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Serious Sam Double D XXL, coming out on Wednesday for Xbox Live Arcade, is a port of last year’s PC release Serious Sam Double D. The “Double D” refers to the fact that it’s a 2D side-scroller instead of a first-person shooter and isn’t a low-brow reference to breasts at all. OK, maybe that’s just wishful thinking/willful ignorance on my part, but even if you’re not into puerile double entendres, you shouldn’t let that stop you from trying this one out.
Developer Mommy’s Best Games (the creators of other crazy bullet-fests like Weapon of Choice and Shoot 1UP) made Double D/XXL as part of franchise owner Croteam’s Serious Sam Indie Series, but it fits right in with the company’s other work even without the Serious Sam stamp on it.
What you’ll like
It depends on what you’re into, really
How you feel about XXL largely depends on your attitude toward doing things like fighting carnivorous worms inside a hollowed-out dinosaur carcass. Or riding a dynamite-powered unicycle through an erupting volcano. Or adding an attachment to one of your shotguns that makes it shoot cybernetic bees. Or an option that makes enemies bleed donuts. If these things sound fun to you, XXL will provide plenty of entertainment.
Gunstacking is way more fun than it has any right to be
XXL’s main feature is the “Gunstacker,” a system that allows you to, you know, stack guns on top of each other. You can have up to six different weapons per stack, and one pull of the trigger fires them all at once. The game has eight different weapons: machine pistol, Tommy gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, laser rifle, flamethrower, and chainsaw. You can find up to four of each, and each type has four unique power-ups that you can buy from the in-game store. Math tells me that this means that a full six-gun stack has a little over 820 million possible configurations, so you have a lot to work with there.
It’s a lot of fun to try different combinations of weapons and add-ons. You can tweak your stacks at checkpoints, but odds are you’ll settle into some favorites. My go-to set had a laser rifle that leeched health from enemies, two machine pistols that regenerated my health while I fired them, a chainsaw that sucked up all the money that enemies dropped, a Tommy gun that fired ricocheting bullets, and a third machine pistol with an “air buffer” that extended my jumps.
My back-up stack had a shotgun that slowed enemies down, a rocket launcher that created clouds of poisonous fog, a grenade launcher that shot mines, another grenade launcher that dispensed health and armor, and a laser rifle that shot giant balls of energy. Between these two builds, I could handle pretty much any encounter, but it took some experimenting to figure out which ones were the best for my needs.
Not all of the add-ons are inherently useful, however. One of the grenade launcher’s power-ups squirts out puddles of slippery butter, which I suppose gives you some kind of tactical advantage, but it’s mostly just hilarious to make a giant dinosaur slip and fall on its face while a cartoonish slide-whistle sound effect plays.
But once you’ve found a bunch of guns, XXL offers a lot of options for taking out your foes, and the Gunstacker is an all-around good time.
So is corpse-piling
Seriously, hear me out on this one.
XXL treats most enemies as solid objects — even after they’re dead. This means that you can stand on a lot of them, Super Mario 2-style, and use them as platforms. Some sections of the game even require this, like one early on in which Sam falls into in a pit while enemies constantly spawn above. As you kill them, their corpses pile up until the heap is tall enough for you to escape the hole.
Another section has Sam dropping larger monsters into saw blades and using them as stepping stones to get across before they disappear into the flurry of metal death. It’s all a little morbid, I guess, but it’s also a clever idea that complements the genre-trope-y massive body count by putting it to practical use.
Multiplayer you can believe in
XXL features drop-in/drop-out co-op for the entire campaign. You can read a bit about it in our earlier preview, but how it works is that you and a buddy (playing as jerky-loving sidekick Huff) join forces to make twice as many bullets fly through the air as before. You can imagine how chaotic that can get, but it’s generally easy to tell who’s who due to the color-coded auras around the characters. Also, their shirts are different colors, so that helps, too.
From what I could tell, difficulty doesn’t increase to compensate for the second player, so bringing a friend along makes fighting way easier. I can’t say the same about the platforming, however. Having another person there makes even the most basic jumping sequences exercises in coordination and communication, most of which end in one player either dying or falling behind (that is, scrolling off the edge of the screen). That means that they have to catch up while trapped inside a shameful bubble.
If one player runs out of health, he falls down for a little while. The other person can revive him more quickly and add to his health upon his return by picking up a bunch of weird, floating crosses that spring out of his unconscious body. Depending on where you fall down — like, say, right next to a pit full of spikes — your partner might have an easier or tougher time collecting the little icons.
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.