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Developer:
Backbone
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PSP
Release Date: October 31, 2006

by Josh Ferguson




In 2005, the original Death Jr. was released for the Sony PlayStation Portable. The game received some praise for its unique and interesting cast of characters, but was hit hard for its troubled camera and combat. Still, in 2006 Konami decided to give the series another shot with the release of Death Jr. II: Root of Evil for the PSP. Will this sequel bring new life to the series? Or should this one stay dead? Read on to find out.


Death Jr. II opens up with a short cinema where DJís father, Death, is ordering himself a bite to eat at a fast-food joint. Naturally, the boy at the register is caught off-guard and takes off running at the site of Death. As Death stands there puzzled, a large plant creature bursts through the window and begins attacking some of the individuals passing through the mall. According to Death, the individuals there are not destined to die yet, which leads to a fight between the two. Soon after, Death is defeated after a large amount of vines come toward him, trapping him inside. Who is this plant creature and what is her purpose? Well, that isnít clarified until a few more cinemas later when the player discovers that it was actually DJ and his friend Pandora who freed the creature known as Furi. After their accident, DJ and his pals decide to try and stop Furi before she deals too much trouble, or before his father finds out that it was he who released the creature.


Looking back at the original Death Jr., one of the highlights of the game was the interesting cast of characters. The game's cast of characters was quite unique, and their actual appearances were top-notch. While there were some interesting enemies along the way, none of them could match the interesting main characters. On the other hand, in Death Jr. II, the game still features the same great cast of characters, but this time around there are some interesting enemies along the way too. My personal favorites in the sequel were the chickens that could shoot lasers. Odd, yes, but definitely one of the more unique and fun random bad guys Iíve found in a game. Some of the others include teddy bears that appear to be missing eyes and other body parts, and mop buckets that roll around the place attacking your characters.


Unlike the original Death Jr., the sequel allows players to go through the adventure as either DJ or his friend Pandora. The choice of character doesnít have any effect on the storyline or any other events in the game, but the two characters do feature some different combat moves and weaponry at their disposal. Even though DJ features mostly the same weapons as the first game, including my personal favorite, C4 Hamsters, Pandoraís are, for the most part, new and unique to the character. As a melee weapon, Pandora uses a whip, and as her range weapons she uses a selection of guns, including freeze guns, tommy-guns, and a flamethrower. While the two characters have a few weapons that are unique to that character, there are also some that are used by the two of them, including the rocket launcher and shotgun. Looking at the list of weapons, there are some interesting and unique weapons found in the game. The problem, though, is that many of them arenít really necessary and much of the time players will be able to go through without even using the majority of the weapons. In fact, during my playtime as DJ, I had gone through the entire game never using any other weapons aside from my scythe and the twin pistols, which are easily one of the most useful. There are also a few different moves that can be purchased for your characters, but once a few of the more powerful ones are purchased, players can easily fly through some of the game without any use of the others.


Aside from being able to play through as the two characters, the game also allows for some fun co-op action. Using the PSPís ad-hoc capabilities, players are able to take control of one of the two characters while their friend plays as the other. This is a nice addition for fans of multiplayer action, but there are some flaws here that make some of the co-op adventure a little disappointing. First of all, players cannot simply come in at any time and join in. Instead, the two individuals must completely play through the game together. It is also a little disappointing that once you start the game, players are unable to switch between the two characters, whether it be in co-op or going through the game solo. Plus the co-op doesnít really add anything to the game, whether it be more enemies, more difficulty, or anything. The co-op only adds what you would assume it would, the ability to play through with a friend, which is nice, but a little disappointing.


If you have played the original Death Jr., then you realize that one of the game's biggest issues was with the camera. With an action game featuring platforming elements similar to this series, a decent camera is not only nice, but a necessity. In the sequel, the developers obviously tried to fix some of the problems with the original game's camera, and for the most part they did. This time around, players are able to use the shoulder buttons on the PSP to rotate the camera. Also, if the two shoulder buttons are held down, the player can use the analog stick to rotate the camera around in a sort of first-person-type view. Also, the game's targeting system has also seen somewhat of an upgrade (or downgrade, depending on how you look at it) since the original game. Rather than holding down the two shoulder buttons to lock on to an enemy, the game doesnít actually allow you to lock on to an enemy. Instead, the actual targeting system has been greatly improved, and the range weapons feature a target, which will appear red when aimed on an enemy. While you could (or at least were supposed to be able to) lock on to an enemy using your melee attacks in the original game, some camera issues made it a lot more difficult than it should be. However, in the sequel the developers completely removed that as an option and focused much more on improving the camera, which I can honestly say they did.


One of the nicest things about Death Jr. II: Root of Evil is the amount of checkpoints throughout each of the game's levels. Any time your character is killed, they will automatically respawn at the most recently visited checkpoint. Aside from that, players can also save their progress at any point in the game, which obviously is ideal for a handheld title.


Graphically, Death Jr. II: Root of Evil is a good-looking game. The game features a unique cast of characters that are good looking and some interesting enemies along the way, too. While there arenít too many, there are some good-looking cinemas to be found in the game as well. The different stages throughout the game are equally nice, and many of them are very large, too. Plus the load times in the game are pretty short, especially considering the size and amount of enemies found in each of the levels.


As far as the sound goes, Death Jr. II doesnít fare quite as well as it does in other areas of the game. The game does feature some voice acting, which for the most part is done pretty well, but there really isnít enough of it in the game. Aside from a few cinemas in the game, you really donít get to hear any of the game's voice work. Death Jr II also doesnít feature one of the most impressive soundtracks around, either. It isnít bad, but there isnít anything exactly catchy or impressive. Plus, most of the time players will have a bit of difficulty noticing the soundtrack over the constant explosions and screams of DJ being injured. While there are a lot of different sound effects in the game, many of which are done well, there are some, including DJís screams, which just become downright annoying.


If you were one of the individuals who actually finished the original Death Jr., then you know that the game wasnít exactly very long. You wonít be beating the game in one sitting (at least I hope), but the game could have been a bit longer. Even though the multiplayer action and two different characters is nice, the longer game time would have helped a lot. There are also a few different difficulties that you can go through, but seeing as how replaying the game wonít be any different even if you choose a different character, I see no real reason for any replay.


Overall Death Jr. II: Root of Evil has improved on many of the problems that were seen in the original. While the sequel carried over some of those flaws, and brought in a few new ones, the fact of the matter is that this is an overall better title than the original. In other words, if you enjoyed the first game, then you will more than likely enjoy its sequel. And if you are a PSP owner looking for an action game heavy on platforming elements, then you may want to check out Death Jr. II: Root of Evil.


Final Grade: 74%




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