Ah yes, the side-scrolling brawler. It has come in a variety of flavors since the early days of the NES. Recently, brawler types have been mixed with some RPG elements. I’m a big fan of RPGs and stat tracking in games, and the new sidescrolling brawler from Ska Studios, Charlie Murder, mixes the button mashing of a beat ‘em up with the loot and experience points of an RPG surprisingly well.
Players take on the role of Charlie Murder and other members of his punk rock band. They all start off in hell, beating up demons when they are revived by paramedics out in the streets. Now, Charlie and his band must fight zombies, monsters, and other evil beings to find out who tried to kill them and why.
The game utilizes a simple two attack button mechanic with light and hard flavors. Players can also grab enemies and beat on or just throw them at other enemies or, my personal favorite, throw them against a wall that has spikes coming out of it. The button combos are actually very deep for their only being two. Varying the presses up during combat can offer juggles, takedowns, and other hard hitting attacks. Each character has their own magic attacks called Anar-chi. These can hit multiple enemies, and depending on the character, can help out the party.
The RPG elements come into play with loot drops, equipment, stat boosting items and a level-up system. After each kill, characters gain experience points that go towards a new level. Each level allows players to spend attribute points to increase basic stats like attack, speed, defense and magic. They can also learn or upgrade a new ability that is specific for their character. Players wanting new Anar-Chi attacks can drop by the tattoo parlor to get some new ink that also grants them new attacks. The equipment comes in a variety of stat increasing items as well as special effects that can slightly change how the character plays. These pieces of clothing and special items can be purchased at stores or found as loot drops from defeated enemies. Players will also find hops, barley and other beer crafting materials they can use to brew their very own beer that can boost stats significantly.
Keeping up with all the buffs and resistances my character had been all well and good, but what dragged down the experience were the overly tedious item menus. I would constantly be sifting through my items after almost each battle just to compare my new equipment. It slowed the pace of the game significantly and when playing with other players it would become an ordeal when waiting on three other people to find what they were looking for.
The character’s phone is the base for all menu operations. With the phone, players will distribute ability points, check a social media service that looks and acts just like Twitter and use the camera to take pictures of QR codes that may be lying around the background or foreground. The QR codes can offer new items, money and other helpful things.
The art style has the same feelings of Ska Studios previous titles, Vampire Smile and The Dishwasher. It is a very dark, bloody art style that reminds me of the old comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It is disturbing and actually funny at times. In fact, Charlie Murder never takes itself too seriously. There are multiple movie and game references spread throughout the game that made me smirk while bashing a zombie’s head in.
The game features drop-in/out co-op with up to four players, both locally and online. With a full party of players the game really shines, of course, after everyone checks their loot and distributes points. There are certain special attacks that allow co-op partners to team up to do a devastating Anar-Chi attack. It really becomes a frantic, bloody and rather fun time. The online works very well with almost no lag in sight.
For the most part, the game play is sound. There were a few instances where platforming was an issue and sometimes dying meant going back a nice long way and losing 10-15 minutes of progress. I honestly couldn’t tell when the game was saving or when I had hit a checkpoint. It got frustrating after a while.
For only ten bucks, Charlie Murder is a rather fun beat ‘em up, especially when you have a few buddies helping you out. The menus can be a little tedious and losing progress because you don’t know when your last save was does grind the nerves after a while, but with the crazy art style and nice RPG elements, it offers players a nice reason to come back and grind for more. If you enjoy a fun beat ‘em up and have a few friends that don’t mind a ton of gore, Charlie Murder is a pretty good bet.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.