Ska Studios has been a quirky developer from the very beginning, with the abysmal I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1N IT!!!1 acting as a gateway to The Dishwasher, a schizophrenic brawler if there ever was one. It’s clear Ska Studios founder James Silva has talent to showcase, but it’s felt wasted on games that resemble the scribblings of an angsty high school student who’s read far too many Jhonen Vasquez works. Charlie Murder is the latest hyperactive beat-‘em-up to join the ranks of the other Ska Studios works on the Xbox Live Arcade. It’s a violent thrill ride with over-the-top action and gore that trumps the previous games from the developer, both in terms of absurdity and gameplay. In short, Charlie murders.
That’s not just a clever play on words. Charlie actually does murder a ton of people. Seriously, a ton. Guns, swords, melee, blunt objects…you name it. He curbstomps fallen enemies and makes an enormous mess out of anyone who gets in his way. In this nonsensical adventure you guide Charlie through some extremely out there moments, clearing wave after wave of attackers as you progress. It’s all very by-the-books, as far as the barebones brawler outline.
The plot is throwaway and the characters themselves aren’t particularly memorable, but the enemies and interludes themselves are. The garage punk band (creatively named Charlie Murder) and its members are on a quest to defeat the evil Lord Mortimer and his band Gore Quaffer…in a battle of the bands. That’s it! A battle of the bands — not world domination. It’s a safe bet that you’ve never been matched up against huge yetis or sharks with dynamite strapped to their heads, and if you have, you’ve probably never done it quite in this manner. It’s pure frenetic joy, button-mashing your way to victory, and that’s what Charlie Murder excels at.
Each band member plays the role of a familiar RPG trope, with Charlie acting as a Berserker, Lester being a Mage, and so on. The fragments of RPG tropes strewn about he game world give what could end up as just another generic brawler enhance the experience in several ways, as do the addition of “tattooing” character augments for special upgrades. It’s all reminiscent of a good role-playing game, and eggs you on to continue even if you feel a bit bogged-down after cleaving through a few hundred dudes here and there. The spectacle of a felled boss is one to behold as well, especially as you beat the monstrosity to a pulp and watch with glee as it explodes with much fanfare. It’s gruesome stuff, but that’s what makes it so much fun.
Vehicles, customizable equipment, clothes, and tattoos can be purchased with the cash earned from busting heads, and you can also purchase food and alcohol to boost specific stats. It all comes in handy in the later stages of the game, where things really get hairy. There are even attempts at evolving the game into something completely different, with miniature rhythm games to boot. It’s refreshing to see such risks taken in a time where it’s looked down upon to do so much as one out-of-the-ordinary thing, and that’s what makes Charlie Murder so unique.
You’ll want to bring some friends along for the ride as well, considering the game feels tailor-made for cooperative play. That in itself is a breath of fresh air, as friends truly enhance the game in many ways. With a band dynamic, this makes sense of course, and if you can gather three other comrades for a little punch-kick-slice-shoot adventure, you’ll be all the merrier for it.
Charlie Murder is a much more complex game than fans of Ska Studios’ previous works will be expecting. It’s still a rebel, but this time there’s a cause to be found. RPG-lite elements, inviting co-op play, and zaniness combine to create a likeable, refreshing take on the brawler. If you need an excuse to punch things first and ask questions later, Charlie can provide it. Just leave your brain at the door and ask for the most punk rock beat-‘em-up around.
Platform: Xbox 360