Charlie Murder Review

One can best describe Charlie Murder, the new brawler by indie developer Ska Studios, as Castle Crashers meets punk rock with a significant dose of horror. The plot follows the titular band, Charlie Murder (led, appropriately enough, by the eponymous Charlie Murder) on its quest to defeat rival rockers Gore Quaffer. As you progress through the game you learn that Lord Mortimer — the demonic, sickle-carrying leader of Gore Quaffer — was Charlie’s one-time bandmate Paul. The latter made a pact with demonic forces after Charlie became famous and left Paul behind. What follows is basically a revenge tale. Think Othello meets Sid & Nancy meets The Crow meets Hellraiser.

Charlie Murder is a brawler with RPG elements, again akin to Castle Crashers and the cult-classic Guardian Heroes. You control one of five of Charlie Murder’s band members. Each member possesses his or her own special abilities that you can use to destroy the zombies, undead ninja, pistol-toting witches, and the other unholy monstrosities that you will encounter. The frontman Charlie, for example, uses his voice to devastating effect. Rex, meanwhile, sends lethal bones flying toward enemies by banging on his drums. You can briefly call in another band member with a tap of the left trigger to deal out additional damage in a combo attack. The same can be accomplished during up to four-player multiplayer mode, either locally or on Xbox Live.

Each level ends with the traditional boss encounter. These foes range from amusing additions like a man in a hamburger suit to undead brutes ripped from the Resident Evil series. Much like Castle Crashers, the game features a world map that allows you to backtrack to previous stages. One of the game’s best elements are the hidden levels (complete with new bosses) that you can unlock. Take, for example, the movie theater you encounter early in the game. You can only enter the theater and play the level inside once you acquire a golden ticket.

Adding to the game’s variety are brief segments that take you away from the beat ’em up format. In one such scenario you must fly on a broom and shoot down enemies with a bazooka. In flashback segments the whole band gets together and plays a song that involves the rapid-button smashing found in rhythm games. I particularly enjoyed a brief scene that lets you destroy a hotel room and concludes when you throw a television through the room’s window.

Charlie Murder re-uses game mechanics found in most RPG-themed brawlers. You can buy equipment to enhance your character’s offense and defense. You level up your stats with experience points. Yet Ska Studios creatively incorporated these elements into the world of Charlie Murder. Experience points, for example, take the form of followers on a Twitter clone entitled The more amazing feats you complete (e.g., throwing an enemy onto a wall of spikes), the more followers you gain. You can keep track of all these via your phone. Equipment similarly follows the punk rock/horror theme. Your character can don hockey masks, leather jackets, biker gloves, and much more. The game’s “magic” takes the form of “Anar-Chi” that you use to perform special abilities. Gaining new abilities requires buying tattoos that are incorporated into your character model.

Despite this variety, the more you play Charlie Murder, the more  you will start to feel like you are going over well-trodden territory. This is especially the case if you’ve played through similar titles like Castle Crashers. When it comes to brawlers, there are only so many ways to skin a cat. The combat is indeed fun, but it does start to get repetitive after awhile because of the sheer amount you must do. The game’s difficulty necessitates that you go back through previously completed levels to earn more experience and/or collect healing items. This becomes tedious after a while because it prevents you from seeing anything new Charlie Murder has to offer. I was on a constant quest to gain more money in order to buy health items.

Jumping feels a bit floaty and imprecise. This isn’t a big deal during combat, but it will send you careening down a cliff more often than not. Fortunately this only takes away a bit of energy, similar to the Metroid and Zelda series. Ska Studios should have also rethought some of the combat elements. I found the fact that you throw a weapon whenever you jump and use it to be particularly annoying.

The presentation is average. Again, the inspiration of Castle Crashers is evident in the game’s cartoonish characters and cartoonish backgrounds. This style, however, does clash a bit with the horror theme. A bigger issue is that, for a game so centered around music, none of the tunes are particularly memorable or impressive.

All in all, Charlie Murder is an entertaining brawler. The game is significantly more fun in multiplayer, so I recommend booting up Xbox Live or inviting a friend over before playing. I couldn’t help but feel that, if Ska Studios made Charlie Murder a few years earlier, it would be more of a groundbreaking game. Unfortunately for them, The Behemoth’s Castle Crashers stole this thunder long ago. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining romp for a weekend. It will be interesting to see what DLC, if any, comes down the pipeline.


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Author: David Taylor View all posts by
David's addiction to video games began shortly after receiving his NES for Christmas in 1987 (it still works!). When David is not reminiscing about Chrono Trigger (his favorite game) he is hiking in north Georgia, scuba diving, or watching the endless amounts of B-movies on his instant Netflix queue.

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