Developer: Different Tuna
Publisher: Different Tuna
Platform: PSN (PS3), PC
Release Date: October 9, 2012
This review is based on the PSN version of the game
A download code was provided by the developer for this review
Not too many games seem to have an underwater setting nowadays, and that's a shame. The ocean and other underwater settings seem to be ripe for usage in games, and yet they're woefully underused. Developer Different Tuna must have taken notice, because they set out to create just that - Derrick the Deathfin, a game starring a shark and his mischievous antics underwater. Oh, and not only that, but everything is made of paper. Yes, this is the world's very first papercraft game, and its charming visuals and addictive gameplay will have you diving right in to take a bite of the action.
The game starts out by introducing our protagonist, a little shark named Derrick, and his parents as they explain to him how man is polluting the earth and its oceans and is not to be trusted. During the speech, however, both Derrick's mom and dad are sucked up a tube by a nearby fishing boat from Mean Corp. and turned into shark food right on the spot. Naturally, this sends Derrick into a righteous fury, and he vows to avenge them by getting back at Mean Corp... and eating everything in sight. Of course, that's pretty much the extent of what little story there is to the game, but obviously that's not the focus here; the gameplay is.
Derrick the Deathfin is essentially a 2D side-scrolling underwater platform game, if that makes sense. There are no actual platforms to be hopped since Derrick is a shark, but he can leap out of the water, and many of the other genre staples are present here. The main objective is to find your way to the goal, which is usually on the right end of each stage, except in some of the more maze-like levels. To do so, however, you'll need to keep Derrick's constant hunger in check (represented by a meter at the top of the screen), meaning that you'll need to constantly gobble up any type of sea life (and even human swimmers/divers) along the way to replenish his hunger/health meter. If it hits empty, his life ends then and there.
What makes the game a lot of fun is a combination of the different variety of level designs and the desire to get as high of a score as possible in each stage. The latter is done by eating almost every living thing (including above-water animals such as birds, walruses, and more) and by taking advantage of special markers that will coordinate Derrick into a frenzy attack around nearby fish and multiply the score. And as you progress through the game, the levels become increasingly more complex and mazelike, with obstacles that can hurt Derrick (like giant crocodile mouths) as well as slow him down. There are also pink gems to collect (that also restore your health for some reason) and floating burning wheels that you'll need to jump out of the water to go through, and you'll need to be diligent in collecting/going through both in each level in order to unlock the next worlds.
Eventually there are even fish and other creatures that can bite back, like pirahnas, crocodiles, eels etc., and skill starts to come into play as you must position Derrick so that he bites their back, tail, or underside, instead of simply gobbling them up. The greater difficulty that comes with these sea creatures is welcome later on, but leads to some cheap deaths at times since many of them gang up in one area, such as pirahnas or stingrays, and when you become stuck in the middle of a pack of them, there's almost nothing you can do to get out. This means a lot of times you'll either need to avoid and dodge them altogether or draw them out in fewer numbers so they're easier to handle.
In addition to the normal levels, there are also race levels in which the goal is to make it to the finish line in a set amount of time (usually under a minute), with medals being won for finishing under certain amounts of time. With these levels, hunger isn't an issue, so any sea creatures you run into are mere distractions that try to prevent you from finishing on time. While races are a nice break from the usual levels, my only disappointment with them is the fact that they aren't too difficult. In most cases, I got a gold medal on the second try, though the last few race levels will definitely give you a run for your money.
There are also boss levels of sorts... well, they're not really bosses; more like physics-based puzzle levels in which the only objective for Derrick is to destroy an oil rig, or a boat, or what have you with sea mines. The angle of Derrick and the force at which he bumps into the mine determines exactly where the mine will fall and whether he's successful in blowing up said object or not. Again, this is an interesting diversion from the rest of the game, especially since there is no health bar or anything in these levels.
Visually, the papercraft art style helps give the world of Derrick the Deathfin an incredibly unique and fantastic vibe unlike anything else out there. While there are certain parts of the game that recall LittleBigPlanet in their inspiration (with the arts and craft-y theme and whatnot), its style helps give the game its own identity and stand tall amidst a sea of recent new PSN games out there. Make no mistake, Different Tuna's papercraft approach is well justified and all of their hard work in creating, positioning, and tracking the animation and movement of the fish and the underwater world has paid off in a big way. The music is pretty catchy as well, with more than a few funky beats that I would love to buy and download if they're ever made available for purchase.
In the end, Derrick the Deathfin is a shorter experience, ending as soon as 2 hours or so if you speed through the levels, but the experience lasts as long as it needs to. I've always said that a short good game is better than a long and drawn out mediocre (or bad) game, and Different Tuna seemed to be keen on that fact. But even after it's all said and done, there's still replay value in trying to get gold medals on all of the levels (and trophies as well). Boasting a great visual style, tons of humor, and some great gameplay, Derrick the Deathfin is definitely easy to recommend to anyone looking for an original, unique game. I can't wait to see what Different Tuna comes up with next.
+ Gameplay is addictive, and level design is well done
+ Papercraft art style is unique and fits the game's tone well
+ Music is catchy
- Game is short; 2 hours or under
- Not too much replay value
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Derrick the Deathfin is a breath of fresh air in a sea of indie games that often fail to stand out. Highly recommended for those who enjoy unique experiences and don't mind shorter games.