Following the wonderful Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the second addition to Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade line-up is Microsoft Studios’ own Charlie Murder. A scrolling beat-‘em-up with a thoroughly modern outlook, chances are you already know how to play Charlie Murder, but it’s personality is most certainly unique in the videogames industry.
Charlie Murder is a videogame designed for videogame fans. There are dozens of subtle touches and in-game references that relate to established conventions and memes that half of the character Charlie Murder posses would surely be lost on someone who didn’t know their NES from their SNES. The campaign begins with the player given a tutorial via a scribbling on the wall behind them: the A button jumps, X button hits. Congratulations! You can now play Charlie Murder. Wrestling with demons in hell in fact, until suddenly you get resuscitated. Now it’s time to deal with roaming zombies instead. Much better.
Of course, there’s much more to Charlie Murder than simply punching. The first thing that players will notice is that the amount of weapons available to pick up is rarely less than the amount of players on-screen. Arms, heads, trash cans, tyres, guns and much more are regularly left lying on the ground, encouraging players to pick them up and vary their combat with their use. Of course the enemy design stands to counteract this, with vary ping weaknesses that a seasoned player will quickly switch between weapons in order to take advantage of.
Designed with class variety similar to that of Sacred: Citadel, players will level-up and be given the opportunity to improve their attributes by spending skill points and don new attire to offer further bonuses (all conducted via your in-game Windows Phone 8 handset). The structure of the classes intentionally follows the prescribed formula of Mage, Tank, etc. and the skills you will learn as you progress reflect the traditional understanding of this. You can also purchase tattoos, however, that will offer special abilities outside of the basic skills system.
The visual style of Charlie Murder is undoubtedly a highlight. Falling somewhere between Castle Crashers and the artwork used by the Damon Alban front Gorillaz, Charlie Murder’s character is one which you will not forget. The paper-esque design of all objects has clearly been well thought out as even at high speeds – which you will experience occasionally – it still has dramatic impact. The style of attacks and bonus items is perfectly in-keeping with the overarching theme, and the comedy moments that come from a bunch of no hopers becoming an internationally successful band by bashing heads rarely falls short.
While much of the gameplay in Charlie Murder is prescribed and formulaic it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. Just as with Deep Silver’s Scared Citadel, Charlie Murder is a truly modern scrolling beat-‘em-up but one that takes itself far less seriously. It’s designed for some throwaway laughs as you’re reliving many of your favourite genre clichés – an effort which Charlie Murder thrives upon – and for any gamer who earned their stripes in the late ‘80s that’s worth a look on it’s own right.