Right from the start, the game oozes a menacing atmosphere, with Billy Bob Thornton’s ominous opening monologue and the moody, ambient music that combines acoustic guitars for a deep-desert touch and warbling synthesizers for that alien insect feel. Throughout the entirety of the game, a sleek, dangerous personality pervades the experience – something wholly unexpected on the Wii. The desert landscape keeps throwing surprises at you – come crawling out of a crack in the rocks to discover a forest of twisting brambles like some miniaturized haunted wood out of the mind of Tim Burton, or perhaps your critter comes across an everyday object buried in the earth that becomes a bizarre cathedral when placed in scale to your ground-level eye.
A huge part of Deadly Creature’s fun is just exploring the environment and discovering all the clever touches the artists and designers have put together. The use of space and scale, combined with level design that introduces familiar objects in unfamiliar ways, makes for many “Whoa, cool, is that what I think it is?” moments. One crevice in the rocks has a strange loop poking down into it, spinning lazily. Only by moving around it and examining it from different angles does its reality become clear – the tire of a crashed dirt bike, still spinning, suggesting some back story left to your imagination. Another cave is illuminated in an eerie bluish glow, the source of which turns out to be a broken cell phone, its cracked screen showering the rays of light into an arena where arthropods must do battle.
It is the combat that cements the solidity of Deadly Creatures as a damn fine game. Even if the fighting had proven to be just okay, the world of the game would have been compelling enough to warrant a play through, but thankfully the battle system is fun and tactical. If you just go in with buttons slamming and remote swinging, the praying mantises, bombardier beetles, and even rats will soundly send you on your back with your many legs horribly curled inward. Enemies will block your attacks if you don’t time your moves smartly, and many of them have their own unblockable moves to watch out for.
A stumble that many beat-em-ups make is giving you a ton of moves, but then not forcing you to use them since button mashing will get you by. Deadly Creatures insists you play carefully, but also gives you a varied arsenal of moves that allow for multiple useful options for any given situation. The levels alternate between controlling the spider and the scorpion, and the way enemies need to be dealt with changes.
The spider is fast and agile, darting about, dodging attacks, and striking with precision. Its combos are short, but it can (through unlocked moves earned by gaining experience) crawl on ceilings, fire blinding webs, and even feed on still-living creatures to regain life mid-battle. The last one provided a delicious evil grin on our face. There’s just something special about taking on the role of a badass venomous monster.
The scorpion is slower, but has its pincers to block with, and can use more powerful combos, with the bonus of brutal finishing moves. It never gets old to grab a lizard in your pincers, swing him around, pry his jaws open while stinging him in the throat, and finally breaking his jay wide open. There’s a certain pro-wrestling vibe to the fighting, but it’s restrained enough that it doesn’t become silly.