We can’t have a Summer of Arcade without a 2D Beat ’em up now, can we? Charlie Murder fits the bill perfectly and, in a way, is almost a homage to other beat ’em ups in the same vein such as games like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim that hit the XBLA way back when. Charlie Murder has a dark, moody and twisted tone to it – similar to that of Ska Studio’s previous Dishwasher series – that separates it from the crowd. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as moments of comic relief – mostly via cutscenes – let us know that Charlie Murder isn’t a game that take itself too seriously and is, at the end of the day, supposed to be a fun experience. Which it is in spades; but it’s not without its noticeable imperfections.
If you’ve played the aforementioned Castle Crashers or Scott Pilgrim, then you’ll know the level of enjoyment you’ll get out of them will greatly increase when playing with friends. And exactly the same principle goes for Charlie Murder. I completed the whole game playing alone, and, at times, the constant onslaught of enemies became a bit of a slugfest. Of course the addition of a friend wouldn’t change the gameplay, but it does help to have a buddy with you to even up the numbers and share the experience with. Plus, there’s no “I” in band or Charlie Murder! There is more to Charlie Murder than just a constant barrage of enemies, as the game neatly has light RPG elements that sees you increase your defence, strength, speed and anar-chi (magic) along the way, with a variety of clothes and food to buy to increase your stats, but for the most part you’ll be spending a lot of time tapping that x button to punch, kick and shoot enemies – – which becomes repetitive even from the early stages of the game.
You start off with only one attack, which does feel limited and somewhat stingy at first, however soon enough you’ll unlock special attacks – that you get by buying tattoos – that are unique to each of the five playable characters. You can switch characters at anytime from the menu during your play through, though it’s not advised as the stats of your current character don’t carry over to another playable character; therefore you’ll be to weak to progress in the latter stages and you’ll, essentially, be starting all over again. Another change-up to the gameplay is the fair few amounts of on-rails segments, which see you on a broom like a wizard, a skateboard and a car. They’re are all fairly basic and similar but they’re fun enough and break up the otherwise repetitive punch and kick gameplay. There’s a few Guitar Hero-esque parts throughout, too, which sees Charlie Murder perform live and usually acts as a segue for story beats.
There’s numerous boss-fights along the way too, with none particularly standing out or outshining the other as they’re all taken down and defeated in a similar fashion — beat them to death. They’re all unique in look and have a different set of attacks, so it’s a real shame they’re all beaten the same generic way as the last. They definitely prove to be the most challenging part of the game though, which is largely due to the large health bar they have. There’s no difficulty option, which, at times, can prove to be a problem. The difficulty does seem to spike somewhat randomly towards the latter end of the game, with some basic enemy attacks almost taking out half of your health. It’s not ‘Dark Souls unfair’ but I imagine even the most skilled of players will probably find themselves having to stock up on beer (health-packs) in order to progress.
The story in Charlie Murder is a basic one, but it’s one that I wished had’ve been more fleshed out. The short of it is, Charlie started his own band which didn’t include his old bandmate, to which the old bandmate goes a little bit crazy, gets demonic powers, starts a band of his own, and wants nothing more than to kill Charlie and his bandmates. The story is told via flashbacks as you progress through the game, though there needed to be more cutscenes to take the story to the next level. It’s commendable that I was invested in the short story told even though there was no voice acting or lines of dialogue, though. We see a lot of the rejected bandmate’s side to the story (Lord Mortimer) and we mostly see him act out violently in jealousy and plotting his revenge, though we never see the lead star of the game Charlie’s side to the story.
The sound of Charlie Murder is somewhat diverse, as in some moments there’s no background music and all you’ll be hearing is the groans and battle cry’s of the enemies you’re pounding. In other situations, however, fast-paced rock music will be playing, which fits perfectly with the chaotic combat and post apocalyptic world. There’s not really a whole lot of incentive to replay Charlie Murder after completion, unless you want to try out all of the five playable characters, though the journey’s still going to be the same. The 800 MS Points is more than reasonable enough for you to sink your teeth into the 6-8 hour campaign though, with achievement hunters and completionists looking at – probably – 10-12 hours.
Charlie Murder doesn’t reinvent the 2D beat ’em up wheel, but nor does it claim to. It’s not the most enthralling single-player experience and you’re undoubtedly going to get more out of it if you have a few buddy’s to play with, but fans of the beat ’em up genre and fans of rock music will find plenty to love in Charlie Murder.