"This is not a shocking new step for the platformer, but what makes Death Jr. II fun is its light-hearted, irreverent approach. We’re not dealing with another “hip” animal mascot -- we’re dealing with the Grim Reaper’s son! "
There was once a Golden Age of the platformer. It was an age of heroes, albeit soft and cuddly ones. Sonic, Mario, Ristar, Vectorman, Umihara Kawase; these exuberant creatures and their strange worlds jostled for position while Disney flexed their animation muscles and turned out one charming adaptation after another: Aladdin, Lion King, Castle of Illusion, and so on. Even Konami got in on the act with the most memorable hero of them all: Sparkster the opossum, star of Rocket Knight Adventures.
Today all we have are Ratchet and Clank, and Jak and Daxtor.
On the face of it, Death Jr. II: Root of Evil doesn’t look that different from these dreary Sony platformers. As you wander through this world you can collect energy and weapon parts to acquire more combos and better equipment. These can then be used to perform melee attacks or engage in ranged pistol duels, so you can clear an area before using Death Jr.’s scythe to swing from hooks and scramble up rocky slopes.
This is not a shocking new step for the platformer, but what makes Death Jr. II fun is its light-hearted, irreverent approach. We’re not dealing with another “hip” animal mascot -- we’re dealing with the Grim Reaper’s son!
It doesn’t hurt DJ’s appeal that he looks like a creation from the mind of Tim Burton. Unlike his, uh, morose father, DJ wears his hood down, so we can see his somewhat unusual face. Two small circular holes stick out on his eerie green skull, and between them lies a small triangular hole. These are (or were) his eyes and nose. The row of tiny, yellow teeth are expressionless, until he utters a wisecrack to Pandora, his playable goth buddy. She has big, doleful pitch black eyes... and was murdered by DJ. So he’s hardly your conventional platformer hero.
THAT is why the adventure is fun, though! Death Jr. II has character, which is something that the great 16-bit platformers all share and something that most modern efforts lack. You have to do an awful lot of killing in Death Jr. II, and it does fall back on the old “enemy generator” routine, but it just doesn’t matter. The distinctive creatures that exist in this twisted, cruel reality are worth seeing again!
SOME OF THOSE CREATURES:
Oh, and the unforgettable Giant Evil Goat. He actually kicks out at you!
You have an explosive arsenal to defeat these demonic entities. Your standard twin-pistols never become redundant, but the additional weapons provide some insane alternatives. The shotgun and rocket launchers are self-explanatory, but the highlights are the C4 Hamster and the Flaming TP Launcher. Yes, TP stands for toilet paper. Bombarding obese yellow aliens with streams of flaming loo roll is nothing if not memorable.
Death Jr. II has the mechanics in place to make these crazy duels simple and intuitive, which eliminates any frustration. DJ has two modes: a regular free-roaming mode which allows you to swing his scythe with abandon, and a sidestep mode, which prevents him from turning right around. This enables you to move backwards and dodge shots without taking your eyes off the enemy. The reliable auto lock-on then lets you scroll through the monsters surrounding you. Frenetic gun-fights are determined only by your speed and endurance, not a wayward camera.
For all its surprising charm, this adventure isn’t quite in the same league as some of the greats mentioned in the opening paragraph. It doesn’t have the colour of Disney or even the Nightmare Before Christmas, because there’s no real thematic variation. You visit the same grim, moody environments and the scenery is rather dull. In the expansive farmyard it’s the leaping, laser-firing chickens that capture the imagination, not the dreary barns and shacks. So if you become frustrated by one tricky section the game can grow wearisome.
However, once you summon the urge to see more of Death Jr. II, you’ll be glad you made the effort. Not since Conker's Bad Fur Day on the Nintendo 64 have I played a platformer as twisted, macabre and just plain odd as Death Jr. II. It's this combination of Frankenstein horror and quirky Tim Burton fantasy that keeps you swinging the scythe and dispatching C4 Hamsters until every freakish monster has been killed.
Staff review by Freelance Writer (November 06, 2006)
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