Betrayal. Revenge. Punk rock. Beer. The Apocalypse. These are not the sort of themes you’d expect to find in a side-scrolling, arcade beat-em-up, yet here they are, poignantly propping up Charlie Murder’s anarchistic platforming and pugilism. Charlie Murder is not your average beat-em-up.
Charlie Murder and his eponymously named punk-rock band are painted sometimes unfavourable – they are, in fact, a bunch of dicks. Charlie left behind friend and former song-writing partner Paul behind on the road to fame – leaving Paul a bitter and jealous tragic villain, seduced by the temptations of the devil and the lust for fame and revenge. He gets it. Paul and his new demonic goth metal band Gore Quaffer kill Charlie and his band mates, sending them to hell.
When they’re resuscitated, the whole world’s gone to hell – populated by killer zombies, ninjas, witches, mutants, demons, rats and a particularly terrifying hamburger. The story is told in reversed flashbacks, and sparse as it is – only punctuating the brawling action for mere minutes every few hours – it has a certain piteous depth to it.
Taking queues from other fleshed out side-scrolling action games like Scott Pilgrim, River City Ransom and Castle Crashers, the game has that RPG veneer painted all over it – and plays more like a dungeon crawler than a beat-em-up. Charlie and his band mates make up 5 selectable player classes – Berserker, Tank, Mesmer, Mage, and Shaman – each with their own unique abilities. Unlike traditional RPG’s though, these class-specific spells aren’t earned by levelling up; instead they’re gained through purchasable tattoos you’ll nab from ink-shops littering the world. XP’s gained through an app on your in-game mobile phone that tracks tour fame and followers through a faux Twitter-like service.
As your levels increase so do your speed, defence and Anar-Chi (magic) stats – which can also be augmented and padded with equippable punk-rock fashion items. The phone is also used to compound the story, with regular messages from the quasi-literate Paul and an unknown “friend” fleshing out the story. It’ll also help you find secrets and extra loot, using a clever camera-system to scan in-game QR codes – making it more interesting than QR codes in real life. .
There’s also a relic system, where equipping certain objects you find in the world add to the cash you earn, quality of loot you pick up and other bits of RPG fluff. I’ll be honest in saying that the whole RPG component seems a little tacked on – there’s no real way to quickly compare gear, or quickly select which bit of health-and-stat-boosting food item you’d like to quaff in the middle of big fighting. Mostly though, you’ll be drinking beer, which you can brew yourself through a crafting system. Beer not only gives you health, but also gives a permanent increase to stats, and a decrease to liver function.
Having said that, Charlie Murder is actually a pretty damned decent beat-em-up, utilising the tried and tested, three-button combat mechanics system you’ll find in just about every game of this ilk; light attacks, heavy attacks and a jump – all of which can be chained together for combos. As a beat-em-up, Charlie Murder is a lot of fun – but it’s also uneven in pacing and tempo. The skop-skiet-en-donner is broken up by infrequent distractions; rhythm-game styled music sections that have you belting out screamy punk rock to well-timed button presses, side-scrolling shooting and even a light bit of skateboarding.
It’s also the first game since Battletoads that’s made me want to throw a controller through a window in pure abject frustration. Playing it solo can be a checkpoint nightmare. It’s not that the game’s particularly brutal – but checkpoints can be so few and far between that death means having to replay entire sections over and over; including the playable cut-scenes. When a level is bastard difficult, having to replay it a few times only to die at the end of a section and then having to do it again is beyond frustrating.
Like Castle Crashers though, the games best played in co-op, which removes much of that frustration as that allows you to be revived by your comrades. It does add another bit of annoyance though; in that you can smack your own team mates around, and when there’s a lot of action going on, it all devolves in to genuine anarchy with so much happening that it’s impossible to tell where you are or what you’re doing.
With that pretty fantastic punk rock focus though, perhaps that’s the point. Charlie Murder is available on Xbox Live Arcade as part of the Summer of Arcade promotion, for just 800 MS points.