Thursday, September 16, 2010


By: Mediasaurus Rex

“Still living the dream, eh Butcher?” – Shank

I have been on a SHANK bender. Nighttime hours have been blurring as I play this game into the ground. I can’t stop. I keep on playing the final boss fight over and over and over again, tuning up my reflexes. I am also dropping into really hectic battles and tuning up my Uzi to shotgun skills. This has to stop soon; I mean, I only paid $15 dollars for this game.

Let me back up. Two weeks ago was my birthday. One of my gifts was the download of SHANK by Klei Entertainment (EA is distributing). I already had a hook in my mouth and was being pulled into the boat by the SHANK demo I saw a week before that. I usually download a demo and let it sit on the PS3 for a few days, weeks or months and they get to it. Then I play it down and make a decision. SHANK was different. The stylized cartoon characters intrigued me. I’d seen impressive screenshots earlier of heavily-muscled men, some fit, some fat, all of them angular and clamoring for a piece of Shank, the main character. So in the case of SHANK, I downloaded that demo, watched the intro video, and went straight to work. It was so much fun that I played it through twice, back-to-back. My conclusion was that I wanted more.

Taking its plot cues from B-grade drive-in cinema, SHANK is an over-the-top revenge story. The depth and blackness of the revenge is revealed as the game progresses. I’ll just let you know that within grindhouse film and M-rated video game logic, Shank has every right to rip through his opponents with the ferocity he displays.

SHANK takes a bit to get used to controller-wise. On the Playstation, the cycling through of various weapons is initially difficult on the fly. The first time through the game I found myself relying heavily on the shotgun and the machetes. These are perfect tools for a side-scroller like this that piles the enemies on thick and hard. As I have matured in my gameplay, though, I lean much more on the chainsaw and the excuse to feed enemies grenades. Yes, you can grab a problem character and shove a grenade in his face and watch him pop!

In order for you to comprehend how satisfying this is, I need to really explain where the fun in this game lies.

Enemies are armed to the teeth with Gatling guns, grenade launchers, automatic rifles, flame throwers, and knives of all sorts. When they show up onscreen, you have the option of grappling with them, pouncing on them, shooting them, or hucking a grenade in their general direction. There are also propane tanks placed at points in the game that can really clear problem situations up messily. Sometimes there are dogs in the fray, and those mongrels will knock you out of any combo you might be working and pin you to the ground. With all of these enemies attacking you virtually nonstop, your health bar can take a serious beating, but there are power-up drinks showing up at regular intervals to keep Shank alive. Sometimes, I find myself really beating the hell out of a large opponent something unmerciful, because I know that when he drops, he’ll give me a power-up drink.

The varying degrees of mayhem that can be created are limited only by the player’s creativity. As you play through the game, you can unlock more, increasingly powerful weapons. There are chains for your fists, an Uzi, and opportunities to kill opponents with some of the heavy machinery that they died trying to kill you with. The combos get thick and complex. In short, you need to open 2-3 cans of brutal whup-ass, and then you need to work your way through a 12-pack or a 24 pack without getting touched in the process. I like to pounce on the first thug I see, stab him in the chest twice, then clear the area around me with a few shotgun blasts before finishing my pinned victim off with a chainsaw rip to his chest or two satisfying buckshots to his face. I find myself giddy as I wreak cartoon havoc on everyone in my path.

Shank moves from left to perpetual right, cutting his way through wave after wave of 2D enemies. Think original STREET FIGHTER or DOUBLE DRAGON or ROBOCOP. SHANK’s soul is reincarnated from parts of the original side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups of the late 80s and early 90s.

The scrolling is only part of the equation. Boss fights are a regular occurrence, and if you don’t know what to do, these guys will mangle you and burst your cartoony blood vessels. The death of Shank in a boss round means that you will come back with a hint floating across the screen offering some insight in how to drop your target. All of this is part of the grand revenge story that is concluded with a hard-to-kill final boss.

The cut scenes are on par with anything that is on Cartoon Network, and the hyper-violence adds to the entertainment value. Subject matter, language, and splatter ensure that if you have kids in the household, you can’t do this stuff until well after bedtime. But there is something about the art, the coloring, and the silliness of it all that keeps this game from being a dark study of man’s bleak nihilistic potential. SHANK is harnessed in a framework of fun, and that fun is so compelling that the fact that I have well-over 3000 vicious kills under my belt is completely trivialized. On top of all of this is a “hard mode” that has no checkpoints. You get killed mid chapter? Back to zero. Yeah, those developers at Klei know a thing or two about making it rough.

Couple all of this with Klei’s approachable SHANK blog (with wallpapers and a free soundtrack download) and their entertaining Twitter-feed, and SHANK is a gaming experience that blows a lot of 60 dollar games away. These guys care about their product, and they have lovingly delivered something to my living room that would have sucked at least a hundred dollars out of me one token at a time at the local arcade. SHANK is all about replay. It is all about those bite-sized moments of glory that those of us who clocked arcade time lived for. I used to take my allowance to the arcade and come away with amazing experiences that I could only replicate the next week when I got paid again. SHANK has that kind of feeling about it. When I finally beat that final boss after struggling with him through two separate gaming sessions, I had to go right back into it with him to make sure I’d actually done it.

With all of the unlocks, cut-scenes, and the cornucopia of fun ways to dispatch opponents (don’t forget that grenade feed), SHANK is the most solid fifteen dollar purchase you can make on the Playstation Network. A hundred hit combo unlocks a white ninja costume for you to wear. A hundred and fifty hit combo unlocks the red ninja suit. Also, a hundred chainsaw kills unlocks a Jason Voorhees looking suit to handle business in (my current favorite). Currently I am sweet-talking my wife into playing co-op mode with me so that I can secure more unlockable costumes.

I don’t have a rubric to grade games with, but if I did, this would be a 10 out of 10 hands down.

Check out Klei's SHANK BLOG

Contact M-Rex here