Curiously described as “The world’s first underwater papercraft game” by its creators – the independent development team Different Tuna, Derrick The Deathfin is a fresh new action-adventure game for the PlayStation 3, which plays very much like classic 2D side-scroller from the all but forgotten SEGA age – and I absolutely adore it.
After seeing his parents brutally murdered at the hands of the the evil M.E.A.N. Corporation young Derrick embarks on a mission to single handedly avenge their death, and naturally, being a fearsome shark, eat everything he can along the way!
Let’s not muddy the waters here; If you’re looking for a complex and immersive narrative led platformer, this isn’t for you. The water Derrick swims in may be, but the story here isn’t very deep at all.
That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t brilliant. It most certainly is. What really makes this game so special however, is the world in which our titular hero lives.
Derrick The Deathfin is a collaborative effort between the game’s writer, producer, and general all-round everything Different Cloth (Gordon Midwood) and the rather brilliant indie artist Ronzo, who here takes his art away from the streets, and into video-games for the first, but hopefully not the last time.
Having previously worked on iPhone & WiiWare title Lilt Line, Different Cloth announced they’d received funding for the new project via Channel 4’s now dissolved digital innovation brand 4iP just over two years ago, and since then have been working on the game tirelessly, and it really shows.
There’s often talk about whether or not video games are “Art”.
More often than not, this talk relates to the cinematic experience of a title, the way that Heavy Rain or the new Tomb Raider tell the player a story, rather than looking at the game design itself; And yet it’s that sense that Derrick The Deathfin prevails. This is a wonderfully undeniable work of art.
Set entirely amongst a papercraft world, each level has been lovingly crafted with original and vivid puzzles to solve and characters to meet eat.
Originally conceived as a 2D underwater world, designed with multiple layers of paper, the game already had a unique slant about it. Things really got creative when contemporary London based artist Ronzo dived into the game’s design, however.
This isn’t just CGI. Derrick’s world isn’t just a pseudo-created environment based on concept drawings in the same way Little Big Planet or Media Molecule’s upcoming papercraft game Tearaway is.
Be they the ridiculously cute Sea Turtles you’ll encounter throughout your adventure, or Derrick himself, each and every character model in the game was sketched by hand, before being crafted from cardboard and brought to life in Ronzo’s studio. Mock levels were staged and the models filmed in various movements to capture the authentic papercraft feel. The technical wizards at ten24 then used this ‘show-reel’ as a solid foundation for recreating the objects in game.
It’s a beautifully presented game, which plays with a refreshing simplicity.
Use the controller’s left analog stick to navigate your way through 32 stages, generally in an old-school left-to-right fashion, without dying. That’s it.
There’s 11 different environments, set over 4 continents and these range from sunkissed Africa to the wintery Arctic ocean. Each of these new surroundings has their own challenges to master, enemies to encounter and of course, like any good video game, epic boss battles to triumph over!
The most common level type is, as I mentioned, a simple left-to-right affair. Tasked with guiding our fishy friend to the exit, It’s a battle against Derrick’s overactive teenage metabolism.
Chomping your way through an entire smuck of jellyfish with the X button or dashing out of the ocean and jumping through a flaming tyre like some sort of post-apocalyptic Ecco The Dolphin, with a well timed press of R2, will not only keep keep Derrick alive and allow you to explore your gorgeously designed environment further, but also to accrue points along the way, ultimately working towards a Bronze, Silver or Gold medal for each stage.
As a rule of thumb, every sixth level or so you’ll be greeted with a timed maze, which requires you to do nothing more than reach the goal marker as quickly as possible; This isn’t always as easy as it seems when great gaggles of scuba divers get in your way, or you come nose to nose with a congregation of hungry crocodiles.
As a break from the repetitive nature of the other levels, once on each continent Derrick’s fight against the villainous M.E.A.N. Corporation is returned to, with the inclusion of an all-too-easy puzzle area; These stages acting as playable cut-scenes over anything else, designed to keep the game’s otherwise invisible plotline swimming along.
Derrick The Deathfin’s uncomplicated control scheme and generous learning curve mean that no level is a chore. As you’d expect, in his natural surroundings, Derrick is responsive and a joy to handle – occasionally though, he’s quite literally a fish-out-of-water. When leaping for tyres or other collectables you’ll find yourself requiring a sometimes frustrating degree of precision that the game just hasn’t taught you in the underwater areas. Due to the nom-and-on nature of Derrick’s journey, I more than once found myself running out of food trying to land an intricate jump over a particular ledge – If there’s not a well placed foodsource, you can’t afford to hang around.
The stages are, for the most part, short and sweet, and if you’re ooking to just reach the goal and move on, a relative walk in the park. Unfortunately, this means the game’s over before it’s really begun – my first playthrough taking around 2 hours.
Derrick does hold a limited degree of replay value thanks to the game’s collectables and the 14 included PSN trophies, which will reward you with a prized virtual gold cup for picking up every gem or attaining a high score in each stage.
A disappointing omission then, is that of online leaderboards; Whilst the game has local score tracking, integration with the PlayStation Network would be hugely beneficial. Allowing players to challenge scores or speed runs from their friend’s list would add longevity and give Derrick that much needed buoyancy after the first couple of hours.
In the long term, there’s no reason Derrick The Deathfin couldn’t make a transition to platforms like Steam & XBLA or more fittingly iOS or PlayStation Mobile for Android.
(It was originally slated for a PC & Mac release alongside that of consoles, although the former was canned at some point along the way, much like Derrick’s parents.)
The stunning stylised visuals would look crystal clear on the Vita’s OLED screen or the new generation of iDevices, and with each level taking a five or ten minute sitting to complete, it’s a real shame Derrick hasn’t found his way into our pockets already.
The game is currently a PlayStation 3 exclusive and Different Tuna’s ‘Head Of Fresh Produce’ Gordon Midwood has gone on record at the PlayStation Blog as saying there’s no plans to change this anytime soon, although the requests for a Vita version have been noted – presumably on a scrap of bright orange paper, that was at one point, a monstrous crab’s claw.
In conclusion, It’s not a long-winded story heavy epic, but Derrick The Deathfin is a wonderfully creative example of indie gaming, right through from design to creation.
I highly recommend you all give this papercraft gem a couple of hours of your time. You won’t regret it.
Derrick The Deathfin (817MB) is available to download now via the PlayStation Network Store for only £5.49.