Deadly Creatures Wii
Forget everything that David Attenborough has taught you. Tarantulas and Scorpions aren’t simple mindless arachnids that act on pure instinct. Deadly Creatures shows us that they are capable of holding a grudge, learning new abilities and punching the heck out of other animals.
Deadly Creatures is an original concept for the Wii that isn’t a port, a mini-game collection or even marketed as ‘fun for the whole family’. Once a rare commodity, the Wii has seen an increasing number of more mature titles in recent months, but some are much more successful than others are at the crucial step of translating concept to execution.
The gameplay sees you controlling the titular Creatures, playing as the Scorpion and Tarantula on alternate levels. These creepy-crawlies have not been anthropomorphised in any way; these certainly aren’t cutesy cartoony talking critters.
In fact, the character models for the two main characters in particular are fantastically detailed and animated well enough to give anyone with even the mildest case of arachnophobia a good fright. After seeing the Tarantula and Scorpion in motion, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d put on a 360 or PS3 game by mistake.
It’s certainly a disappointment then that the care and attention that has clearly been lavished upon the main protagonists has quite obviously detracted from the graphical fidelity of the rest of the game. Its fair enough that Deadly Creatures is set in an American Desert, but does that really mean that the colour palette used for creating the environments has to consist primarily of light brown, dark brown, yellowy-brown, greeny-brown and plain old brown?
All of the promotional screenshots for this game somehow fail to include the graphical filter that seems to dull all of the visuals and make the whole world seem flat and lifeless. Environmental textures are plain and objects often suffer from a lack of smoothing, so jagged edges and inorganic angular plants abound.
Although some levels try to vary things, seeing you crawling through brambles, underground caverns, across a long-abandoned truck and through a coffin it isn’t until the last two levels that you can explore slightly more interesting human environments and by then you’ll probably be tired of exploration and just want to rush to the end of the game. Bizarrely, although Deadly Creatures features more than its fair share of bland, featureless tunnels the game often waits until you’re in the middle of a fight before pausing to load which is frustrating and unnecessary.
There are only ten levels, a couple of which are the same areas played from a different arachnoid’s perspective. None of the levels should take an hour to complete, and although there are collectibles in the form of over 400 grubs, all they unlock are concept art galleries, meaning there isn’t much incentive to play this game more than once. Viewing the concept art just makes you wish that the final game was half as exciting as the initial ideas.
The level design doesn’t help either, as the controllable creatures can (and must) climb walls it would be useful to have some kind of indication of which ones are scalable and which aren’t. Instead several levels force you to vertically ascend confusing structures with no visual cues of where to go next.
You’ll end up relying on holding the 2 button, which brings up a rather essential arrow which points to your next destination. It makes you wish that the level design was better so this was unnecessary or at least that the game came packaged with a piece of tape you could use to hold down the 2 button for you…
And then there’s the question of what is compelling you continue journeying through the wilderness in the first place. Deadly Creatures takes a rather unique distanced approach to narrative that doesn’t really pay off. As the Tarantula and Scorpion pursue each other for some reason they will overhear and see from a distance the antics of Wade and Struggs, two hillbillies voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper respectively.
Wade and Struggs are searching for some lost Civil War gold which they believe is buried somewhere in the desert. It’s no surprise that they eventually find it, and you can probably guess that two greedy criminal-types don’t share nicely. The voice acting is of a high standard, but annoyingly the vocals often sound muffled and there are no subtitles available.
It all results in the player feeling quite removed from the story, and although you do eventually get to have a brief confrontation with a human, you never really feel that your actions have any purpose or impact on the tale being told.
One thing that does keep the remote and nunchuk in your hands is the combat, and the way in which battling other vicious creatures can allow you to gain new moves and combos. You gain points for each bug or lizard that you kill, with tougher ones being worth more points. At certain set scores you’ll gain a new way to make mincemeat out of your antagonists. Other abilities that are required for progression are gained after devouring the corpses of mini-bosses in a Sylar-from-Heroes-style transfer of power.
The Tarantula and Scorpion initially feel equal but distinctive in how they control and fight. The former is much more agile and can jump, whereas the latter can brawl and block but is much less easily manoeuvrable. However, by the end of the game most enemies are using unblockable attacks and the Tarantula gains the ability to tie up foes by shooting webbing and can also use a super-powerful, ultra-effective long range Stealth Pounce, leaving the Scorpion feeling sluggish and vulnerable.
The developers have at least tried to make good use of motion controls, and as well as using them for digging, grass cutting and web-slinging, they’re also used in combat to mixed effect. Thankfully, the primary attack button is A, and motion controls are only used for more powerful moves.
Flicking the remote down to sting with the Scorpions tail, pushing the nunchuk forwards to perform a dash attack and flipping the remote upside to burrow underground are great uses of the control scheme that’s available. Sadly, even this positive part of the game has a sting in its tail. As later enemies pose more of a challenge it becomes apparent that there is a delay between waggling your Wiimote and your arachnid of choice performing the relevant attack, this means that by end of the game you’ll be reduced to button-bashing in an effort to survive.
Other glitches add to the frustration. The camera is uncooperative and the only control you have over it is to centre it behind your character. It often refuses to focus on the enemy that you’re currently fighting and even sometimes actively seems to be trying to keep your opponents off-screen. Once it even hid behind a cactus for a whole mini-boss battle, completely obscuring my view of the proceedings.
The collision detection also leaves something to be desired, as your attacks will frequently go through your prey. Add to this the occurrences when enemies manage to get themselves stuck inside walls and floors, and the annoying placement of save-points meaning that death at the claws of a mini-boss often forces you to replay over five minutes of gameplay and sit through an unskippable cutscene. All of these elements conspire to make Deadly Creatures feel, ironically, a bit buggy.
The enemies that you fight are varied enough in style and attack patterns, but fighting off lizards, wasps and rats just doesn’t feel as rewarding as killing monsters, zombies or even normal human beings. There are only three proper boss battles in the game and all end up disappointing. Fighting a rattlesnake is a glorified QTE, and a ‘battle’ against a Gila Monster is simply a challenge to run away before being killed. As you never get to kill your greatest foes in the game, simply attacking a human at the end feels very anticlimactic.
For everything that Deadly Creatures gets right, it gets another wrong. Great character models, professional voice acting and initially enjoyable combat can’t make up for the other graphical and design mistakes. If you’ve always wanted to inject venom into a praying mantis or wrap a horned lizard in webbing then Deadly Creatures fills that niche, but your time is probably better spent elsewhere.