In the mid-nineties, few films were able to encapsulate my entrenched passions as well as 1995’s Desperado. Skillfully blending John Woo-inspired gunplay, a searing Santana-infused soundtrack, with a unhealthy infatuation of Salma Hayek, it seemed like every frame of the movie was culled from my unconscious. I recall leaving the opening night screening, yearning to replay the on-screen action in interactive form. Sadly, that craving was only partially fulfilled by Total Overdose: A Gunslingers Tale in Mexico, over ten years later. A full decade was spent wondering why someone didn’t contextualize Robert Rodriguez’s tequila-drenched vision into a visceral 2D hack-and-slash. Now, five years later, my wish has been unexpectedly fulfilled by the developer of Eets: Chowdown.
While the game’s eponymous protagonist may evoke more of a venomous Machete vibe, rather than Antonio Banderas’s imperturbable cool, the decision is undoubtedly for the better. Shank is a character of minimal words, preferring to let his arsenal of guns, grenades, and a chainsaw handle any conflict resolution. From the moment the character descends upon the game’s shadowy bar until he exacts his retribution on the final boss, this anti-hero is a hell-bent beast of butchery, darting wildly like a 2D Dante or Bayonetta.
To permit Shank to exact his revenge, nearly every button on the controller in utilized. Typically, the protagonist’s barrage of agony is deliberately fluid, allowing Shank to fire off a barrage of ballistics in one direction, while pummeling a foe in another. If the character can grab hold of a enemy a new range of options exist, allowing the player to throw the antagonist to the ground in preparation of a point-blank shotgun blast or offer a mouthful of hand grenades. While many brawlers suffer from repetition, the repertoire of carnage offered by Shank, helps shake the genre’s inevitable tedium.
Sadly, a few minor blemishes weren’t exorcised by the title’s Q&A team. The same button used to strike is also utilized to pick up health-replenishing objects in the environment. Sporadically, my last-ditch recovery effort was frustratingly interpreted as a concluding strike. Likewise, I succumbed a few times when Shank didn’t sinuously dodge out of danger, or when he stubbornly didn’t want to change his firing direction quickly enough. While the game’s platforming bits feel nearly automated in the first few stages, soon enemy fire will come cascading from the sky, often sending our hero plummeting to his death.
Unlike recent beat-em-ups which seem to expect another player to share couch space and pugilistic responsibilities, Shank‘s multiplayer component is designed for two gamers. The co-operative mode cleverly offers the protagonist’s backstory, as well as delivers stages and bosses not found in the game’s single-player campaign. Interestingly, the title’s difficulty is augmented to accommodate an additional player. In execution, the challenge level probably didn’t need to be raised- keeping track of your character on a busier screen was taxing enough.
Despite a few niggling control issues, Shank represents one the best exemplars in the recent revival of 2D brawlers. Along with a magnificently hand-drawn, lithely animated delivery, the title entices gamers with its 100+ hit combos, and brooding musical score. Those who find contentment within the confines of a visceral, comically violent side-scroller such as Castle Crashers or Alien Hominid should thoroughly enjoy Shank. Personally, I’m eager awaiting a second-playthrough after the Machete premiere; I can’t think of a diversion better suited as a companion piece.