Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand Review

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Spawn is one of my favorite comic book characters. He’s a badass hellspawn that fights against thugs and demons. Sadly, many of the Spawn video games do not do the character justice. Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand was an arcade game ported to the Dreamcast in 2000 and it’s pretty much Spawn porn. With a large cast of playable characters and tons of action, it might just be one of the best Spawn games to date.

Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand is like an arena-style brawler of sorts. Kind of like the Power Stone games or even Tom & Jerry in Fists of Furry. You can play through either Arcade or Tournament. Both consist of Battle Royale and Team Battle modes and Arcade does have an extra mode called Boss Attack which is what you’ll need to play through to unlock all of the characters. The core gameplay consists of you choosing a character and killing all of the other opponents within the stage. Depending on what mode you play the objective of each mode varies but there’s always a time limit. In Boss Attack you advance through the stages by beating each boss within the time limit. In Battle Royale you can fight up to three other opponents, and the character with the most kills wins. In Team Battle, it’s Green vs Red, two vs two. Whichever team has the most kills wins.

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Each character has different attacks and abilities and there’s various weapons located throughout the stages including swords, guns, grenades, mines, and other shit to help you kill your opponents. However, not every character can pick up every weapon depending on if it’s a gun-wielding or melee-based character. There is a gallery that shows you what weapons you’ve acquired and some weapons are hidden throughout the stages or require specific characters to obtain. It’s a neat little incentive to keep playing but other than the gallery, there’s no real reason in making the effort to find everything. Along with the weapons are different colored orbs scattered throughout the stages. Red Orbs increase attack power, Blue Orbs increase defense, Yellow Orbs increase your speed, and Green Orbs recover your health. If you’re playing on higher difficulties then these become almost useless. You lose an orb if you get hit and you lose them all if you die which happens frequently.

It’s obvious this game was designed with multiplayer in mind but I will only be focusing on the single-player experience.

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You start the game with only a few characters to play as and if you want to unlock more you’ll need to play through the Boss Attack mode. You don’t have to do anything special except beat it. However, you have the option to play through it alone or with a CPU ally. When playing by yourself you can only advance to stage seven before Malebolgia, also the final boss, explains that you need to play with an ally in order to advance through all fourteen stages. Beating it with the CPU  is required to unlock a few select characters but most can be unlocked if you just beat it by yourself. The only way you can fail a stage is if you don’t beat the boss before the timer runs out. Fortunately, you can increase the time limit in the options. So it really just removes the challenge altogether. You’ll probably beat most stages in under five minutes.

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There really is no story here. It’s kind of like the Twisted Metal games where you just fight to the end to unveil a cutscene related to your character. In this case it’s comic book styled cutscenes with text. I guess you could say the Boss Attack Mode is the primary single player mode. Each stage has endless spawning standard enemies like thugs, soldiers, skeletons and then the boss. Sometimes the boss is ready to fight from the get-go and other times, it appears after a certain amount of time… I think. Maybe it’s after you kill a specific number of enemies. It’s not really explained. Unfortunately, playing through it with each character is time consuming and tedious. You go through mostly the same stages each time, fight the same bosses, rinse and repeat. The final boss, Malebolgia, is just a joke, especially if you play as a character with a ranged attack. You hit him once and you win. I don’t get why it’s so easy, but whatever. After several times of playing through this mode, I didn’t question it anymore. Because I turned the timer all the way up to sixty minutes, I turned the difficulty all the way up too because, why not? I didn’t really start having fun until I unlocked more and more characters. Basically I would recommend unlocking them all if you want really get the most out of the game because it’s the other modes that are enjoyable.

As I said earlier this game is like Spawn porn. You’ve got an impressive cast of characters including Spawn himself, Dark Ages Spawn, the Violator, Jessica, OvertKill, Sam and Twitch, and several more. Then you’ve got some basic generic characters too that are mostly seen as cannon fodder in the boss attack mode.

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Now I’m just going to come right out and say it. This game has a lot of problems. Ranging from the gameplay to little shit that just annoys me. For one thing, the camera is horrible, fucking horrible. You can set the camera option to “distant” in the options menu so it’s further away but it’s still awful. It never follows your character around and half the time you can’t tell what the fuck is going on. I died more times than I could count and most of the time I couldn’t tell you how I died because I couldn’t see what the fuck was happening.

The characters are extremely unbalanced. It’s obvious characters with guns or ranged attacks always have an edge and many characters have cheap attacks that can just kill you instantly. You unlock all of the bosses, with the exception of Malebolgia, and some of these dudes are just way too big. And by that I mean too big for some of the stages. So you’ll frequently be fighting in small stages, with a shitty camera, and an oversized boss with cheap attacks. It’s just ridiculous.

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You’ll soon realize the game is blatantly cheap after seeing some bosses fall into lava and then just teleport to safety. It’s downright fucked up. I mean maybe because some of these guys are Hell natives and they can survive in lava? I don’t know. But then again if you play as that character, or any character for that matter, and fall in lava, you’ll die immediately. And just to confuse you some bosses can be killed using the environment. The Admonisher will die if he falls into lava and the Vacillator can die if he falls off an ice cliff. I don’t understand it. Maybe I should read more of the comics for an explanation but it just seems like a way of adding artificial difficulty and frustrating me.

