Released: Feb 2009
Sales: ~180k worldwide
Our first forgotten Wii game is the one which THQ said would decide for them whether there was a so-called 'hardcore' market on Nintendo's console. Several major publishers tried this trick, to blackmail players into buying spin-off versions of bigger franchises and promising that success would later bring more credible franchise entries to the console: think EA's Dead Space Extraction (later given to PS3 owners for free) or Capcom's two Resident Evil rail-shooters. Respectable games on their own terms, but hardly ones destined for major success regardless of their platform, yet publishers acted astonished when none sold in their millions.
The most hilariously misguided attempt to ensnare a few extra sales in this fashion came from THQ with Deadly Creatures. Barely an interview or preview went by without players being reminded that if this game didn't clear the shelves, THQ wouldn't be bringing the rest of their amazing library to Nintendo. Now if Deadly Creatures wouldn't be the subject of this article if it weren't a terrific game. Games Wii Forgot is a tribute to all the great games that didn't sell as well as they deserved to on Nintendo's console, on the eve of the Project Café reveal on June 7th, a date confirmed last night. However, the idea that a game like this, where you alternate between controlling a tarantula or a scorpion, could ever sell more than a handful of copies just shows how, for all Nintendo's failures to make their platform accomodating to other publishers, third-parties also bear heavy responsibility for their failure to make the most of this generation's top-selling console.
Apart from the unhelpful title and cheap-looking box art, someone in the marketing department really should have done a little research into how widespread arachnophobia is across the world, before cutting off this project before any money was rolled into it. THQ's projected sales were 500k copies. I would have said that one-tenth of that would be pretty good, though the game ended up at around the 180k mark (according to the ever-reliable *cough* VGChartz) after heavy discounting. I'm delighted that no-one in THQ's marketing department was doing their job properly though, because the idea of a game from a spider's-eye-view turned out to be an inspired one, creatively at least.
At its heart, Deadly Creatures is an old-school brawler, where you navigate from one arena to the next and lay waste to everything in sight with your crazy arachnid skills. Although the basic attack is mapped to the 'A' button, more advanced moves shift the onus to motion controls. You'd think from the Wii's reputation that this would be an abject debacle, reducing players to flailing wildly to get any sort of response,as tends to be the form for even such first-party games as Wii Sports boxing. However, everything works surprisingly well: the scorpion has a burrowing move, reliant on the controller being turned upside, which struggles, but each move has its own distinct motion and a highly respectable success rate. As with any brawler, you soon learn that the trick is in the timing. When given a single, authoritative motion to interpret, the Wii remote is far more responsive than it is given credit for. Flailing, as is admittedly the natural tendency when in the midst of a combat situation, tends to confuse the sensor and send everything out of whack, but once you learn to control and time your movements, errors are reduced to near-extinction. Once perfected, the motion controls give gratifying physicality to finishing moves which, with the tank-like scorpion in particular (compared to the tarantula's ninja-style stealth attacks), grow increasingly brutal and inventive as the ten-hour game progresses.
Where the game really excels though is in the creepy vibe it creates. Controlling a tarantula or a scorpion, both animated with unsettling realism, would be enough to set the controller down for most people, but it's the use of crisp and strikingly rendered environments that make the game so unsettling and one of the Wii's most visually accomplished. There's a stark beauty to this insectoid microcosm, hidden in desert fissures and dried-out undergrowth, scattered with pieces of human junk - the splintered screen of a mobile phone lighting up an underground cave, or a garden gnome wrapped in dead vines and crawling with hungry arachnids - that lends a skewed perspective shift to a world where bloody battles for survival between native insects, spider and reptiles takes on a comfortable commonality, while the human world and its trinkets are otherworldly and best avoided.
Humans themselves are only seen in glimpses, part of a weird attempt at storytelling which includes the voices of Billy Bob Thornton and the late Dennis Hopper and is more interesting than effective. Why a scorpion and tarantula would notice two men trying to find buried Civil War gold is a question to put to the designers, but watching the action through their eyes - sometimes while upside down - has a strange pleasure of its own.
The creatures' ability to climb up surfaces is used to great effect, none moreso than in a moment when you emerge from an underground passage to find an enormous metallic pillar waiting ahead of you, the only way to overcome a vast wall. As you climb to the top, the camera flips to reveal that it is the axle of an upturned truck. It is a powerful, subversive moment in a game stacked with them: whether scuttling around an abandoned doll's house occupied by rats (a clever touch is the hierarchy established across the various species) or navigating a dilapidated tool room, it's a game which draws out the strangeness from everyday environments and objects we take for granted. As imperfect as the game is, with no shortage of bugs of the non-insect variety and some tediously overcomplicated platforming sections, Deadly Creatures is a strange little curio which crawled unnoticed through a land of generic FPS' and committee-designed sequels, an underground game taken to a fascinatingly literal extreme.
Check back next Wednesday for the second entry in the Games Wii Forgot feature.
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