For an industry once plagued by anthropomorphized cartoon mascots platforming across pastel-colored wonderlands, Deadly Creatures by Rainbow Studios (creator of several motorcross/ATV-oriented games in the past, like MX vs. ATV Untamed) takes several unique approaches to the adventure-platformer genre. Set somewhere in the American deserts, Deadly Creatures puts you in alternating control of both a tarantula and a scorpion as these two arachnid predators fight for their respective survival against a host of other equally-dangerous critters. All of these animals are definitely not humanized in any way and are for the most part incredibly realistic, both in appearance and in animation — to the point where some arachnophobes might actually be uncomfortable watching the game in motion (or even playing it themselves).
As a Wii-exclusive, Deadly Creatures mercifully makes use of the system’s “waggle” sparingly. Most attacks are simply executed with the A, B, and C buttons, with Z either jumping (tarantula) or guarding (scorpion). Gestures are usually part of combos or QTE sequences and are never more complicated than an up/down or left/right motion; the sensitivity of these gestures can be adjusted to make them fairly responsive. The pointer aspect of the remote is mostly just used for looking around (by using the 1 button), but the tarantula also uses it to spit webbing at opponents, leap from web to web, and execute a “stealth pounce” once it gains the abilities to do so. Due to its pincers and signature tail (plus a nunchuck-controlled dash/tackle), the scorpion has a few extra gesture commands — including an awesome but impractical burrowing attack that actually has you turn the remote upside down to initiate it — but only its out-of-combat grass-cutting move is required in any sort of excessive quantity.
Clearly, these controls force the two playable creatures to differ in play style. The tarantula is much more maneuverable, much like you would expect from one of Spider-Man’s “ancestors”; while both the spider and the scorpion can climb most walls, only the spider gains the ability to crawl along ceilings. The scorpion, on the other hand (claw?), is very much tank-like, emphasizing combat and brute force — especially with its God of War-style “finishers”. Unfortunately, this has the effect of making the tarantula’s levels much more interesting to play, as you frequently find yourself jumping all over the place and interacting more with the disturbingly-detailed surroundings; the scorpion, by contrast, is mostly just claws and stinger all the way, hacking through the scenery as much as it does prey/opponents. Still fun to play, but noticeably less so by comparison.
Aside from the unusual choice in characters, Deadly Creatures also takes an unorthodox approach to its plot. Hollywood A-listers Dennis Hopper and Billy Bob Thornton provide the game’s voice work, playing the parts of Struggs and Wade (respectively), two humans looking for some lost Civil War treasure. Their story is told through the perspective of the two arachnids, as their mutual paths cross several times and the humans’ conversations are “overheard” — although of course the bugs have no idea what’s actually going on and have their own problems, like rattlesnakes and gila monsters. It is a curious way for a narrative to unfold, and is probably the game’s greatest feature. Sadly, the game provides no reason for why the “heroes” would want to accomplish certain adventure goals, which took me out of things a bit towards the end, especially during the final “boss”.
Despite all of the ways that Deadly Creatures defies conventions, the game is hampered by a couple of long-standing genre issues that detract from the gameplay experience. The first is the ever-obnoxious presence of invisible walls, which includes arbitrary boundaries as well as actual non-physical barriers to certain passageways until you’ve defeated all enemies in the area. When combined with dividing the game into chapters rather than some sort of free-exploring Metroid Prime world, a lot of the sense of exploration and freedom winds up muted, which is unfortunate. The game is also more susceptible than usual to the normal 3D camera issues; if you thought other games had problems with this, how many of them let you walk along different planes (without any sort of attitude indicator)? Crawling along winding roots and branches seems cool… until you get completely disoriented by the camera, forget which way is “up”, and wind up falling to your death when you try to access a surface that you can’t (because it was really the ceiling or otherwise put you in an upside-down state). If you pay attention as the tarantula you can learn when you’re not parallel to the ground (you don’t jump as high; the fact that you jump at all is a light slap in the face of physics), but the scorpion has no such indicator.
But the game’s greatest shortcoming is actual content. Yes, it looks very pretty and it plays as solidly as most other platformers while giving a unique perspective on its storyline, but ultimately there is maybe ten hours of single-player content and that’s it. You can unlock concept art galleries as you hunt down the 450 grubs that are scattered across the levels and watch brief interviews with Hopper and Thornton about their experiences making the game, but there’s simply nothing else here unless you really want to replay at varying levels of difficulty (which range from “easy” to “deadly”) with no reward for doing so.
Deadly Creatures is a perfectly serviceable title with several unique approaches, but in the end it ultimately suffers from its limitations. On the whole, I enjoyed my brief time playing it, but I can’t see myself eagerly looking forward to any replays, nor would it be very high on my list of recommendations. Had this carried a lower MSRP, I might think differently about it, but while it is definitely an experience worth playing at least once, it is simply not worth the full price of purchase.
ESRB rating: T for Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, and Violence; Struggs and Wade are hardly pillars of society, and the word “deadly” is right in the title of the game.
Plays Like: God of War with bugs and less button-mashing combat
Pros: Unique concept and execution; attention to detail and realism (for the most part)
Cons: The usual platformer problems with camera and invisible walls, compounded by being able to crawl along non-floor surfaces; not a lot of content for $50; limited replayability