DeathSpank is the debut RPG from indie developer Hothead Games, which is probably best known for its episodic adventure game series On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Ron Gilbert, of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island fame, collaborated on the project, but it's not clear how much of an influence he had, since the credits only list him as the co-creator of the DeathSpank character. In a way, I'm sort of hoping that his input was minimal, because I didn't find the game to be especially funny or enjoyable.
In DeathSpank, you control a character named DeathSpank, who is a hero to the downtrodden, a vanquisher of evil, and a dispenser of justice -- and who sort of sounds like a cheesy superhero, but in a good way. Apparently, DeathSpank has devoted his entire life to tracking down The Artifact, and that search has taken him to the town of Pluckmuckel, where most of the game takes place. After a short introduction, you learn that the evil Lord Von Prong has The Artifact, but that you'll need to rescue Pluckmuckel's eight missing (and widely scattered) orphans, plus defeat a variety of vicious chickens, dastardly orques, and sabretooth donkeys, in order to reach him.
As you might have intuited by this point, DeathSpank is not a serious game. NPCs send you on silly and quirky quests, you use magical outhouses to move around the map, you find equipment like Epic Shoulders of Awesomeness, and you eat unusual food like rootbeer floats and nachos. Unfortunately, while there are some funny moments in the game -- such as in one quest where you're asked to acquire magical poop by "beating the crap out of demons" -- most of the dialogue is at most amusing, and too much of the humor is based on silly situations without any sort of a punchline. For example, when you enter the Enchanted Forest, you meet a talking tree, and it asks you to find a black light, a "Keep on Truckin" poster, and a few other oddities. The problem is that there isn't any humor in the dialogue, and nothing uproarious happens at the end. You're just supposed to think it's funny that the talking tree is sort of a hippie.
Worse, though, is that the combat engine is seriously simplistic. DeathSpank doesn't get any skills or spells. He only gets to attack with the two weapons you decide to equip him with (by left-clicking to attack with one and right-clicking to attack with the other), and he can also block (by pressing the space bar). If you're feeling coordinated, then you can alternate your attacks with the two weapons and create a chain that will increase your combat multiplier and eventually knock your opponent back, but that sort of sophistication isn't required for 99% of the enemies, where one or two attacks will get the job done. Since most of the enemies do not require any sort of thought or tactics to kill, that means the game is all about mindlessly clicking on enemies until they die -- and then watching them respawn so you have to click on them a few more times -- which eventually grows tiresome.
Even character development is uninspired. Each time DeathSpank gains a level, you get to choose a Hero Card to give him some sort of bonus (like extra melee damage or a faster running speed), but there are only 20 Hero Cards available, and you'll probably hit the level 20 cap well before the end of the game. That means you don't really get to decide anything. You just get to pick the order you receive the cards. Big whoop.
Other parts of DeathSpank have pluses and minuses. For instance, the voice acting in the game is excellent, the best I've seen (well, heard) in a long time -- and it's even more impressive given that DeathSpank is priced at only $15, and most games in that range don't use voice actors at all. But to make up for this plus the graphics are a little bit sketchy, and you're not allowed to control the camera, which frequently gives you bad angles (the game just loves nearly horizontal views), which frequently makes it difficult to click on what you want to click on.
Overall, I didn't enjoy DeathSpank very much. If the game had been funnier, then the amusing dialogue and situations might have been enough to make up for the basic gameplay mechanics (which was the case for 2005's The Bard's Tale, and, to a lesser extent, the more recent Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes), but I didn't find that to be the case, and so completing the game's 10-15 hour campaign ended up feeling more like a chore than a fun time at the computer. But DeathSpank is priced reasonably, and, depending on your sense of humor, might have just enough going for it to be a worthwhile purchase.