‘Charlie Murder’ Review: Total Anarchy

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There aren’t enough cooperative beat ‘em up games to choose from on Xbox Live Arcade, so it’s a good thing indie developer Ska Studios has taken it upon themselves to fill the alarming void in XBLA’s library with the apocalyptic punk brawler Charlie Murder.

For the unfamiliar, Charlie Murder is a four-player side-scrolling action game with light RPG elements and Ska’s grimy punk art style, which made their previous efforts — the equally as brutal The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai and its sequel, Vampire Smile — so memorable. It’s bloody, over-the-top fun you can share with your friends. Find out if this is mayhem worth joining in on in my review.

As a part of Xbox Live’s annual Summer of Arcade event — which sees the release of several high profile arcade games over the month of August, including Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Charlie Murder, Flashback and most recently, TMNT: Out of the Shadows — Microsoft is pushing each title as a reason to “go gold.” They even have YouTube celebrities, like GameGrumps and JesseCox, playing the games on the Polaris YouTube channel, in case you want to get a taste of each game before you drop any cash on it.

You know what else you can do? You can read this review. Let’s dive in.

Charlie Murder is a brawler in the same vein as Castle Crashers and the amazing the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Your goal is simple: to punch, kick, stab, explode and set aflame anything that tries to get in your way. You can go it alone or with the help of up to three other players locally or over Xbox Live. It’s fun enough even if you’re alone, but this is definitely the type of game that’s best experienced with a few friends.

There are light role-playing elements that permeate nearly every facet of this game. You can choose from five different classes, each brings with it a unique personality and style of combat. As for the combat itself, it’s satisfyingly gruesome while staying simple enough to make this a game you can just pick up and play. You really only need to master two buttons in order to pull off most attacks.

The story revolves around the apocalypse and a hunger for revenge. It follows the fallen band Charlie Murder and their journey to defeat their rival bang Gore Quaffer — excellent name, by the way — and their army of hell-spawned minions.

Once you’ve chosen your character, you’re immediately thrown into its hyper-violent world with near-constant waves of enemies and bosses that never really lets up. This is a busy game, with almost constant action, backed by an impressive soundtrack of rock and death metal that provides a perfect backdrop to the goings on on-screen.

There’s a substantial mix of enemies to battle and the rotation mixes things up often enough with new ones being introduced on a consistent basis to keep things interesting.

Before the seemingly endless onslaught of baddies can grow tiresome, Charlie Murder breaks up the gameplay with a rhythm mini-game, flashback or boss fight. The bosses are mostly interesting; a few have as much style and personality as the five members of Charlie Murder, ranging from intimidating to comical. Unfortunately, for every fun boss you’ll encounter there’s another that’s entirely forgettable.

Charlie Murder is a pretty ambitious game, as it tries to blend a side-scrolling brawler with features of RPGs and dungeon crawlers. That means there’s lots of fighting, but you also get to see your character evolve over time. There’s a bevy of skills to acquire — learned by receiving special tattoos — and even loot, which is always exciting, even if the limited inventory makes managing the loot a bit of a hassle.

The loot is a fun addition, even if it could have been implemented in a more interesting way. As it is, you’ll occasionally come across something that’s better than the gear you have on, but there’s an unfortunate lack of any “epic” loot. You can also use the money accumulated from slain enemies to purchase equipment from the stores that have been scattered about the game’s world.

Thankfully, the loot you equip does change the appearance of your character.

The source of a few of the more annoying issues with Charlie Murder is the Windows 8 phone your character uses as the in-game menu. The phone houses your character’s inventory and tutorial, and it can even be used to scan QR codes that are littered about several of the environments.

Sadly, the screen is very small, even with the zoom feature, and the email system is a mess. The latter becomes a significantly bigger problem when you need to use the phone to find out how to do something in the game, because sifting through dozens of email messages for the right tip can get a little frustrating.

Once you’ve beaten the game there is a ton of secrets to find, including the aforementioned QR codes, hidden areas, secret bosses and higher difficulties. There’s no denying you’ll get your money’s worth, it’s just a matter of whether or not you can put up with the handful of odd design decisions along the way.

The Final Word: Charlie Murder isn’t perfect, but it does offer a bloody good time, and one you can share with your friends. If you like causing a bit of mayhem with a few friends, this game won’t disappoint.