Next-Gen Gamers is a feature where I explore the world of gaming through the eyes of my kids – literally the next generation of gamers, raised in a house that promotes playing together and sharing our time! It’ll look at games that appeal to kids more than adults, as well as those that are great for both, either through cooperative play or controller sharing.
I pride myself in being the kind of parent who screens any game or movie before my kids have the chance to dive in. I’ve had one real slip-up in this to date, and I’m going to talk about it today: Deadly Creatures for the Nintendo Wii. This game is one I found out about when my kid, age five at the time, was learning about insects and spiders in Kindergarten, so naturally, he was obsessed with anything having to do with creepy-crawlies, and a Wii game that put the player in control of a tarantula and a scorpion seemed to be a perfect fit for his interest and gaming level.
I added the game to my rental list and, before long, we got the disc. He was thrilled because I’d talked it up to him, and he’d been waiting since he first heard the idea. We immediately popped the game in and started it up, and he started in. The game let me know right out the gate that I’d made a mistake; a voice-over started speaking about the deadly nature of humans, and a complex plot of betrayal, secrecy, and murder was explained as the introductory cutscene played out. Thankfully, the kid wasn’t terribly interested in all that, and I don’t think the level of maturity even got through to him in the least.
The first level features the tarantula, and while the movements take some getting used to, it’s pretty cool. The arachnid can climb along the ground and walls, relatively free to explore its surroundings. Enemies in the beginning of the game are slow and weak, and don’t present much of a challenge; the level ends with a drawn-out conflict against a far superior rattlesnake, which requires some strategic thinking and quick-time events to escape. After escaping down a rock-filled hole that the snake can’t chase it down, the eight-legged creeper scuttles off into the darkness, and the second level begins, this time with the thicker-skinned, less-mobile scorpion.
The back-and-forth between the game’s two stars continues with each level, and some environments are reused so that the player ends up finding new ways to explore the southwestern setting with the different methods available to each. As you progress, new attacks and movement options unlock — the tarantula gains the ability to web-jump to specific points and navigate on ceilings, while the scorpion can dig through weak spots in the rubble or cut down foliage with its claws to reach otherwise-inaccessible places. The whole thing is framed with cutscenes of a pair of men, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper, digging around in the desert with some urgency in search of a treasure, and growing increasingly greedy as they go.
Eventually, as humans are wont to do, one of them betrays the other, knocking his partner out cold and leaving him to rot in the blistering desert sun. Fortunately for me, this all transpires off-camera, and only by being attentive to the dialogue (which a five-year-old typically is not) does the player know what happened. The game’s title characters continue on their quest for simple survival, unaware of whatever story they’re a part of until, near the end, the tarantula is captured by the surviving human and brought back to his gas station as part of a growing collection of creatures. An accident of circumstance affords it the opportunity to flee through a puzzle-heavy level – the first indoor environment, capped off by a battle against the rattlesnake surrounded by flames as the gas station burns for reasons half-explained through cutscene.
The final level explains more of the events leading to the blaze, as the player, controlling the scorpion, battles the bafflingly-stupid shotgun-toting George. That’s right — you, as a scorpion, take on a gun-wielding maniac redneck. By stinging him repeatedly “below the belt”. Dodging the footfall and buckshot of the increasingly-enraged antagonist can be difficult, but victory is certainly rewarding, and eventually, the scorpion makes a mad dash through a hole blasted through the door. The enemy chases him outside, only to be startled by the rattlesnake and fire an accidental shot that hits one of the pumps, causing a massive explosion that sends the crawling beasts hurtling off into the cold night air.
Overall, the kid loved the game. He played it until our Wii literally gave out, prompting the purchase of an already-planned Wii U for his birthday. He’s only picked it up a couple of times since then, but it still holds a place on our game shelf should the urge strike him. For my part, I probably wouldn’t necessarily recommend the game for kids, having played it, but I do actually really like it; the unique protagonists, decent controls, and interesting story can be hard to find things on the Wii. Add in that the story is woven through several concurrent levels that show different sides of the same events and areas, and Deadly Creatures is one of those ‘hidden gems’ that I feel never got the attention it may have deserved.