Charlie Murder

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Charlie Murder
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Charlie Murder
Action, RPG
Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft Gdiosame St
Developer: Ska Studios
Release Date: August 14th, 2013
Ska Studios has a pretty cult-based following in the video game world. This is the company who brought us The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai series, and the indie smash hit I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES!!!1. Now the indie developer returns with a brand new game for the 2013 Summer of Arcade line-up titled Charlie Murder. Given the recent success of side scrolling beat ’em up titles the Xbox Live Arcade has had lately, and the team’s track record up to this point, is this title worth picking up as soon as possible, or is it one best waiting for a sale on?

Charlie Murder is a tale about a punk band with the same name. Technically a four-piece, though a female fifth member is available and inserted into the game as more of an after thought, the gang find themselves going up against Lord Mortimer and the Hellish legions that make up the Death Metal band Gore Quaff. It’s impossible to delve into the story without giving away the twist, which is revealed really early on and should have been held onto until near the end, but it ends up a story of bitter rivalry that leaves a town infested with zombies, and the members of Charlie Murder coming back from Hell to put a stop to the opposing groups frontman.

The studio’s signature darker graphics are on display, mixing together hand painted gritty environments with hand drawn cartoonish characters. The two elements go hand in hand quite well, offering up plenty of areas to explore, a variety of enemies to beat up, and a good deal of interesting bosses to take down. The progression from dismal grey and darker terrain to the conclusion of day break is handled well too, making it feel as though everything that happens does occur within a twenty-four hour time span. There also are some nods to other games, throwing hints of The Dishwasher into the mix at times, and subtle icons such as a Pyramid-Head mask on a rocking horse you find at a playground. There’s also a few Saw references including a button sequence mini-game that has you escaping from traps in the movies. These little additions, as well as the ability to obtain relics by snapping photos with your cell phone of certain objects in the background, will cause any gamer to take the scenery in a little more than usual.

The game also plays and handles similar to many vintage and new titles in the style. Given the appearance, some could argue the successful Castle Crashers played a influential role during the design stages. The controls are pretty basic with two different punches, jump, grabbing, and a trigger to dodge. There’s also special attack abilities you can buy in the form of tattoos, and team attacks that can be executed whether playing solo or in co-op. You level up by earning experience in the form of followers, buy various outfits to make your character stronger, and there are four upgradable stats in the Windows 8 phone (a plug to help make the game happen perhaps) that also allows you to unlock abilities such as eating the heart of an enemy, duel-wielding weapons, or just increasing how much your backpack can hold or how many relics you can equip at once. All of this pushes an additional RPG aspect to the game that can be exploited to some degree through the use of food and alcoholic beverages to increase your stats when you run out of the alotted points given upon reaching the next level.

The sound track is worth mentioning. Most of the music involved are various Punk and Techno songs, but there are three music performance mini-games that play out in some cut-scenes, including the final being the music to I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES!!!1. These tasks aren’t too bad, and can be played out through Guitar Hero style button pressing sequences that go across the screen in a horizontal manner instead of vertical, giving you something else to do as the story plays out. The sound effects aren’t the most engaging, and the in game music can become a bit repetitive after a while, but won’t have you racing to turn the volume down despite how many times you play that specific stage.

While there are five characters to play as, the game is set up for only four players on screen at a time. This actually is a shame, but does keep in the spirit of early side-scrolling titles of the style. You also have three different difficulties, two of which you have to unlock, only becoming available when you complete the next difficulty level. There also are a few different ways to play, which include the typical Local Co-Op or Single Player, On-Line Co-Op, Private On-Line Co-Op, and Xbox Live Party Co-Op. All of these modes do come with an easy Drop Out option in the pause menu, as well as the ability to exit to the world map at any time, which comes in handy if you don’t want to play a certain stage again.

But, sadly, this game does have a few problems that still are not corrected at the time of writing this review. First of all, it’s impossible to play a Private Match. If you just want a simple game among friends, you are guaranteed a random player or two will wander into the game. This wouldn’t be a big problem if the desperately needed option to kick a player from the lobby existed. On top of that, the Xbox Live Party Co-Op mode is not even an option. You can start a game in it, but you simply cannot add anyone in your Party to the game. Then there’s actually playing on-line, and after only a few minutes, if that, the game starts to lag horribly no matter who you are playing against and their internet connection. There also is a Quick Match option for Xbox Live gaming, but with the way it’s set up, you’ll waste more time trying to get into a game than actually playing in one. Also, if anyone drops out, you’re out of luck, as nobody can join once the game is progress, and given that the difficulty is based on the players and the levels they are at, this can leave you in one hell of a tight spot.

Aside those issues, the game also suffers from a number of glitches. I’ve been stuck waiting to move on to the next part of a stage for no reason, and most recently beat the game in on-line Co-Op, only to wait to do anything while the credits played a second time for my gaming partner before he appeared on the difficulty selection screen. A method to skip the cut-scenes would be nice too. Sure, you can press a button to bypass one in the same difficulty after you complete the stage that triggers it, but when you start a new game on a different difficulty or a character, you’re stuck watching the same extensive scenes over and over, and they simply aren’t that engaging to begin with. Also, while this isn’t a deal breaker, the achievement to obtain all relics is glitched, with one relic not spawning for some reason. I also had the achievement for completing Chaos Mode and earning the “good ending” unlock when I actually earned the bad ending. This is definitely a killer for completionists, but Ska Studios is working on a patch for this issue, and hopefully for the on-line bugs and other issues the game has.

But, in the end, is this game fun? Yes, it definitely is. The many ways to play, bugged as they may be, definitely add a little more life to the game and make it even more fun when friends are involved. The additional levelling system and various clothing upgrades and relics will have you constantly looking to make yourself stronger, and the option to use five different characters (ten if you unlock the alternate band in the sceniverse) just increases the replay value. Despite the many problems and glitches mentioned, it’s the solid control scheme, superb hand drawn graphics, and tongue-in-cheek story line that make this an engaging title that treads the line between a satire about band rivalry, and a serious look at how lethal bitterness can really become. If side-scrolling beat ’em up games are your thing, Charlie Murder is definitely a title worth checking out, but definitely after getting patched if you can’t stand glitches, bugs, or simplt are a completionist.

Overall Score: 8/10
Charlie Murder
Charlie Murder
Charlie Murder
Digital review copy of this title provided by Ska Studios.