Review: Derrick the Deathfin

DerrickTheDeathfin

As the game industry begins to move toward the busiest part of the year, smaller, unknown titles have the unfortunate disadvantage of battling for mind share against juggernauts with huge marketing budgets and franchises with installed customer bases.  Hype for upcoming titles like Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted is easily dominating preview pieces for many gaming outlets.  All of these are tried and true and will probably be wonderful (if not somewhat rehashed) games.

Of those listed above and many more unmentioned, not one is a title that treads new ground with art direction or game design.  Creating something new and distinct is not a gamble many developers or publishers want to take during the busiest buying season of the year.  Sadly when something unique does come out during the run up to the fall/winter release window, many great games are easily overlooked.  Derrick the Deathfin is one such game that presents a fairly fresh spin on gameplay and art design but unfortunately is swimming in an ocean with much bigger fish.

Put another way, Derrick the Deathfin is one of the greatest visual treats to come out this year.  Papercraft models were used as inspiration for the actual in-game models which provides a wonderful, vibrant look and feel up against an otherwise stagnant, redundant line-up of upcoming games.  I was amazed at how many different underwater creatures were built and then digitally copied for use within the game.  Jellyfish, scuba divers, crocodiles, crabs and all sorts of fish. Each creature is given fine details that, at a quick glance, would be easy to dismiss as just a typical computer generated model.  Additionally, environmental set pieces and props are also given the detailed papercraft treatment.  Oil derricks and drums, speed boats and large wheels add to the wild assortment of neat handcrafted sets used throughout the game.

For as wonderful as Derrick the Deathfin is to look at, the game is just as quirky in its story and gameplay design.  The opening level introduces Derrick as a small shark swimming with his parents.  His parents are unfortunately sucked out of the ocean and processed as canned food by humans.  Derrick vows to exact revenge for the murder of his parents and sets off to destroy pretty much anything made by humans as well as eat any creature that gets in his way.  While part of the story makes sense, what I find just downright bizarre is when Derrick destroys man made objects that end up polluting the environment.  Barrels of toxic waste, oil slicks and other hazards pollute the world in the wake of Derrick’s rampage for vengeance.

Of course a nonsensical plot makes no difference as long as the gameplay is fun. Derrick can feel a bit twitchy in spots, but for the most part controlling the angry underwater predator is simple and natural.  Holding down R2 propels Derrick forward at a faster rate, moving the left analog stick left or right sends him swimming in the corresponding direction, and the X and Circle buttons perform different attacks.  There are basically three design styles for the levels: speed runs, environmental boss challenges and a typical platform-esque layout.  I say platformer-esque because the levels are basically a traditional side-scrolling layout with only one pathway, but that pathway may loop around and eventually end at a finish line.  The speed run levels are devious twitch-fests that tease a simple gold finish, but require perfect control and timing for both movement and rate of speed.  The environmental “boss” battles are more or less static puzzles that require more tactical prowess than speed or twitch reflexes.

Levels are presented through four different themes that span American, Asian, African, and Arctic zones. Each theme focuses on traditional iconography from that region and adds a nice visual change of pace for each new level.  I’m reminded a bit of LittleBigPlanet with both the theme art as well as the level layout, but what is refreshing is the option to speed through a level or carefully take your time collecting all of the red heart-shaped gems or finding all of the tires to leap through.

One component that isn’t fully realized in the game is an online leaderboard.  From the main menu there is an option to review scores earned on each level, but there is currently no way to compare times with other folks playing the game.  Another issue that isn’t deal breaking, but is worth noting, is the time a level can take to reload.  On the speed run levels, one wrong move and the gold medal that could be earned will quickly become a silver or bronze instead. To that end, restarting a level should be quicker than playing through the entire level.  I found that most of the times I was better off letting the timer run out or have my health drop to nil which would reset the level without having to reload.  I’m not sure why there is an odd discrepancy in loads like that, but OCD folks who tend to restart a level to get the perfect run may find this to be a bit off putting.

In the vast sea of upcoming blockbuster sequels, Derrick the Deathfin chooses to swim in a different direction and provides a refreshing take on the side-scrolling arcade action/platform genre.  A wonderfully charming art style adds to the overall aesthetic, and the gameplay offers just enough challenge while maintaining an accessible control scheme.  The low-budget price is easily one of the best reasons to buy the game too.  Currently PS+ members can pick up the title for just $5.54 and even the full price is cheaper than the norm at only $7.99. Download this underwater papercraft escapade for an experience quite unlike anything else you’re going to play this year.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful papercraft design
+ Fun, fast-paced levels
+ Tons of collectibles and awards

Cons:
- Controls are a bit twitchy at times
- No online leaderboards

Game Info:
Platform: PS3 via PSN
Publisher: Different Tuna
Developer: Different Tuna
Release Date: 10/9/2012
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.