Shank me real good!
Hyper violent and stylised 2d brawlers are few and far between, Shank treads that ground often trodden by such things as, Contra and Castle Crashers. It manages to deliver a slice of cartoon violence that is both sick and slick at the same time. If you have a spare 1200 Microsoft Points and can tolerate the fact that it's short, then get stabbing.
You play Shank; a badass knife, gun, chainsaw wielding mercenary that is double-crossed for a reason, a reason drawn right out of the mind of God of War story writer - Marianne Krawczyk and its pretty clichéd action movie stuff, which is just what the doctor ordered. Shank's awesome pacing and sharp storytelling doesn't get in the way of the hack and slash action.
Gameplay is 2d and harkens back to a simpler time, yet it has enough complexity that goes beyond mere button-bashing. Sure you can mash buttons, you can complete the game if you mash X enough, that doesn't get into the cool takedowns, or counters that Shank can do, nor does it earn you any cool points from your friends.
No, you want to slam a grenade into a sucker's mouth, shove him back and watch him explode against his friends. You want to leap from high, land on an unsuspecting bad guy and stab him whilst fending off his buddies with a shotgun.
That's how you really play Shank.
The combat controls are simple enough; there are three kinds of attacks, with a thrown grenade and grabs for good measure. You can mix it up with knife, gun and heavy (chainsaw) attacks as you play on. There's also a pounce attack that lets you get the drop on weaker enemies, so all told, there's numerous combat options and you build cool combos as you play.
It's a 2d platformer and brawler, so expect, lots of fighting and button mashing. Don't expect a deep and rewarding combat system like Batman Arkham Asylum, which was basically a few buttons but the timing and counters were all important. Here it is about the pure joy of making cool things happen when you press a button, slicing enemies to ribbons, getting your kill on and advancing to the next stage after hacking through enough bad guys to fill a convention of Bad Dudes.
There are occasions when Shank finds himself above ground high on the rooftops, well, more than often he'll traverse the game levels with a mix of jumping and fighting, so prepare for some frustration until you get the jumping and climbing just right.
Also, know your role, or the role of your enemy. Some enemies are armed with serious firepower, or protection, riot shields and body armour. It's up to you to work out what counters what, how to deal with the big meaty bonehead that wants to pound Shank into the floor.
Can you grapple? Yes, do you have a grenade? Yes, time to make mook eat an explosive gumball.
There are some pretty badass boss fights in the game too, I won't spoil a single one, but you'll have to think around a few of them, since they don't always have straight-A solutions. Especially in local co-op, that's right, I said local co-op.
Shank doesn't have any online play, yet. It does have local co-op and lets you team up with a partner for the prologue, another hyper-violent delve into the history behind Shank and why he's been double-crossed. The game is the same, except you can pull your buddy back up from being down and out, just like in Gears of War 2.
So, graphically you can liken the art style to a hyper violent, Penny Arcade. It shares a lot of similarities with that web comic's look. The blood is stylishly done, it's not over the top gore and it's more like a bloody version of Contra.
The game is well animated, with lots of nice little touches in both the gameplay and the cut-scenes that drive the Grindhouse Narrative. The sound design is great, the voice acting is decent and there's a fairly catchy musical accompaniment that goes along with many of the levels. The writing is what you'd expect from the God of War writer, it works for the game and weaves a story of betray and revenge.
With a few hours of single player, it's a short game but there are unlockable weapons, costumes and more to add a level of replay. Then there's the local co-op which adds more value to the overall package.
Shank is worth a look just for the sheer spectacle and fun to be had.
It's not an original game, but it's a nice take on those old buddy side scrolling platformer/brawlers that used to pepper the arcades a lot, way back.
Go on, for 1200 Microsoft Points, Shank out a little.