Charlie Murder is a beat 'em up in the same vein as River City Ransom and, more recently, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, mixed with RPG elements, from Ska Studios--the studio behind such games as I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES 1NIT!!!1 and both Dishwasher games. It's important to know the studio behind Charlie Murder and their past games because their stamp is all over Charlie Murder and if you didn't like any of Ska Studios's past games--specifically because of the art and music--you probably won't be interested in Charlie Murder. All that said, Charlie Murder is a very fun game and, in many ways, the best game Ska Studios had ever made.
You start off the game in hell, fighting demon after demon as one of five characters who all have distinct powers but play quite similar to one another on a base level. There's a reason you're in hell, but that doesn't come up until later in the game and, what really surprised me most about Charlie Murder, was just how good the story was; I can't remember a single thing about any of Ska Studios' past games's stories, but Charlie Murder has a very well-implemented story about friendship, betrayal, and revenge, told through short, occasional flashbacks. The story is never shoved in your face and it's easy to gloss over, but if you pay attention, you'll be rewarded with a story that isn't just a bunch of nonsense thrown together out of a feeling of necessity. I also liked that Charlie, the character, is not painted as the good guy even though he's one of the characters you can play as and, you know, in the game's title.
Now, the rest of the game didn't surprise me like the story, but that's not a bad thing, I just expected quality from the rest of the game and my expectations were mostly met.
The gameplay is simple and feels a lot like classic beat 'em ups--you have a light attack, a strong attack, and a grab--with the addition of different powers each character can cast through the magic of music--like the power to summon a bag full of weapons or shoot fire from a guitar. Despite the simplicity of the combat, I never desired more actions or abilities, and I never got tired of using one of the many weapons littered across every environment's floor, especially the leftover body parts of my many victims. But there's more than just combat in Charlie Murder and the times when beating enemies to death isn't the goal, that's when the game loses its luster.
There are multiple times in Charlie Murder where the game becomes a minimal rhythm-based game where you have to press various buttons as they show up on screen and, while I enjoyed some of these moments because of the music, I never enjoyed playing those parts; in addition to the rhythm sections, there are also occasional times when you're riding this or that and have to avoid obstacles or shoot a bunch of birds (or other enemies) and those too were never fun. These moments are rare, but whenever the game is not about fighting, it's no longer enjoyable.
One of the key differences of Charlie Murder compared to a lot of beat 'em ups is the leveling system and collecting of loot; though, these characteristics are all in the recently released Dragon's Crown as well. Leveling is shown through a fake version of Twitter on your in-game phone--as are your upgrades, messages and camera, which can take pictures of certain objects in-game for collecting hidden items--and the stats you level up not only improve your character, but allow you to wear new pieces of clothing as every piece of clothing has a certain skill requirement. It's not a deep system, but it gets the job done and satisfied my love for leveling anything in games.
The best part of Charlie Murder is playing with friends and, unlike a certain game with dragons and crowns, online co-op is open right from the start and, while I was unable to find anyone playing online pre-release, I did try out the offline co-op and it was a lot of fun. There are co-op attacks that can be triggered by two characters--you can also trigger these playing solo, where a random AI partner will help out for a short time--and they can get crazy as you watch your characters wreck shit all over the screen, especially if the drummer is part of the duo. But as fun as the co-op is, I'm happy to say playing alone is still a lot of fun and the game never gets too difficult that it can't be beaten alone; though, the difficulty does ramp up in the last quarter and playing with another person would definitely help.
Charlie Murder is a great little beat 'em up with a lot of content, plenty of variety and great co-op. It may have a few short shitty sections, but those don't take away from the experience as a whole and the music is absolutely fantastic--you can buy the soundtrack here. I do wish some of the interface design was different--I hate using the overworld map because it can take a while to move between distant locations--but if that's one of my few complaints, well, I'm ok with that.
*Charlie Murder is available now on XBL for 800 MS points/$9.99.
Charlie Murder (XBLA)