Game: Death Jr.: Root of Evil
Platform: Nintendo Wii
When you hear the words “third-party Wii game”, you probably think immediately of trash like Nitrobike, Emergency Mayhem, and Obscure: The Aftermath. With more and more publishers shoveling out underwhelming games to try and cash in on the Wii’s popularity, decent games for the system that don’t feature Mario or Link are becoming a rarity. However, Death Jr.: Root of Evil is refreshing change of pace for the Wii: a fun game with an artistic style that’s aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, its flaws are sometimes hard to overlook when they get in the way of the gameplay.
Death Jr. features the teenage son of the Grim Reaper, a middle-school student dealing with many of the same problems we all did at that age: girls, schoolwork, and parents. Of course, he’s not exactly like us, since he’s the skeletal son of Death himself and all of his friends are deformed freaks. The premise is interesting, although I’m not really sure why Eidos decided to port the second of the PSP Death Jr. games and not the first. I would have liked to hear a little more about DJ’s origins, but despite this fact, the storyline isn’t terribly hard to get into or follow.
Root of Evil allows you to play not only as DJ, but also has his sweetheart Pandora, a charming girl with black eyes and a love for locked boxes. However, if you start as one character, you have to keep using that character throughout the whole game; there’s no switching back and forth throughout. That would have been a nice addition, because there’s really no motivation to play through the game a second time with a different character. Root of Evil also has a two-player mode, with each character taking the role of either DJ or Pandora.
The game does a nice job of blending action and platforming elements, but doesn’t really do anything new or distinctive for either of those genres. DJ has several weapons at his disposal, with his scythe being the weapon you will use most action. Though you can unlock different moves for the scythe that use the Wii remote, most of the game is spent hacking and slashing through various enemies. DJ also starts off with a couple of guns, which can be used to decimate foes from farther away; as the game goes on, more range weapons can be built, like a rocket launcher or flaming toilet paper.
The 3D environments are pretty standard fare for anyone who has ever played a platformer before: a series of moving platforms, linear pathways, and glowing orbs to collect can be found in just about every level. It’s fun enough, but can get a little repetitive. As much as I like platformers, there are only so many versions of the same by-the-book, cookie-cutter gameplay I can take. This keeps Death Jr. from ever being truly addictive, which is a shame, because the game comes so close to greatness.
What I did love about Root of Evil was the way it looks (wow, how many times can you say that about a Wii game?). The Tim Burton-like aesthetic reminded me of the LucasArts classic Grim Fandango, between DJ and his deformed friends and the eerie environments. It’s great to see a developer actually make an effort to make a Wii game look good, and while it doesn’t reach the level of Twilight Princess or Mario Galaxy, it’s still one of the better-looking third-party games on the system.
Unfortunately, for all that it does right, Root of Evil still has some flaws that are hard to overlook. Specifically, the camera is atrocious, especially when you’re fighting enemies. I spent a lot of time just mashing buttons and hacking away, not even sure if I was hitting anything or not, because the camera was so wonky. This especially sucks during boss fights, or when fighting exploding enemies that take out half of your life bar because you couldn’t see that they were right next to you. As you can imagine, the poor camera control can make this game far more frustrating than it should be.
While there were some elements of Death Jr.: Root of Evil that I really enjoyed, its shortcomings keep it just out of reach of being a “must own” Wii title. Forty dollars is a little steep for a cookie-cutter game with bad camera control and repetitive levels. It definitely has some strengths, and I’ll admit that it was a nice change of pace to play a third-party Wii game that wasn’t complete garbage. It’s fun for awhile, but not a stand-out title when compared to some of the higher-ranking Wii games.