Derrick The Deathfin’s titular hero might have lost his parents at the hands of Evil Men, but he’s hardly an aquatic saint himself – his ‘do stuff quickly or die’ mechanic making Crank’s portrayal of adrenaline junkie Jason Statham look pedestrian. It’s not quite the same predicament, Derrick needs to gobble up anything and everything or he’ll inexplicably perish, but it’s a concept that ensures the game has both momentum and difficulty. And it’s got both in spades.
Man’s influence on nature has been covered dozens of times in this medium – sometimes subtly and without a great deal of signposting (like in thatgamecompany’s Flower) but more often pitting the underdog against giant mega-corporations, lining otherwise green pastures with steel and machinery.[drop]Derrick’ fits into the latter, as you might have guessed, but it’s done in a wonderfully charming, effervescent and wholly enthusiastic way that it doesn’t seem to grate at all.
Indeed, you’ll find yourself on the side of the baby shark right from the off, even when you’re leaping out the water and chomping your way through innocent holiday-makers or a school of brightly hued, deliciously ignorant fish.
Consumption keeps you alive – except when the game wants you to battle against a timer instead of your unexplained dietary requirement – so the notion of irony and misplaced intentions is quickly cast aside. The hero of the hour needs to eat, and that’s that.
And, unless a puzzle or a boss level gets in the way, that’s pretty much all you’ll need to worry about from level to level – the structure of the game demanding little more than a physical, literal progression from area to area. You’ll need to mark off a few check-boxes (like leaping through tyres, for example) but assuming you reach the end of a section intact, you can look forward to the next. You won’t top the scoreboards unless you do it quickly and completely, of course.
The puzzles aren’t exactly brain taxing either, at least in the first few areas of the game. Derrick’s not exactly nimble fingered, so it’s more a case of using his ability to push things into other things and nudge switches, but the intermissions create a welcome break from the otherwise fairly relentlessly paced gameplay that forms the majority of the action.
Naturally this isn’t just a simple case of going from A to B. I’ve not yet finished the game (hence why this isn’t a ‘review’) but it’s already getting complicated enough (and tricky enough) to warrant a few retries. Derrick’s paths are frequently laced with danger and obstacles, requiring quick decision making and even quicker reflexes if you’re to reach the end of each section in that strict time limit. And whilst there’s always plenty to eat, boss battles highlight that there’s a pecking order in this otherwise one directional food chain.
Controls are simple, then – the left stick moves you, and you’ve got ‘eat’ with the Cross button and ‘eat and dash’ with Circle. The right trigger acts as a booster (great for when you need to temporarily leave the water) and that’s pretty much it. Refined, honed and downright pick-up-and-play, Derrick the Deathfin is all about ensuring that the player has maximum fun with it, with as little fuss as possible. It’s old school in its mechanics, but it’s also ambitious and expertly produced.
The project, 2 years in the making, is largely just a result of two men. I spoke briefly to Different Tuna’s Gordon Midwood, one half of the team, who says the game was “quite a lot of work.” I asked him the obvious question – will there be a PS Vita version? “No plans at the moment,” he replied, “we are a PS3 exclusive. Everybody does ask that question though, so in the future who knows?”[drop2]The humour, not just English but resolutely Northern English, is consistently on target, and the inbetween-level ‘hints’ are often hysterical. Dead pan and largely without fanfare, the game continuously makes you giggle, and the presentation is consistently strong.
“That was me!” laughs Gordon when I mention the humour. “I believe myself to be brilliantly amusing too. There is only a small number of people in our club though, welcome aboard!”
Everything in the game looks like it’s made of cardboard, pushing an aesthetic style that LittleBigPlanet revamped a few years back to an altogether more physical, tangible conclusion.
It’s 3D, but it’s a 3D built up from lots of 2D layers, and looks great.
“Originally I imagined the game would have a flat paper cut-out pop up book kinda style,” Gordon told us. “In my mind I imagined it as a sort of a mixture of Parappa the Rapper and Viewtiful Joe. It was the inimitable Ronzo (artist on the game, http://ronzo.co.uk) who took that idea further with the idea of going balls-out 3D papercraft. What a decision that proved to be!”
“Basically he made everything look amazing,” he added, “and I did the rest.”
I really quite like Derrick the Deathfin. It’s a handsome looking title packed with playability and clever ideas, and it’s one that’ll appeal to a wide range of players with a difficulty curve that’s smooth enough to ensure constant progress but with objectives that’ll require some considerable effort to perfect. The characters are great – Derrick especially is a delight with his understated stylings – and the developers at Different Tuna should be proud of their various achievements here.
Derrick the Deathfin is out tomorrow on PSN.