Following the trend of unique indie titles that have hit PSN as of latecomes Derrick the Deathfin, an amusing and charming side-scrolling game with a unique art style. In this papercraft inspired title, Derrick the shark travels the world as he seeks vengeance for the death of his parents. When it comes to charm and humor, Derrick the Deathfin completely delivers, but is this enough to make it a great game?
Truth be told, it isn’t. Derrick the Deathfin is a visually ambitious game, and in this department as well as humor it does deliver a fantastic experience, but gameplay wise, what is an initially fun and enjoyable game quickly grows stale as repetitiveness sets in. Thankfully a short length and a lot of visual variety prevents from this repetitiveness detracting too much from the game in general.
The visuals are the standout element and the reason most will be interested in playing Derrick the Deathfin. Most likely inspired by Nintendo’s Paper Mario series, the visual use of paper is taken to a new level, creating a whole world and characters that looks as if it were made out of folded paper, instead of the flat paper characters from Paper Mario. Each level introduces new characters and environments all looking as if they were hand made paper models. It is a gorgeous sight to behold, and it’s one that’s re-experienced over and over again within each level, as the variety means almost every level is completely unique, whether it be because of the papercraft animals encountered, or an environment that looks like none before it, including the use of a new color palette. This makes for a gorgeous one-of-a-kind visual experience that doesn’t grow boring throughout the game, and instead just becomes more interesting as curiosity grows to see how the next level will differ from the last. You would not be blamed for slowing down the game to just appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t let you slow down. This is the main problem encountered in the gameplay. Most levels essentially involve navigating obstacles, collecting gems, and jumping through some giant floating tires, while eating everything in your path. To prevent the player from standing still, a hunger bar at the top quickly depletes, forcing them to be constantly on the move and feeding to survive. Of course, the whole point of these levels is to collect and eat as much as possible, while reaching the goal as fast as possible. This fast pace is fun and allows players to speed through this already short game, but prevents players from enjoying the visual aspects of the game, which is its most important and impressive element.
There are two other types of levels one may encounter, though more sporadically. Time trial levels that are pretty self explanatory, and challenge levels that involve the destruction of some man-made structure in the ocean. These challenge levels stand out as the oddest as they slow down the fast pace of the game and focus more on solving a physics based puzzle. This makes for a mix reaction, as slowing down allows one to finally enjoy the visuals, but the fun to be had is in the fast levels, not in these slow puzzles, that in themselves aren’t very challenging either. These levels at least serve to remind players of the story that seems generally forgotten throughout the rest of the game.
The bulk of the story is told in a cutscene before beginning the game. One day, Derrick’s parents are killed by M.E.A.N. Co. – which essentially represents all of humanity- and are turned into food. Derrick is distraught and angered by this loss and swears vengeance on all of humanity. Here the set-up seems to mostly involve a basic environmental message story in which you go around destroying the evil man-made structures like oil rigs that are polluting the ocean and destroying the life that inhabits there. Luckily, though the story initially seems like a very on the nose environmental message, it becomes obvious as you destroy the structures that you’re just polluting the oceans more by creating different types of spills, whether it be oil, toxic, or nuclear waste. Not only that, but as Derrick, you’re also killing just about everything in your path. In the end the narrative is just the revenge story of an angry shark who can’t cope with the loss of his parents, until the end when he suddenly does. The story may be barely there, which normally isn’t a positive as it may seem pointless, but at least it isn’t a ‘in your face’ PSA à la saturday morning cartoons from the 80’s and 90’s.
This lack of seriousness is one of the biggest positives in Derrick the Deathfin as it adds a lot of humor into the game. This humor also includes its visual style, which while gorgeous, also looks quite ludicrous. Loading screens also include quite a bit of it, as they have tips – as many loading screens include now – but these have very little to do with the game. Instead, they’re more one-line jokes that make the short wait enjoyable.
On the other hand, the biggest negative is replayability. As in, there’s very little reason to play again. I can see players going back to this game to show off its unique visual style, and the completionist trying to collect all the gems, but in general there’s no real reason to return to this game once its finished. While there are records for each level, surprisingly there are no online leaderboards, which seem so important to maintain interest in this type of game. This lack of leaderboards means there’s very little point in replaying through the levels unless you wish to set a personal record for yourself.
Derrick the Deathfin is a fun game at the beginning, but it will grow stale very fast. This is offset by a short length, fast pace, humor, and most importantly, a unique and gorgeous art style. Though these positives far outweigh the negatives and they will push players to play through the game to see more of it, it is very likely that they won’t come back once they’re finished.