Serious Sam Double D is a game in which you can form a devastating six-stack of guns and use it to blow up a vuvuzela-honking pancake monster with forks for legs. With a summary as captivating as this, how is it possible for Double D to be bad?
That’s the question I’ve had to ask myself as I slogged through its eighteen story missions. How can I be firing multiple rockets into the face of a spider-eyed giant hamster that can burp out killer frogs, and yet not be having a grand old time? It’s quite a conundrum, and one for which the answer is twofold.
Double D is a joke stretched too thin. Even though the main campaign can be finished in well under four hours, it’s still about two and a half hours too long. As one of three indie games commendably commissioned by Croteam as cross-promotion for the forthcoming Serious Sam 3: BFE, Double D is essentially an advanced form of advertising. It exists to remind us that a new, full-length Serious Sam is coming out and (hopefully) to give us a few laughs and thrills along the way.
Developer Mommy’s Best has opted to focus on the comedy side of things, playing up Serious Sam’s decidedly un-serious side even more than the main titles themselves. As a result, you’ll come across the aforementioned pancake-abominations, disturbing ‘Chimputee’ warriors and hot pink, handbag-toting Biomechanoids. You’ll also stumble upon a selection of secret areas which range from an homage to the might of Parallax scrolling (a worthy shrine indeed) to a totally sweet van perched perilously over a pit of spikes.
This is all funny stuff, and the first time you run into each of the above it’ll raise a laugh or two. But these moments are fleeting, and things like the Vuvuzelator and evil spider-Hamster quickly lose their comic edge when they become just another colourful area of the screen to wave your crosshair at until they fall down. Serious Sam Double D is a title full of funny encounters, but it’s the equivalent of a comedian trying to stretch ten or twelve one-liners across a four hour set.
That wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the portions between each sight gag were a joy to play, as then the comedy would be a neat bonus instead of tasked with carrying the entire game. Unfortunately, the bulk of Double D is a mundane chore.
Which brings us the title’s second major problem: Serious Sam doesn’t really work in 2D.
The basis of the previous Sam games is that monsters teleport out of nowhere in waves of ten or so at a time and you try to blow them up. It’s a pretty simple system, but one which relies more heavily on the freedom of 3D space than I’d previously realised. In the original Sams you tend to stay alive by back-pedalling, weaving and circle strafing like crazy. Only one of those options (back-pedalling) is really possible in 2D and with just four basic directions open to both you and the AI, the chances are high that you’ll be running backwards into the embracing hooves of a rampant Kleer. Whereupon you will die.
It’s pretty obvious that the developers are aware of this fundamental problem, because you’re not only given the option to quicksave at any point you desire but have health and armour thrown at you like bunches of roses from the arms of a mentally unhinged stalker. It’s a good job really, because while you fumble around with the unwieldly mouse controls (this is a game resolutely designed for the twin stickery of a gamepad) monsters are liable to spawn merrily on top of you.
While we’re at it, I think the concept of monsters that spawn near-instantly with no warning can pretty much be consigned to the design bin of videogame history now.
Double D’s gun stacking is an admittedly nifty feature, but it also has the oder of gimmickry about it and feels like an attempt to elicit “OMG, this game let’s you stack six guns together!!” news posts from hyperactive videogame blogs.
Yes, using the collectible stacking rods to tower six guns on top of one another makes them more powerful. And yes, you can combine guns so that you’re firing a grenade launcher and tommy gun and flamethrower all at once. It’s pretty handy for mowing down more enemies and looks kind of cool, but it’s by no means a revolutionary gameplay feature in terms of function. Like the other comedy elements in the game it’s designed to raise a laugh of incredulity from the player and then let them move on.
Progression actually proved tricky on a couple of occasions as I found myself stuck inside scenery after propelling myself there with the portable trampoline that Sam finds himself in possession of part-way through the game. Enemies didn’t seem immune to this problem either, leaving a couple of my foes glitching out inside walls.
It’s also wise to be careful with your quicksave, as there’s no period of invulnerability after loading. This means it’s possible to save as an enemy is killing you, leading to the sort of death loop not witnessed since the days of Jet Set Willy on the ZX Spectrum (though fortunately you can dig around menus for an earlier save to get out of this situation).
Still, you may actually be wishing for death during sequences in which the sub-Metalocalypse guitar shredding soundtrack mixes with the screams of demented chimps. I’ll be the first to admit that the riffing isn’t exactly to my tastes, but when combined with monkey-shrieks it becomes a thing of unwitting horror.
If you’re desperate for more Double D after completing the main story, there are a series of unlockable challenge levels to attempt. You can also revisit previous levels with your current equipment and try to unlock golden versions of each weapon, if you so desire.
This is a cautionary tale. Great though it must have been for Mommy’s Best to be able to play with Croteam’s intellectual property, the game shows that you can’t just transpose a beloved series into 2D and simply hope it works. It’s a terrible shame, because it’s a title made with a lot of heart and you can tell the team has stuffed it full of as many jokes and visual gags as they possibly can. But enthusiasm alone can’t cure fatal problems with the flat, tedious gameplay; and while almost everything about Serious Sam Double D sounds and looks fun, it is barely any fun to play at all.