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Spawn: In the Demon's Hand (Dreamcast) artwork

Spawn: In the Demon's Hand (Dreamcast) review

"Spawn: In the Demon's Hand had a more than fair chance to impress me. The designs of the immortal characters are both varied and inspired; the frail sharpshooter, the angel of death, the jester that transforms into a raging behemoth they're all quite inspired, and I wanted to like them and their game. But I don't."

Enter the world of Spawn, an undead cape-clad vigilante, and take on the hell-sent minions of Malbollocks... er, I mean Malbuttocks... bloody hell, I can't even recall the vile beast's name.

Now, before the flagbearers of objectivity skewer me upon their poles of justice after such a blatant display of prejudice, allow me to explain. Spawn: In the Demon's Hand had a more than fair chance to impress me. The designs of the immortal characters are both varied and inspired; the frail sharpshooter, the angel of death, the jester that transforms into a raging behemoth they verge on brilliance, and I wanted to like them and their game. But I don't.

That I don't love the game or even recall the archvillain's name is by no means the fault of the character designer or his stunningly animated creations. Rather, the fault lies entirely with the hellishly feeble and forgettable gameplay.

Select an alter ego (more become available as you play the game) and enter a Doom-style deathmatch (albeit with a Tomb Raider 3rd-person view) where you can unleash projectile weapons, melee slashes, martial arts kicks, and an assortment of special attacks. In theory, these special attacks are performed in a similar vein as Mortal Kombat: press A and B together, perhaps press two more buttons. In essence, it boils down to button-tapping as opposed to the D-pad rolling of a Street Fighter game. But that's in theory. I'll talk about that more in a bit.

In a fairly inventive twist on the genre, you have a time limit in which to eliminate your specified target, and during that time limit you have an unlimited number of lives. Should your vitality be entirely depleted, you'll lose a few seconds from the clock, but your hero will be rejuvenated. You are immortal, after all! Unfortunately, this leads to the first problem. Typically, you can die several times over and still overwhelm the target through pure attrition (charge headfirst, die, charge headfirst, die, charge...).

However, there's a larger problem with the gameplay than its ease. The villains are incredibly cheap and unfair. Yes, oftentimes enemy attacks are inescapably sudden and severe, reducing you to death in a matter of seconds. With all the bleedin' "small fry" running about (and occasionally re-spawning directly in front of you), it can be quite a hassle to even reach the target, and well nigh impossible to avoid death... even for the most skilled of Quake aficionados. And believe me, I've poured quite the hour into the online deathmatch. Not that Spawn is online or anything.

So basically, the game is really cheap and forces you to be even cheaper to win. On top of that, the onerous control scheme makes it difficult to pull off your chosen hero's (or anti-hero's) special attacks. Imagine trying to press two button combinations, then three buttons at once on the Dreamcast... while still manipulating the directional pad to maintain focus on your target. (No, this particular 3D combat game does not support the analog stick.) It's cumbersome, and the unfortunate result is that every character is reduced to a similar set of feasible attacks: projectile weapon one, projectile weapon two, and melee weapon.

The poor design doesn't end with the control scheme. Not only are you trying to take down a particular opponent (such as a hefty mafioso), but you're also swarmed by re-spawning legions of followers (in this example, gangsters). As you clear the zone of followers, they eventually rise again from the dead and repopulate the zone. So, to make progress, you must pulverize and pummel the head honcho. Anything else is merely for that unimportant score and kill count. While this prevents the level from ever being empty (because empty is bad), I do have issues with this particular game mechanic.

EXAMPLE. Imagine guiding your hero to the top of a flight of stairs, from which you plan to snipe the flame-spewing cyborg killer. After smiting grenadiers and soldiers along the way, you finally reach the summit. As you move into position, and focus on your target... a new soldier roars forth from the depths of hell, emptying an assault rifle in your face!

By the time this magical soldier's been beaten down, the cyborg killer (you know, the thing you're supposed to be fighting) is gone and roaming some other portion of the level. Repopulation was a good idea, but it's implemented terribly here.

All in all, I can't say I regret having played the game, but it's certainly not worth more than a rental. Spawn: In the Demon's Hand is a worm-ridden apple of a game. It looks tasty, so take a small bite to find out what's inside... you'll soon toss it right back where you found it.


zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (March 08, 2005)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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