In 2008, Microsoft launched the Summer of Arcade promotion in which five Xbox Live Arcade titles were released during the summer. The annual promotion has seen the likes of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, Braid, Castle Crashers, ‘Splosion Man, Trials HD, Limbo and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD grace the Xbox Live Marketplace.
Fast forward to 2013 and the promotion is still running strong, even with the launch of the Xbox One looming. The solid line-up consists of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Charlie Murder, Flashback and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
Charlie Murder, the second release in the promotion, sees punk rock band Charlie Murder on a quest to save the world from rival death metalers Gore Quaffer. James Silva, the game’s creator, describes Charlie Murder as a “brawl-PG”. He’s not wrong.
In terms of gameplay, Charlie Murder is very similar to Castle Crashers. The side-scrolling beat’em up contains RPG elements and features the Ska Studios art style, as previously evident in The Dishwasher series.
Like Castle Crashers, Charlie Murder comes alive in co-operative play, with each player taking on the role of one of the band members. The title contains support for up to four players locally and over Xbox Live, as they work as a team to overcome the game’s enemies and bosses. There a variety of enemy types throughout, including ninjas, witches and zombies, each of which has been brilliantly designed.
As the enemies and bosses get stronger, so do the protagonists. Players are able to upgrade their statistics in Anar-chi (the magical powers specific to each character), Defence, Speed and Strength. The upgrade system has been well implemented as there are noticeable advantages to upgrading, especially later on in the game.
Special upgrades are also available by earning popularity (obtained by killing enemies) and through tattoos situated throughout the game. Such upgrades include an increased inventory and the ability to dual-wield weapons.
A large part of being a punk rocker is the appearance, something that Charlie Murder incorporates, with clothing and hairstyles forming an essential part of the game. Each clothing item and hairstyle, that are dropped by enemies or purchased from shops, offers players increased statistics – a nice touch to the game.
The weapons in Charlie Murder include guns, chainsaws, the brains, limbs of enemies, objects… pretty much anything the protagonists can get their hands on. Players also have the ability to punch and throw enemies. On the whole, the range of weapons and attacks means the combat isn’t overly repetitive.
Each character owns a phone, which acts as in in-game menu. This is where players are able to upgrade their statistics, check messages from other band members and the phone even has a camera, which can be used to take photos in-game. It may sound like a pointless feature, but the ability to snap QR codes to unlock special items has been brilliantly executed.
Away from the brawling of enemies, players will occasionally be tasked with the music minigame, which is comparable to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Players press the buttons in time to the music which, while isn’t very innovative, is certainly a welcome change to the gameplay.
One of the main problems with the game is that it isn’t particularly good at telling you what to do and how to do certain things. There are many instances where gamers will find themselves repeatedly pressing buttons at random, but often to no avail.
The main example of this is a beer-crafting mini-game, in which players brew the stat-increasing beverage using ingredients collected throughout the main game. While the idea is something that hasn’t been done before, the execution could have been a lot better.
Furthermore, whereas the Xbox Live Arcade title excels in co-operative play, Charlie Murder doesn’t have the same fun factor in single player. All the hustle and bustle multiplayer offers is scaled down for gamers playing on their lonesome. Nevertheless, the enjoyment is still there.
Finally, and arguably the game’s biggest disadvantage, Charlie Murder contains a flawed save system. The combination of no save option and the badly-distributed checkpoints means players often find themselves having to repeat major sections of the game’s levels, which becomes increasingly more frustrating as players progress through the more difficult stages.