Friday, March 1, 2013
Game Review: Serious Sam Double D XXL (XBLA, 2013)
The Serious Sam franchise is known for channeling old-school gameplay, and Double D XXL is no different. This time, however, we’re seeing the over-the-top Serious Sam style applied to classic 2D sidescrollers, and the biggest flaw is that it’s not longer.
Old-school 2D shooters like Contra are classics because they combine tons of action with easy to pick-up-and-play mechanics. There was virtually no learning curve, making those games widely accessible. They had minimal stories and exposition, as the entire focus of the games was on running and gunning, so players didn’t have to invest several hours to get any real return. Those types of games easily appeal to a wide variety of players, making them so well-known and enjoyed.
XXL embodies all of those characteristics. You start the game with a brief (skippable) dialogue between two characters, but then you just run, jump, and shoot your way to glory atop a mound of enemy corpses. Aside from one awkward default button assignment (which you can easily change), the controls are intuitive and fluid, so it’s easy to get started.
And the story is given in short bursts between missions, never forcing you to spend more than a minute or so waiting for your next chance rain death upon the world. Some of the bits are genuinely amusing, though, so they come as a welcome break from all the destruction, even if other bits try too hard to be silly.
Despite a somewhat jarring menu system, the presentation is rather nice, too. Colorful environments and characters along with smooth animations give the world a nice feel, even if the graphics are a little simplistic. Most sound effects seem to be taken straight from earlier Serious Sam games, so XXL sounds like it fits in the Serious Sam universe. The little bits of voice acting are great, too, giving the characters a realistic vibe.
Basically, XXL is a great game in the vein of old-school shooters.
But the developers took it a couple steps further. In addition to the solid sidescrolling foundation, there are some exciting elements that set XXL apart:
The first is the jump pad. You’ll acquire this item early in the game that bounces you higher than you could ordinarily jump. You can place it on any surface (including bodies) and can quickly replace it. This setup alone allows for some additional maneuvering, including a ghetto walljump, but the reason it’s a really neat addition is the fact that it works on enemies, too. Clever deployment of a jump pad can completely change an engagement, launching your enemies into the air to clear some space. It’s a cool mechanic, and it adds some depth to the otherwise straightforward gameplay.
The second and even more exciting addition is “gunstacking.” Like with the jump pad, gunstack connectors are available early in the game. These bad boys allow you to combine guns so you can fire up to six simultaneously. To start, it’s not too impressive – firing three shotguns at a time won’t soil anyone’s shorts – but when you start mixing in rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and laser guns, gunstacking quickly becomes the coolest thing you didn’t realize your wanted (or maybe you did realize, in which case, HERE IT IS!).
Gunstacking adds some strategy, too, as you can mix and match guns and upgrades to make the perfect gunstacks for any occasion. Mop up waves of enemies with four machine guns, a shotgun, and a flame thrower, and then switch to a stack of rockets, lasers, and grenades for big boss battles. It’s hugely satisfying to see your character running around with a stack of guns taller than he is, and it’s even more satisfying to use those guns to smite your enemies.
Gunstacking makes XXL a stupid amount of fun.
The biggest flaw is that it’s all over much too soon. With only three acts, the story mode is pretty short. There are a number of hidden secret areas that are common in the Serious Sam franchise and several challenges to test your mettle, but you still run out of content much too soon. Some other features (like local coop and an alternative single-player character to unlock, who comes with a whole new set of dialogue throughout the game) help to mitigate this particular flaw, but I still find myself longing for more to do. In the end, though, I guess that’s a good problem to have.
Serious Sam: Double D XXL is a great 2D shooter, both as a throwback to the genre and as an incredibly entertaining experience in today’s market. It’s goofy, way over-the-top, and terribly fun. It’s a little lacking in content, though, so it may not be worth the investment for every gamer, but it’s still a damn fine game.
My Rating: 8/10 – great.