What you won’t like
It’s occasionally too crazy for its own good
This is a minor gripe, but at some points, I had no idea what exactly I was fighting. I understand the concepts behind chimpanzees with guns and axes for arms or half of a kitten floating around with a jetpack and shooting fireballs from the vial of fuel that’s plugged in where its legs were, even if I don’t agree with them on moral grounds. The game also has things that might be pigs, but I’m not sure.
What it comes down to is that these bizarre creations hide the fact that XXL only really has two kinds of low-level enemies: They either fly around and shoot/throw things at you or run straight at you and then hit you/explode. One baddie, a giant stack of pancakes with vuvuzelas sticking out of it, runs up and hits you and then explodes. The visual variety is nice, though, and you can’t claim that the developers are unimaginative.
On a practical note, however, the game sometimes suffers extreme slowdown when you have too many enemies on the screen at once, especially in some of the busier challenge rounds. This never affected my ability to dispense Sam’s particular brand of justice, but it was a little distracting.
It was also difficult at times to see where I was when the screen filled up with bad guys. Sam has a little aura around him so you can keep track, but it doesn’t do you much good when you’re buried somewhere in a pile of dead things.
The hit-and-miss writing and design
You don’t play a game like this for the rich, tapestry-like narrative, but a little context would have been nice. When you start the game, Sam just materializes in ancient Egypt and gets to work after a few lines of dialogue that say little more than, “Sam is in ancient Egypt.”
Exchanges between Sam and his holographic brain-mate Netricsa generally follow the following cycle: Netricsa offers some exposition, Sam replies based on not really having any idea of what’s going on, and then Netricsa says something synonymous with “Oh, Sam.” It gets a little better during co-op, with Huff adding much-needed color to counteract Sam’s “dumb guy with a bunch of guns” persona, and the humor mostly avoids things like Duke Nukem’s shameless ladling from the pop-culture-reference bucket. But the jokes generally fall flat. The characters are charming and likable enough, but I would be very surprised if I ever heard anyone quoting them.
Because it’s a game about guys who love the shit out of some guns, it’s pretty easy to estimate the height of its brow. One enemy type is a headless woman wearing nothing but panties and stripper shoes, who holds a pair of strategically placed bombs and comes running straight at you while screaming (somehow). In some sections, you jump on giant rockets that explode if you touch their pulsing tips. The fact that nobody in the game comments on these things only makes it weirder, and I would probably actually feel better if someone had made a joke about “cockets.” Oh, wait. I just did.
These elements are a far cry from Duke Nukem’s psychopathically oblivious wisecracks or the juvenile names of Bulletstorm’s Skill Shots (e.g. “Drilldo”), but they seem pointless and gratuitous in a game that is so otherwise unassuming.
Serious Sam Double D XXL is a tongue-in-cheek, delightfully violent love letter to the 2D shooters of old that manages to build upon the genre while reminding us why we enjoyed playing them in the first place. The Gunstacker system offers an impressive variety of ways to throw bits of metal around at incredible speeds, and the enemy and level designs are (mostly) as creative as you’re going to see this year. It’s not too big on plot, but you’ll probably be too busy using ridiculous guns to mow down waves of grotesque enemies to care.
Serious Sam Double D XXL launches on Xbox Live Arcade on February 20. The developer provided GamesBeat with a free download code for this review.