Charlie Murder is unabashedly punk rock; it is what it wants to be, and doesn't care if you like it. That’s something we can commend, even if it doesn't always work out for the best. Charlie and his band of misfits are on a mission to stop a rival metal band, Gore Quaffer - and their army of minions - from being the most rockin' group in the world. To do this, you'll need to punch, bludgeon, and even shoot your way through this punk-rock-a-lypse. It’s part Scott Pilgrim, with visual elements reminiscent of a Gorillaz music video, and it plays similarly to the infinitely popular Castle Crashers. This is a bleak, mostly bloody-good time that pays homage to brawlers of the past, as well as pop culture, while injecting some unique elements into the genre.
We don’t need to spend too much time describing the combat to you, as it mostly consists of your standard punches, kicks, and grabs, with a handful of power attacks à la the Castle Crashers method; hold the right trigger and press the face button that corresponds with the desired attack. There’s no shortage of weapons littering any environment, and using these to bash those in your way can deal heavier amounts of damage. Where things are a bit different than a typical brawler of this nature, is within the game’s often overwhelming amount of RPG elements, which allows for character levelling and customization.
Shirts, hats, and gloves will be acquired by beating down your enemies, or by doing a little shopping in the many stores scattered throughout the campaign. This attire can increase defence, strength, and speed; and players can switch between articles of clothing at any time by pressing the back button. It’s in this mini-popup menu that you can access all of your inventory items, that extend well beyond things to wear. Relics, tattoos, health – which comes in various forms, like beer, lattes, etc. – along with many other types of items will also be found here. You can even collect hops that allow you to craft your own beer when you happen upon a brewing station. But those aren't the only things for players to fiddle with between the intermittent bouts of anarchistic mayhem.
Additionally, each player has a cell phone that grants access to a variety of features. These include, a social network like Twitter, a stat-boosting app, and emails that service as your guide throughout the adventure. You can even utilize a camera to snap pictures of QR codes hidden in each level – doing this will unlock even more exciting new goodies. Sure, we've seen the use of portable devices in many games in the digital era, but this is one of our favourite implementations. By no means is it revolutionary; it just adds a nice sense of character to things. It’s not all good though, as being able to pull out phones at any time, can really, really slow things down.
When you have four players all wanting to access their inventory with every new item obtained, it can seriously halt your progression. It’s because of this, and the screen filling amount of chaos, that we found a player count of two to be the sweet spot. The developer was obviously aware that players would be engulfed in their phones regularly, and this is more-than-likely the reason there are many dead-zones in each level. Fight a group of enemies, walk for a while, fight another group of enemies, do some light platforming, a boss battle, and then shop. Sometimes the pacing can seriously be stop and go to the point of monotony, so it’s best if you come to an agreement with your buds about when everyone can check their emails, or try on those newly obtained Wolverine-like claws.
Luckily, just about any time we did begin to get bored, the formula was shaken up with a mini-game or another whacked-out segment. Downing beers and smashing up a hotel room, dropping acid in the woods, rhythmic button-tapping sessions straight out of Guitar Hero, and even a surfing segment similar to the notoriously difficult hover-bike stage in Battletoads; Charlie Murder doesn’t medicate its A.D.D., it celebrates it – and it’s usually the better for it. There are so many memorable moments present here, which is generally uncommon within this largely predictable genre, and part of the reason we took the bad with the good in the early goings, and pushed through to the end.
And we’re glad we did. Some of our criticisms may seem harsh, and that’s because they do affect gameplay at times; but if you put the time in, learn how things work, and keep your friends from pulling out their phone every minute or two, there are bunches of fun to be had here. While visually it may not be a head turner, the hand-drawn, well, everything, is charming enough to be pleasant (despite some truly drab environments), and the audio carries a nice sense of urgency that fittingly compliments the action. Like the esoteric genre of punk-rock music, you’ll either get it, or you won’t; we recommend that if you’re the slightest bit interested, that you at least give Charlie Murder a try.
The fragmented structure, and stop-n-go pacing due to the plethora of RPG elements may try to murder your good time occasionally, but they’re also quite fantastic additions. If you’re the kind of person that finds traditional punch-and-advance brawlers to not have enough depth, Charlie Murder may be just the game to warm you to the genre. Those of you that expect non-stop action may not make it beyond the first 30-minutes without being overwhelmed by a dense learning experience. Once you've figured things out, it’s simple to understand and highly rewarding, but getting there is half the battle. Be prepared...when Charlie Murder hits its stride, it's an exhilarating, memorable ride that may be hard to forget for quite some time.