Serious Sam: Double D Review (PC)

You see, “Double D” isn’t just a silly reference to breast size, it also means “2D”. Yes, the wit in Serious Sam: Double D is definitely the snappiest around. Fortunately for the game it’s also the most insane and unapologetically fun 2D shooter I’ve played this year.

Now and again as a games reviewer you come across a pleasant surprise, a game you didn’t have any particular hopes for but ended up loving. These games, in my opinion, are the best thing about being a games reviewer, and they certainly don’t come along often. I know I’m going to love Batman: Arkham City, but Serious Sam: Double D? An indie tie-in to build up hype for Serious Sam 3: BFE? Why would that be any good?

This is as sane and calm as the game gets

Astonishingly, it isn’t just good, it’s very good. But it’s certainly not immediately obvious. The blaring tuneless rock music on the main menu forces me to take off my headphones every time I start the game up, and the slightly confusing and cluttered menu itself will have you trapped for far too long on what is an otherwise straightforward game.

Upon starting the game itself (once you get over the shock that you’re playing a 2D side-scroller if you were expecting Serious Sam 3) first impressions are shocking. It looks like a poor Flash game, something you could play for free on Newsgrounds. The drab featureless sandy deserts in the background and the poor animation on Sam ‘Serious’ Stone only add to this feeling. At the start it makes Super Meat Boy look like Rage in comparison.

Then I went left and found a sandworm from Dune, whereupon the first of many smiles broke out on my face. You see, Double D is an imaginative, well-designed and utterly crazy shooter with a hundred wonderfully bizarre secrets to uncover. It’s in the Contra mould of shooter, just with a lot more jumping (although this isn’t a platformer). You’re thrown into a lot of inventive scenarios, like evading a volcano by hiding under a huge armoured insect, building a stack of dead Gnarr bodies high enough to jump out of the pit you’re in, or getting robot dinosaurs to fight regular dinosaurs. Levels can go vertically (both up and down) or horizontally, often with alternative routes to take, and are accentuated perfectly for both mass shoot-outs and exploration – two things I love in my games.

The shooting starts off simply and deceptively boringly. You get a crappy machinegun, then a shotgun, and progressively get a number of the crazy Serious Sam weapons over the course of the game. Seems depressingly predictable right? Then developer Mommy’s Best throws in their biggest innovation, the thing that immediately elevates Double D to crazy brilliance: gunstacking. Now, this may have been done in another game before, but I doubt it’s been done in such a ridiculous way.

Robot dinosaurs, regular dinosaurs, Mech-Fish… they’ll all be extinct soon

Gunstacking requires special Connectors which are scattered about the level, and these basically allow you to stick your guns together in whatever way you want so you can use them at the same time. You can see how crazy this looks in the screenshots. This doesn’t just put the game over most common shooters, it also allows for a great deal of customization I just wasn’t expecting. I ended up chaining all my lower-tier weapons together for regular enemies and all my more devastating weapons for bosses and bigger enemies. It served me pretty well, but I could change it at any time, put two of the same gun in for twice the power, the same one in each stack, etc. I’m sure everyone will stack things differently, and that’s a load of replay value right there. It gets stupidly fun fast, too.

It’s also surprising how mad the enemies get. Yes, the Serious Sam series has never had the most sane of enemies (see the Headless Kamikazes) but Mommy’s Best have gone out of its way to make the most bonkers set of opponents I’ve ever seen. The Kamikazes, Bombers, Gnarrs, and giant fish-robot Mechs are all present, but are joined by… well, let me describe some of them: Vuvuzela syrup sandwiches with forks for legs that send out a sonic explosion. Cyborg chimpanzees with jetpacks that fire exploding bananas at you. A taller female version of the Headless Kamikaze (a “Kamika-she”) wearing only panties and high-heel shoes with bombs covering her boobs. One of the bosses is a giant alien hamster in a huge spiky wheel. The list goes on.

It’s almost surprising, in the midst of all this inventiveness, that the game only gives you one item to play with – a jump pad, which you can throw anywhere, have an infinite amount of, and the enemies can also use. It does totally transform the game (as much as the gunstacking) and not only bring tactics into play during firefights but also allows for some crazy manoeuvres – you can place it on any surface, or even enemies and creatures! It is odd that you don’t get anything else to mess about with, but the jump pad is so ridiculously useful it would’ve just overcomplicated things unnecessarily. Good restraint there, guys – sometimes less is definitely more.

Told you so

Then there’s the replay value. The main game is set over several time periods and will take you a fair number of hours, more than enough to justify the tiny price tag, but then you take the additions into account and the Math ends up utterly in favour of the player. There is an obscene amount of secrets to find, from simple ones like health/armour/weapon pick-ups to the wacky ones like red light districts, mountains shaped like obscure celebrities, beetles having tea and the aforementioned sandworm. Then you get the unlockable Challenges which add even more replay value, and they’re also balls-hard so you’ll be at them for days.

All through Serious Sam: Double D I was consistently challenged, entertained, amused, surprised and impressed. If you’re even remotely a fan of 2D shooters you should pick this up immediately. Even the mouse and keyboard controls were perfect, and I was sitting there ready with my Xbox controller in hand. Yes first impressions are a bit dodgy, but they don’t last (seriously, we’re talking 3-4 minutes of complaint) and while animation remains simple the game does get quite pretty at times – and certainly hectic. It’s also very well designed, knowing when not to throw enemies at you as much as when to overwhelm you on all sides.

Easily the most insane and downright fun 2D shooter I’ve played all year, if not ever. And yes, I did say Vuvuzela sandwich creatures with forks for legs.

Top Game Moment: Hard to pick, but I’ll go with the moment when you discover you can shoot the headgear off the Robot Dinosaurs to return them to normal and make them attack your enemies.