Developer: Mommy’s Best Games / Publisher: Croteam, Devolver Digital / Played on: PC / Price: $7.99 / ESRB: Not Rated
I try not to idealize the past when it comes to videogames, but every so often a game like Serious Sam Double D comes along that is so fun and goddamn charming that it makes it hard to maintain proper perspective. It reminds me of mid-90s gaming–its design is both restrained and novel, it has an amazing sense of charm, and it’s also really, really fucking hard. Newer gamers may be put off by its simple sensibilities and uncompromising difficulty, but I wouldn’t trade my evenings with Double D for all the avant-garde experimental indie titles in the world.
Double D does a great job merging a few basic concepts. At its core, the game is a 2D side-scrolling shooter similar to Abuse where you control Sam’s position with the WASD keys and control his aim with an on-screen mouse cursor. The Serious Sam franchise hallmarks are layered on top of that, which means tons of challenging enemies, huge levels packed with secret areas, and boss fights that will shatter your gamer’s self-esteem. That’s all fairly expected, but Double D livens up the mix with the Gun Stacker.
After a few levels, you’re given a bracket that allows you to mount another gun on top of your current gun and fire both at the same time. Scattered around the levels are even more brackets, which let you stack up even more guns capping out at sixIf you haven’t fired six shotguns at once, brother, you haven’t lived. A small amount of strategy goes into what guns you combine, but mostly I clustered them according to utility (long range, short range, explosive, etc).
A smaller tweak to the run-and-gun action is Sam’s jump pad, which you can throw at any time using the right mouse button. Once placed on a surface, this will bounce Sam, his bullets, and even enemies into the air, which is instrumental in reaching hidden areas. What’s cooler, you can throw this again after bouncing off your current pad (which causes the first one to disappear, effectively warping back to you). This opens up the levels for some very tricky secret areas that require mid-air bouncing off of walls and other crazy acrobatics to reach. Unfortunately, there’s potential with the gun stacker and jump pad that is never fully realized. Stacking guns is fun, but never affects the gameplay in a fundamental way aside from deciding which and at what multiplier you expend your ammo. Jump pads are fun to play with, but it could’ve amounted to much more than simply a way to jump higher, which most often it is.
Still, Double D offers an impressive amount of gameplay content, especially considering its initial sticker price. The base campaign is already surprisingly long, taking me around eight hours (admittedly with significant time dumped into crunching through the game’s bosses). On top of that, you unlock challenges that set you against a particular group of enemies with a pre-defined weapon set. There’s tons to do here, especially when you consider the low cost of entry. Just bear in mind the gameplay isn’t exactly profound or riveting. Aside from the novelty of gun stacking and the occasional demonstration of quirky humor, Double D is a standard 2D action game.
Graphics and Sound
Double D’s graphics and sound are both minimal but effective. Levels are crammed with classic parallax-scrolling backgrounds that embrace a scribbly, airbrushed look. Sam and the game’s enemies animate stiffly, like marionettes, but this generates a weird sense of personality when 20 awkward skinless demon monsters try to chase you down. I particularly enjoy how the dead bodies literally stack up, which provides access to new areas or safe passage over spiked pits. Sound is serviceable but not entirely notable. Some of the game’s combat tracks have some good beats that enhance the nearly nonstop carnage, but other than that the audio’s scope is what you’d expect in a sub-$10 game.
Thanks to a streamlined design there’s not a whole lot in Double D to get wrong. There are no outright failures or annoyances, but some of the feel is just off. Jumps are very floaty and sometimes edge detection can be vague on certain ledges, though jumps always seem to err in your favor . I also wish that I had some control over the zoom level of the camera. The view typically pulls back during large fights to provide a wider field of view, but the default zoomed-in view occasionally makes it difficult to see if a jump is safe.
Serious Sam Double D has a lot to offer. It especially tickled my fancy with its irreverent, unrestrained humor that rivals Earthworm Jim. If you’re expecting innovation or extremely tight gameplay, this isn’t the place to find it. On the other hand, if you enjoy simple action games, quirky indie experiences, or senses of humor that we seem to have left in the 90s, don’t let Double D slip by.