rare adventures where talking to all the characters becomes addictive, just to uncover some of the game’s comedy nuggets. Cleverly, the developer has ensured that conversations with NPCs who aren’t quest givers can also reveal important information and hints on quest objectives, so an inquisitive mind is often rewarded with both laughs and clues.
If there’s a weakness, it’s that there is a slight vein of repetition in the quests as we’ve mentioned, and also in terms of the combat. The art of scrapping is a button-mashing affair where there’s a tendency to run around madly swinging all your weapons (you can wield four at a time), but there are nuances here, too. Special moves can be strategically triggered, ranged weapons employed such as grenades and bazookas, and mastering the art of blocking really helps deal with those harder enemies.
Finally, it’s worth noting that if you’ve a friend on hand, Thongs of Virtue allows them to leap into the desperate hunt for a bunch of pants. The local co-op mode gives the additional player a choice of two basic characters, and while they can’t level up, access an inventory or perform any of those role-playing bits, it’s still fun to have a mate join in the comedy and carnage.