Hot off of the runaway success of both the beat-em-up title The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai and the shoot-em-up title I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, James Silva (the founder and former one-man-crew of Ska Studios) found himself wanting to make a greater follow-up title. What came in the following four years of development was a game that could blend together beating up zombies, awesome music and a deranged art style. The result of sticking all of that into a blender? Charlie Murder.
Title: Charlie Murder (Review Copy Received via Xbox Live Games with Gold Program)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Ska Studios
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: August 14, 2013
Courtesy of Microsoft Studios and Ska Studios
Players take on the role of one of the five members of the titular rock band - Charlie Murder the Berserker, Tommy Homicide the Shaman, Kelly Skitten the Mesmer, Lester Deth the Mage, and Rex the Tank - as they go on a beat-em-up journey across a massive variety of levels to get revenge on the demonic rival rock band that nearly killed them, Gore Quaffer. Shortly before that happened, they ended up unleashing a demon-magic-fueled zombie apocalypse across all the lands, so it is up to Charlie Murder the band to beat the crap out of every zombie, ninja, witch, giant animal, hippie, and all other monsters that happen to come after them. Along the way, through getting text messages from a mysterious sender and being taunted through visions of memories past, it starts becoming clear as to why it all happened...
Gameplay is quite honestly crazy. Ska Studios have referred to Charlie Murder as a “BrawlPG”, and it really does show. Players level up their characters as they punch out enemies in side-scrolling environments, always-visible equipment randomly drops and can even be bought with cash gained from enemies, characters use magic abilities to perform powerful attacks, stockable food and drink provide healing and stat boosts, and drinks can even be crafted to provide super-useful buffs in a pinch. Environments go all over the place, from the depths of Hell to the skies over a hazardous hybrid of an amusement park and a castle, and even to a literal pirate ship (in both common usages of the word 'piracy'). The game's not even afraid to change things up, such as suddenly throwing players into shoot-em-ups, puzzles, or even (not a surprise) rhythm games. It gets even crazier when playing multiplayer online and offline, since that throws combination attacks into the mix that basically amount to button-mashing while invincible to throw projectiles all over the place.
Courtesy of Microsoft Studios and Ska Studios
Going along with the silly and edgy tone, the entire game is drawn in simplistic style giving emphasis to the parts that really matter for each design - a good example of this is the punk-rock aesthetic surrounding Charlie Murder themselves and the corresponding death-metal styles of Gore Quaffer's members. The general design of the environments also does a great job of blending together modern settings and standard RPG tropes, such as having to go into tattoo shops to gain tattoos allowing access to each character's unique magic abilities (known as Anarchi), using Windows Phones in-game to uncover hidden trinkets, or using a brewery in place of an alchemist's lab to create booze offering instant buffs for players. Additionally, in every single location (with the exception of deep dungeons), there is always the music of punk rock and metal playing in the background, even on stereos accompanied by DJ's that tend to be a bit aloof to the events going on, and it never feels out of place.
The game does have a bit of a learning curve, though. Charlie Murder's flow quickly gets to the point where players would need to know exactly what combination of moves would be needed to take down any non-zombie enemy, since they can block and pour on the aggression just as much as players especially on higher difficulties. Also, the game's alternate ending (as well as the new-game-plus mode and all of the secrets) requires a willingness to pause for a moment and explore instead of just plowing straight on through levels, which is somewhat atypical from the standard brawler game. Additionally, a lot of backtracking and experience-grinding eventually ends up being necessary, especially when it comes to tackling the Nightmare difficulty.
Courtesy of Microsoft Studios, Ska Studios, and Wikipedia
With all of this in mind, Charlie Murder is most definitely a great title to have in any player's digital library. While it does have a slight learning curve, it is still a blast to play whether by yourself or with others. With Salt & Sanctuary currently making waves, it certainly would be a good idea to catch up with Ska Studios by playing this. It may cost a bit more than your average indie title, but it is well worth the price.