From the makers of The Dishwasher (the game, not the appliance) comes a post-apocalyptic beat-em-up with a unique concept, aesthetic, and soundtrack. Charlie and his band mates need to team up to slaughter horde after horde of demons and zombies that are working as underlings for greater monsters that have taken over the world. With up to three partners, you can take the world back in style by beating folks to death with weapons, or even severed limbs – complete with dual-wielding action.
The core game is about what you would expect from any River City Ransom-esque brawler. If you’ve played that, or Scott Pilgrim’s game that’s essentially a modern-day reimagining of the same concept, you know what to expect. You’ll not only beat up a ton of dudes, but also level up and buy items in shops. Coins are a bit of rarity, and can be hard to see since they’re grey and blend into the grey roads you’re often on, but worth snatching. Mining them in lower levels lets you buy perks that can save your life in a boss battle. You’ll want to avoid dying in those as best you can since death means you’ll start over from the beginning. Variety is the spice of life here, which is a welcome change of pace for a beat-em-up.
It’s very easy for them to get stale due to repetition, but beyond multiple characters to keep things fresh, Charlie Murder features a rhythm mini-game, some crazy driving/shooting stuff, and even a mid-air shoot-em-up to enjoy. There are even some new things to enjoy – like a stat-tracking in-game phone that can also give you extra loot if you snap in-game barcodes. The leveling up system is a bit different, as permanent boosts involve tattoos being applied (a nice realistic touch to be sure), but temporary ones can be a pain. There are many choices available, but no real stat-comparison between all of your items, and the text type used can be tough to read at times.
Other frustrations include partner damage being turned-on at all times for co-op, and cutscenes being completely unskippable. You’ll see them every time you play through a level and they get old fairly quickly. Given that you’ll need to play through each level with each character to test them out, this issue becomes readily apparent. Fortunately, the game controls really well and it’s easy to see where you are in relation to enemies thanks to easy to see shadows – so it at least eliminates that all-too-common frustration with brawlers. Online play is also smooth, and brings back those arcade co-op memories when couch co-op isn’t an option. As long as you’re playing with folks who won’t screw around by trying to hit you, it can be a fun time.
The Dishwasher’s dark visual style returns in Charlie Murder, as do the bizarre character design. There’s a constant haze or visual effect over everything and it makes the developer’s work stand out due to it being a shared characteristic between their games. The designs are strange, but unique and the animation is just the right amount of smooth. It’s not so smooth that it takes more time to get moves out, but it’s not so quick that the animation seems rushed.
Musically, there’s a lot of hard rock in Charlie Murder’s soundtrack – which makes perfect sense since you’re in an in-game band. Like Brutal Legend, the original music is outstanding, and unlike Brutal Legend, there are no licensed tracks to be heard. That isn’t a knock, as what’s here fits the game nicely and will have you banging your head at least a little bit. Sound effects are satisfying, and doing things like chainsawing enemies or just punching them into meat grinders sounds about as grotesque as one could imagine for a game like this.
Unfortunately, Charlie Murder isn’t quite able to live up to its potential. When I first saw the trailer, Charlie Murder seemed like the shot in the arm brawlers needed. Visually, it is, but the sometimes-clunky gameplay hurts it quite a bit. Still, at a mere $10, it’s hard not to recommend Charlie Murder even with its flaws. While I don’t think it’s a great gateway game for brawlers like Final Fight, River City Ransom, or Streets of Rage, I do think it’s a worthy purchase if you enjoy the genre. You’ll definitely get a lot out of it if you do and also enjoy dark/gothic settings and characters since they’re all over the place. The rock-heavy soundtrack fits the action and the grisly sound effects add to the violence perfectly.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
This review is based on a digital copy of Charlie Murder for Xbox Live Arcade provided by Ska Studios.