Every now and then a game emerges with an almost hypnotic sense of style. Derrick the Deathfin, “the world’s first underwater papercraft video game,” is one such title. There is no denying the extreme amount of charm and unique flair in this stylish sidescroller, but is it enough to carry Derrick to greatness?
Even without playing the game, it’s immediately apparent that developers Different Tuna put a tremendous amount of care into the development of Derrick the Deathfin. Attempting to craft a digital game from paper is no simple undertaking. Every animation must be calculated and constructed in deliberate steps before it can even be programmed into the game. This creates an incredibly distinct art style, but relying heavily on the limits of paper objects opens the project up to a wide variety of risks.
Our story follows Derrick, a poor young shark who’s parents become nothing more than low-grade meat after the the corrupt M.E.A.N. corporation begins terrorizing the denizens of sea. This money-hungry conglomerate is harvesting the ocean for its oil, polluting the waters with terrible chemicals, and mass-harvesting the animals. Derrick dedicates his life to destroying M.E.A.N. and avenging the death of his parents. These events are all vaguely described by charming stop-motion cutscenes at various points throughout the game.
The commitment to papercraft delivers a genuinely exciting assortment of vivid environments and outrageous aquatic wildlife. Derrick’s journey to vengeance guides the player to various continents around the globe. Each area introduces some wildly exaggerated and drastically different environments. The lively pieces of background ambiance seemingly constructed of paper and cardboard heavily reminded me of Little Big Planet. Quirky faces were added to random bits of scenery and these oddball details really helped set the tone for the entire game. The stages in Africa featured structures with Anubis faces and tribal masks, while stages in Antarctica introduced enormous popsicle trees and log cabins.
Just like our drowsy-eyed hero Derrick, all fellow inhabitants of the sea are constructed in an almost origami type fashion. Creatures are formed with distinct folds and sharp edges. Jellyfish are essentially boxes with rectangular tails hanging from the end, while animals like the lion fish or crocodile are formed by a series of complex shapes. Even though the sea creatures featured in the game are incredibly exaggerated, they are all immediately recognizable and this demonstrates the extreme success of this art style.
Papercraft may work fantastically to create bold, original art, but it unfortunately leaves the gameplay feeling a bit empty. The object of Derrick the Deathfin is very straight-forward. Each stage you must navigate Derrick to the assigned finish line without letting his hunger/life meter deplete while collecting pink rubies and jumping through flaming tires. These serve as the game’s primary collectibles and act as progression tokens to unlock the different continents. Basically to advance to the next area of the game you must collect a minimum number of rubies and tires. Even though many of the stages seemed drastically different in design and layout, they all began to feel the same.
I spent most of my time frantically flying through stages eating as many fish as I possibly could in a desperate attempt to keep my rapidly draining hunger bar from emptying. In many ways I really enjoyed the fast-paced chaotic gameplay. Often times it would come together to create a perfect marriage of Sonic the Hedgehog and Ecco the Dolphin, but the extreme speed also made enjoying the beautiful environments and creatures somewhat difficult. This ultimately made the gameplay feel extremely repetitive. The addition of unlockable powerups or abilities would have added a great deal of replayability and increased my desire to collect the almost pointless rubies, especially because controlling Derrick was such a blast. A single playthrough takes roughly two hours and besides global leaderboards, there isn’t truly an incentive to relive the adventure.
Derrick the Deathfin succeeds in many ways. Amazingly unique visuals and a downright groovy soundtrack are accompanied by tight, genuinely fun controls. Unfortunately a somewhat lacking core gameplay experience puts a few unsavory wrinkles in this papercraft package, but if you can look past the slight repetition, there is a great deal to enjoy with this wildly imaginative deep sea sidescroller.
Recommended for fans of: Imaginative art, sidescrollers, and Ecco the Dolphin.
Miles Dompier is the chief editor and founder of What’s Your Tag?. He is a Seattle native who recently moved to the sweltering heat of Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a composer/voice actor. When he’s not up writing until his eyes bleed, he likes to play a Prince level of instruments and listen to terrible death metal. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter and be sure to join our gaming community; TEAM XBRO.