Bosses have more health than their playable character counterparts and the only reason it sometimes took me more than three minutes to beat a stage is because I kept dying from cheap attacks and could barely get any attacks in. Yes, you can obtain weapons throughout the stages to assist you but the chances of you holding onto them for an extended period of time is slim to none. You’ll probably die before you can even get to one let alone use it on the boss. I found that the best and fastest way to get through this mode, especially if you plan to play with the CPU to beat all fourteen stages, is to choose an ally that’s overpowered.

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The stages themselves are alright. There’s not as many as you might think. In Boss Attack Mode you battle in several stages but some keep repeating themselves with different environmental effects. It would have been nice if there were at least fourteen different stages. You fight in a couple urban areas, a laboratory, and what I’m guessing are Hell-themed stages. The Battle Royale and Team Battle modes add six Labyrinth stages which are really just too big and too bland. They’re not very interesting and get boring quickly. It becomes hard to locate enemies, even with the radar, and they just look very generic, lacking any real detail.

So after finally playing through Boss Attack thirty or so times and unlocking everyone, I was finally able to try the other modes. This is where the game really shines or at least shines a little brighter. Battle Royale Mode is just a fun free-for-all where four characters try and kill each other and even Team Battle Mode has its moments. In the Arcade version of these modes you can apply different handicap options like more health for the characters and there’s even a stage select. You can even apply different effects to the stages like fog, low gravity, and even night vision. Some of the stages are little too large for these modes since they only support four characters. The Tournament versions of these modes differ in some small but significant ways. You can’t adjust the time limits and each mode has you advancing your way through a ladder of enemy opponents. Sadly, the enemies you fight against are not randomized so the ladder is always the same. You can’t choose the stages or even apply any handicaps. But even the tournament modes aren’t that challenging. If you fail a stage you can just keep retrying until you beat it. There’s no lives or anything so eventually you can make it to the end.

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As I said earlier there’s a lot of little shit in this game that just annoys me. For one thing, the Clown can transform into the Violator but at the cost of constantly draining health. Why? Considering Violator is one of Spawn’s most notorious enemies, why couldn’t they be separate characters? You can’t reload guns manually so you need to empty the clip before you can reload. Why? And why can’t I move while I’m reloading? That just makes me an open target. Why is there no option to turn what I’ll call “friendly fire” off? That really gets on my nerves. With the camera as bad as it is, many times I found myself attacking my partner. Not only that but your AI buddy doesn’t give a shit if you’re in the way. They’ll just attack and most likely kill you. They make no effort to go around or avoid you. There’s absolutely no way to block or defend yourself. It’s pretty much whoever attacks first is most likely going to win.

Unrelated to the gameplay are other issues. The gameplay music itself sounds cool at first with cool metal riffs and all but they quickly become grating after hearing them over and over. You can’t really go back after selecting certain modes of play unless you leave the game running without doing anything so it can go back on its own. And during gameplay you can’t quit back to the main menu. The frame rate can take a hit when things become really hectic and there’s too much text on the screen. The HUD text in general is just way too big and text will often appear directly in the center of the screen obstructing your view. It’s actually really obnoxious.

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Even with all of the problems there is something special about this game and it does have some cool stuff. There’s a neat first-person view and you can even attack when in this view but, unfortunately, you won’t be able to move. This is a Dreamcast game that supports the arcade stick and I’m starting to think it’s meant to be played that way. I primarily used the Dreamcast controller and didn’t have any major issues with the controls but after using the arcade stick, it’s obvious that it’s more convenient. The controls don’t utilize the controller’s joystick so you need to move with the d-pad. Pressing R and B at the same time can make your character perform a special move like transforming the Clown into Violator or having Spawn whip out his iconic cape. Most characters can do something unique. On the arcade stick, you just press the C button to do this. I’m not sure how this game controlled in the arcades but to me it feels like the Dreamcast arcade stick is the best way to play or at least is just as efficient as using the controller. In the Demon’s Hand is also a looker. At least I think it looks pretty good for a Dreamcast game. The character models are well done and most of the stages look great. The action is fast-paced and can be really fun at times. At least when you can see what’s happening. This does support the VGA box and I’d highly recommend you play it that way.

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Spawn and his other character variations that can wield guns are easily my favorite characters. With them, you can dual-wield M60s. It’s awesome. The guns have an auto-lock feature, which works well more often than not, but many times it didn’t always lock-on to the enemy I wanted. You may rely on this lock-on feature often but thanks to that horrible camera you may not be able to see and just hope you’re attacking who you want. The AI, at least the CPU ally AI, is pretty good. At least in the normal stages. They’ll attack and kill other enemies and can sometimes put up a decent fight. Although, in the Labyrinth stages the AI exposes its shortcomings. They will repeatedly try to jump over the extremely high walls to reach other opponents for example making the battles boring.

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Out of all the Spawn games I have played as of this review, even with all of its problems, In the Demon’s Hand is probably the best Spawn game to date. Do I think everybody would enjoy it? Probably not. There are better games in this genre like Power Stone for example. This is definitely for anyone who loves the Spawn universe or maybe just the genre itself. Maybe it would be better if I played this friends but I doubt that would make up for many of the game’s issues.

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