Man Sony has been going real heavy on the indie games lately and I’ll be damned if they aren’t trying cover every nook and cranny of that marketplace. You had hip-hop graffiti platforming with Sideways: New York, introspective moral heavy puzzlers like Papo & Yo, and even the 8-bit reference-a-palooza that is Retro City Rampage. Now they have paper craft as well, the hipster-est of all handicrafts, with Derrick the Deathfin. Made by a collab of two smaller indies devs, Different Cloth and Tuna Technologies who together are now calling themselves Different Tuna, the game is advertised to be “the illegitimate lovechild of Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin” and holy shit does it live up to that description but the question is do you want to play that? That’s something we aim to answer, so put on your chainmail because we’re jumping into the shark tank.
So we might as well talk about the gameplay and how it compares to the games they’re referencing with their marketing. The Sonic part comes from the non-stop pace, each level is essentially a timed speedrun, sometimes there’s an actual timer but there’s always that sense of urgency because your health is constantly draining. In order to keep your health up you need to be pretty much constantly eating which is also a major component of your score. You’ll even get bonuses for eating whole schools of fish, crabs, people, or anything meaty and organic instead of just munching a stray on your way to the goal. This means you need to keep a balance between forward progress and score collecting, a tricky business to be sure but always fun. Of course there’s also collectibles you need to worry about; there are flaming tires you need to jump through and gems you need to collect, both of which are needed to unlock the next zone. This means you’ll often have to go back through past levels to collect enough stuff to keep moving forward, a massive pain in the ass when your health is constantly dropping and there’s no good way of finding what you’ve missed. So yeah the Sonic elements don’t exactly mesh well with the core goal but at least, just like Sonic, when you’re going fast it’s a lot of fun.
There’s also the Ecco part and that’s pretty much entirely in the controls (and the fish-eating, I seem to remember that being a major part of Ecco). Being a shark your movement is of course confined to primarily swimming; smooth looping movements used to herd prey and navigate curves work quite well and using momentum to breach and jump through the air to go the flaming tires I mentioned earlier feels good. That said it’s a control scheme that feels entirely devoted to going forward and trickier movements or trying to breach in smaller areas requires a lot of practice and multiple tries, sucks about that constantly draining health, eh? This is also a major pain in the game’s boss fights which are confined to smaller areas with limited food supplies, you have to hit the boss in a certain area and touching them anywhere else will hurt you. Getting through these fights generally felt like luck, getting into a lucky spot and then just attacking over and over again, again the game feels made to go forward not execute daring strategic maneuvers.
Of course aside from the gameplay, the unique paper craft aesthetic of this game is its major selling point. As far as I know there haven’t been any other games that have really done the paper craft thing and to see the entire game constructed from such humble materials gives the game a wonderfully unique look. It kind of reminds me of the claymation games we saw a bit of in the PS1 era like Skullmonkeys, in that it just doesn’t look like much else out there and having tangible materials gives it a life-like quality that even FMV doesn’t quite match. Now to be clear I’m not saying it’s some life changing visual style all games should strive for, but it is different and distinctive and it looks good. As for musical accompaniment to this visual style, they have gone with a hip-hop derivative sort of beat that works really well with the funky background the game sports. That said the music is the kind that grates on you when you have to hear it repeatedly and if you’re already frustrated (like from failing a level repeatedly thanks to a shitty health loss gimmick) it’ll get your ire up to the point of cursing pointlessly at the TV.
The game also has a story but it’s an odd one and just like the visuals it has its own unique charm. The premise is that one day Derrick, the titular teenage deathfin, was swimming around with his parents when all of a sudden his mom and dad are vacuumed out of the ocean and turned into canned sharkfin soup leaving poor Derrick lusting for sweet delicious revenge. His target is the M.E.A.N. Corporation that in addition to being a purveyor of fine predator based vittles seems to have a major stake in industrializing the world’s oceans, oil drilling, and waste disposal. This being the case Derrick strikes at their wallet and travels the seas of the world destroying their installations and eating their employees. This may make it sound like a tale of hardcore environmentalism but it’s really not, Derrick eats anybody who gets in his way not just M.E.A.N. employees and in the course of destroying M.E.A.N.’s resources he willfully causes multiple ecological disasters which he jokes about while he’s doing it. I love it because I’m sick of any game with the slightest nature hook being heavy-handed hippie propaganda, this just feels like fun dumb willful destruction which is something indie platformers simply don’t do enough of.
So I got some problems with this game but there’s still a lot to like here; the art style, the weird story, and the gameplay when you’re moving forward as intended are all great but the second it loses momentum the game falls apart. That said the game is cheap which can make up for a lot, it’s only $8 regularly and if you’re a Playstation Plus member it’s even less. So yeah, not a terrible deal for not a terrible game, Derrick the Deathfin gets 3 out of 5 stars; it would have gotten more if not for the fact that timed collectible scouring sucks ass.