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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spawn: In the Demons Hand Review

Original Release:
Japan: August 10, 2000
North America: October 1, 2000
Europe: January 19, 2001

Game Details:
1-4 Players
VMU enabled
Standard Controller, Arcade Stick

Spawn “In the Demons Hand” is a NAOMI arcade title by Capcom that eventually saw release on the Dreamcast system. The genre it evokes is that of a hybrid 3rd person action arena game with an emphasis on 4 player deathmatch multiplayer and Co-op play in said style or in a Boss Rush objective. The game adopts a simple 4 button style of play that controls your characters jump (A), attack (X), weapon change (B) and limited on-the-fly camera control (Hold Y to go into 1st Person view or simply tap Y to re-position the camera view to its default 3rd person position). Many critics early on gave the game a hard time due to camera issues that do occur during combat. Mastery and understanding of the Y button alleviates a majority of these issues (a feature many critics perhaps never even bothered to experiment with). The game by default provides players with 12 characters to choose from, with an additional 24 that must be unlocked by playing through the games single player campaign with certain team combinations. A bit of the tried and true Capcom gameplay is injected via a limited special moveset for the cast and a Power Stone like feature that has players scrambling to collect 4 orb types found throughout the arenas. These orbs strengthen certain attributes (Health, Speed, Defense, and Offense). As mentioned previously, the game supports 4 player deathmatches via split screen. Unfortunately, the games visuals as well as the blistering framerate take a major hit as a result (even during 2 player split screen matches). In Japan, the game additionally supported multiplayer via online matchmaking. It’s such a shame that the game in other territories had this feature omitted. At the very least, Capcom should have considered local multiplayer via Vs. Link support.      

Demon Lord Malebolgia loves bloody amusement. This sick MOFO gets his jollies from imprisoning various Warriors and making them destroy each other for their own souls. However, he is unaware that one of his favorite toy soldiers is the deadliest assassin… one with the capability to destroy even the Demon Lord himself. His name is SPAWN! (Insert crazy hair metal guitar riffs here!).     

The visuals of Spawn on Dreamcast impress and astound in various aspects. The game looks mighty fine overall running in 640x480 progressive scan with the use of a VGA adapter (I recommend anyone who owns this game to play it in this manner if possible). Standard size character models like Admonisher, Grace, Tremor, to the various representations of character Spawn sport crisp detailed polygons with well done textures and solid colors. But it’s really the larger character models that instantly become the real spectacle of the games visual splendor. Characters like Overtkill, as well as the 5 Phlebiac brother’s have some REALLY well put together polygon models that I’m sure even MacFarlane approved of early on during the games development (both Terry Fritzgerald and Todd MacFarlane seem to have served as executive producers for the game). Black Brimstone’s graphical design is noteworthy. It’s simply astounding even to this day as I reach his level to see how graphically impressive he looks by today standards. Backgrounds and arenas look a bit bland and shallow especially when compared to the combatants that inhabit them. Fortunately, a majority of the fighting arenas are quite large, sporting multiple paths, rooms, floors and some hidden areas to discover as well as providing many interactive objects. Rumor has it, the game was initially planned to be ported to the PS2 in time for its inaugural launch. At some point, that course of action was not meant to be and that release was canceled. Perhaps Capcom quickly became aware of the difficulties of porting it over to the PS2 hardware (anyone remember the mess that was SF EX3 in Japan?).    

Capcom does a pretty good job in the audio department for the game. The announcer sounds very appropriate considering the material and the music is all out in your face with ridiculous rock metal inspired tunes. The game’s main intro and ending theme songs are composed for Capcom by the lesser known group known only as Crackshaft. While “Rip it Up” (intro) sounds a bit corny and silly thanks to some of the lyrical content, “Dress is Torn” (ending credits) is amazingly catchy thanks to the lyrical content and nicely executed guitar riffs. That guitar sequence at the beginning is something of beauty to the rock metal junkie in me.

Spawn ITDH for the Dreamcast is easily the best video game to ever represent the universe Todd MacFarlane established during the 90’s. Unfortunately, such a statement gives little credit to the games sheer ambition and execution, considering all other video game representations of the anti-hero have been… underwhelming to say the least. What the game embodies to me in a personal sense is not only a game worthy of the property it attempts to convey within the respective medium of entertainment, but perhaps more importantly, it’s a reminder of a product that falls dead center on a clear mark in the final peak of one of my favorite game companies as both a trailblazing game publisher and a Coin-op manufacturer. Despite some of its obvious flaws, Spawn on the Dreamcast deserves a look see.