I personally have a long history with 2D side-scrollers. So many of my favorite gaming experiences from the golden age of the SNES and Genesis are of that classic mold, and even today (with the genre only marginally existent) the right developer can blend conventions both old and new into a truly sublime gaming experience.
In the case of the Shank games from EA and developer Klei, this is absolutely the case. The best way I can describe Shank 2's world to you would be to compare it to a sick and twisted version of a Saturday morning cartoon. In fact, if you're familiar with the excellent Batman and Superman animated shows from the late '90s- you'd be safe picturing something along the lines of that.
Of course Shank is a hell of a lot bloodier than the aforementioned superhero romps ever were. This is more like if there was a Punisher cartoon. On HBO. That aired late at night. Pretty much right from the start of the game, Shank is uber-violent, gory, and even a little darkly comic.
Though I played the first Shank a while back, I hadn't forgotten about why this game works so well. It's so over-the-top violent that, at times, it can't help but be funny. And while the story might not exactly be Tolstoy, it has some genuinely cool moments and the dialog (for the bosses and Shank himself) ranges from absolutely badass to absolutely lol-worthy- and it's very much on purpose.
|Some of the enemies are massive|
And speaking of stabbing, S2 hits the graphics bullseye dead on. Nothing is overly detailed and realistic, so don't look for that, but is instead a comic book come to virtual life. When I mentioned those DC comics animated series' before, I mean that a lot of the designs for the characters are like that- clean and cartoony, but with an edge to them. The levels themselves are a little different though.
Most of them almost have a hand-painted look. They can be washed out at times and have extremely basic color schemes, but that's kind of the charm. The tone of the stages gives the action a grindhouse feel that fits in very well with the subject matter. And the contrasting styles don't conflict, which is pretty important. Actually, they gel quite nicely with the sprites absolutely popping off the backdrops.
|It was a fly-by shanking!|
Voice acting and music is all very 'in tone' as well and does a good to great job depending on who's doing the speaking. Oddly enough, I thought Shank himself was only middle of the road. His vocals just didn't sound tough enough for me... if that makes any sense. Definitely take a listen to the baddies though, as they throw out some great lines- especially when you lose! Some of it is very funny stuff.
|The survival mode can try the patience|
Other than the variety of hardware, there isn't much to shake things up too much. You move left to right (or down to... um... up) and eliminate everything in your path. Occasionally you'll rescue a hostage or pick up some collectables, but stabby-stabby is the basic idea.
|John Woo style|
This all might come off as a little too simplistic, but there's a ton right with Shank 2 and it's an extremely satisfying playthrough. There are a few twists for variety's sake, lots of collectibles and unlockables, and a whole pile of shanking and shooting to be done.
Especially if you're into 2D, but even if you just like a good action game, Shank 2 is a terrific entry into this classic genre. Yes, it's little more than what the first game did, but when it's this much fun, that's not a bad thing by any stretch.
- Jason M
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