Deadly Creatures: Wii's Arachnid brawler fails to innovate

A Bug's Life is dull, if Deadly Creatures has anything to say about it

If I could choose a single aphorism to leave as my own personal enduring legacy, it would be this: Arachnids were created by the devil himself to torment humankind. To hell with biologists and their lies about necessary predators—exterminate the abundantly appendaged abominations on sight.

Where some see an average house spider, I see a creature so perfect in its creepy, shudder-inducing, downright alien heresy that it inspires a bit of detached awe in those few microseconds before I begin screaming, "Kill it! Kill it with fire!"

Living my life by this code gives me a certain perspective which only comes into play at the most unusual occasions. The Wii exclusive Deadly Creatures, featuring as its primary draw a tarantula and a scorpion as player characters, may be only the latest in a long list of examples, but its blasphemous premise filled me with a perverse joy not experienced since the days of Torquemada.

Unnerving or not, the development of Deadly Creatures sparks speculation: Shrinking a third-person brawler down to a bug's-eye view seems like the kind of offbeat premise that would offer great opportunities to take the experience even further out into left field, right?

In a perfect world, sure. By all rights, developer Rainbow Studios should have made Deadly Creatures as a low-key game released with little fanfare that would nonetheless garner a small yet rabid cult following due to a quirky environment, an engaging interface, or any number of other factors which typically create the kind of underground hit that people like me berate people like you for not buying the first time around.

Luckily for you, there will be no berating today. The entirety of Deadly Creatures' innovation can be summed up in three words: "You're a bug."

The problem isn't that the main characters of Deadly Creatures are bugs; the problem is that the main characters are assemblies of polygons and code that superficially appear to be bugs but in reality could be mixed and matched with practically any other third-person brawler's protagonist from the last decade.

Deadly Creatures revolves around the adventures of a tarantula and a scorpion in their quest to bite and sting their way across God's creation. In a chest-thumpingly American depiction of predator/prey relationships, the protagonists mete out a bit of preemptive deterrence against everything from the cricket population through lower insects and reptiles and all the way up to the inevitable human kill.

All this is accomplished through classic lazy interface tricks. Button-mashing combos? Check. Waggly special moves? Check. Three-D movement hindered by arbitrary barriers and an infuriatingly inaccurate Wii remote? Check. Slow-motion boss kills as quick-time events? Check. It's tired, it's stale, and the extra legs it showcases doesn't help in any way.

Meanwhile, the human subplot is happening... well, somewhere else. Imagine a course of events (a treasure hunt gone bad involving Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Hopper, and a cache of Civil War gold) as a straight line from Point A to Point B. Draw a random squiggle across that line that eventually converges with Point B, and you'll have a reasonably accurate map of the interaction between the game's two timelines.

That presentation could have been engaging, if only more care had been taken with it. As it stands, the secondary plot adds a few disjointed cutscenes and a boss battle to the mix, but otherwise serves no significant purpose. The idea had obviously been present from early stages of the development cycle, but its lack of relevance gives it the feel of a tacked-on addition meant to generate cheap buzz through star power.

Devoted as it is to territorial disputes and graphic depictions (as graphic as bug-on-bug violence can get, anyway) of life in the desert food chain, Deadly Creatures wants to sell itself through the brutality of life in its own little merciless microverse. The brutality it sells, however, is dispassionate, calling to mind more of a detached David Attenborough atmosphere than the eight-legged Wes Craven creepfest that the game's treatment deserved.

What's the point of going crazy with your premise if you only do so in half-measures? Play your protagonists up as Lecter-esque terrorvores! Put them in a buddy cop story with a crotchety old lizard as a desk sergeant and a leap from an exploding cactus! Remake SimAnt with them for all I care. Just don't bore me with the same old thing with a weird paint job. That's a sin greater than I can bear.