Review for Shank (XBLA)

Shank is an interactive comic book on steroids. Set in an exotic Mexican locale, gamers will take our macho hero through endless hordes of mercenaries as he tries to avenge his wife’s death. Gorgeously animated and perfectly responsive, this is a reminder that the side scrolling beat-em-up genre still has plenty to offer.

A lot of tender loving care has been put into the creation of Shank. Each character model feels hand drawn and edgy, with harsh outlines mimicking the stylistic animation of Samurai Jack. Sketched out backdrops ranging from moving trains to sunset cityscapes are varied and overwhelming with personality. It’s hard not to love Shank’s world and wonder why this hasn’t been conceived before.

Every button on your controller will be needed to survive the story mode. All of the face buttons utilise a different type of weapon, but it’s up to the player to string these together into their own deathly combos. It’s fun, accessible and only improves as new weapons become unlocked. These can also be switched out on the fly, making for some incredibly stylistic moments reminiscent of Devil May Cry. One minute you’ll be pouncing the length of the screen to dive onto an enemy with a katana, the next you’ll be juggling them in the air with dual pistols. There’s also some light platforming thrown into the mix (Shank can climb, wall run across billboards and slide down poles) but it’s all very straightforward. If anything, it’s just there for you to admire the environments and take a break from the action.

The difficulty starts to spike towards the end, with some brutal boss encounters and devilishly tricky horde sections. Dodging your opponents on the ground, whilst shooting down enemies who are hanging from above requires a particularly satisfying amount of finesse. Towards the finale it does start to tire and become a slog of strength, but for the most part it retains a driving pace.

The score is appropriate but not exceptional, mixing together a decent number of tunes for the adventure. The cut scenes are beautifully rendered but spoiled by some poor voice acting. Characters feel stilted and sometimes pull the viewer out of the experience with their moronic tones. The script writing is pretty basic, but has some memorable characters and a few cheap jokes; “I should call you Lazarus.” “And I should call you… Fucked!” If you’re into cheesy one-liners than you’ll feel right at home, but otherwise it often feels like a couple of students have written this at their local pub.

There’s never a dull moment in Shank, but it keeps it short and sweet with a running time of about 3 to 4 hours. It’s not tremendous value in terms of hour per pound, but it’s packed with quality that will be sure to leave you grinning like a madman. I’m yet to try out the co-op mode, but I hear that it’s a completely separate affair that preludes the single player story. If Shank’s adventure is anything to go by, it should be just as fun with a friend.

Shank can feel a little rough around the edges sometimes, but it’s fun and one of the most rewarding beat-em-ups to come out in recent years. Even if this genre of gaming isn’t for you, it’s worth checking out the trial just to experience its aesthetic brilliance.

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