With the outstanding Scott Pilgrim vs. The World out this week for XBLA, and Castle Crashers making its way over to PSN next week, it’s a fine time for great 2D beat ’em ups. But where does the long awaited, graphically slick and viscerally gory Shank fit into all this? Is it a clunker, or another fine addition to the recent beat ’em up resurgence?
Shank follows the story of it’s titular character Shank, who has returned after a seven year absence to wreak bloody revenge on the kidnappers of his girlfriend. Over the course of the game Shank hunts down and deals gory vengeance to his enemies in a somewhat Clichéd manner, but on the whole the story is delivered well through a series of gloriously animated, comic-book styled cutscenes. The dialogue isn’t that great, and there are a few duff lines delivered by the fully voiced cast, but the story has enough hooks to keep you plowing through the hordes of grunts and bosses in your way.
Where Shank’s main strengths lie are in its superbly slick gameplay. Shank can carry utilise 3 weapons at a time – his dual knives, a ranged gun and a ‘special’ melee weapon such as a Katana or Chainsaw, there are a variety of unlockable ranged and melee weapons throughout the game – and chain them together in combos. The combo system in itself is simple to learn and yet incredibly satisfying, as it takes no more than a few simple combinations and presses to stylistically shoot and carve your way through enemies. The animation is some of the best there has been in a game of this style – Shank switches between the 3 of his currently equipped weapons mid combo with a buttery smoothness that makes the combat look like a glorious dance of death. It may be a simple system, but Shank’s unrivalled animation makes the fighting a beautifully visceral pleasure to watch. Seeing really believing when it comes to how fluid everything feels.
On par with the wonderfully stylish gameplay is Shank’s outstanding presentation. The game gives off a very comic book stylised vibe, with a dash of old westerns and a hint of Tarantino blended in to give an incredibly impressive visual package – blood, guts and all. The Penny Arcade-esque cartoon style to the characters looks brilliant, and when combined with the astonishingly slick animation, Shank is a fantastic sight to behold. It holds up surprisingly well on the soundtrack front as well, providing a suitable western-esque string of melodies that really sells the harmonious gore of the combat.
Unfortunately there isn’t much else for you to do once you’ve played through the single player story – there is a co operative mode that acts as a prologue to the main story, but – in what appears to be a running theme with these games recently – it is a strictly local only affair. It’s fun enough, but nowhere near the length of the story mode. It would’ve been nice to have a co-operative version of the story or perhaps even a horde-eqsue survival mode with Online features. There’s not much replayability to Shank outside of unlockable outfits gained by getting a certain amount of kills with a particular weapon, but what is there is still worth the price of admission.
Shank is a viscerally wonderful side scroller that, although a little smaller than perhaps it should be, is still incredibly fun to both look at and play. If you’re looking to add some style to your downloadable collection, Shank is a fine addition.
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Genre: 2D beat-em-up
Time: Completed the story mode on normal, around 7 hours. Played about an hour of the co-op prologue.
Gripes: There is little replayability, and an Online function for the co-operative functions would’ve helped allay this.
Get it for the: Fluid, brilliant combat, and the wonderfully lush visuals.