Demonic pacts, guitar shredding so fierce that it emits fireballs and even simplified nods to Harmonix's now defunct Guitar Hero series all feature here. There's a lot of humour and elbow-nudging too and whilst some of the rib-tickling is largely hit and miss, there are some genuine laughs to be had with Charlie Murder, not least in its ridiculous premise.
Lord Mortimer, once the best friend and bandmate of the titular Charlie, has made a pact with the Devil after going all emo out of a perceived betrayal by Charlie when he hits the big time and becomes famous.
Probably jealous of all the groupies Charlie's been amassing with his new fame, Mortimer sells his soul in exchange for musical talent and new demonic band mates with which to destroy his old pal. Charlie, on the other hand, has to fight his way through all kinds of satanic monsters that even hell couldn't love to reach the battle of the bands concert and defeat Mortimer with his superior vocals. Like we said, this is high-brow super serious storytelling.
Other than the titular 'protagonist' (who we played as for most of the games duration), there are four other playable characters who all have unique powers depending on what instrument they play in Charlie's band. Lester - the Mage and the bands bassist can conjure spells (yes, including fireballs) from his instrument. Rex the Tank summons bombardments of inanimate objects from his drum kit, Tommy can use his guitar in a similar fashion to Lester's bass and Kelly uses her microphone to cause enemies eardrums to rupture in much the same way as Charlie.
In terms of gameplay, the title feels like a fusion between Castle Crashers side-scrolling co-op adventure and Ska Studios' own Dishwasher: Samurai. Like the latter, Charlie Murder also takes full advantage of gratuitous graphic violence, trivialising it with a cartoon art style and whilst the visuals aren't as stylised as Dishwasher, they are nonetheless enjoyable.
The surprisingly long campaign (roughly 6-7 hours) is split up into various concurrent combat sections that are punctuated and enhanced by some cute RPG-lite features. Enemies drop both money and gear that can be used to purchase items and upgrade your character respectively. Beer-stained hoodies and beanies constitute armour drops and there's a healthy dose of variation in character customisation. Other neat extras such as hidden QR codes can be photographed with your in-game phone to unlock special, unique items.
Your phone also acts as your skill tree menu and receives regular humorous text messages from Mortimer who, going by his spelling skills, doesn't have an IQ much greater than that of a tadpole. The unlockabe skills on offer feature standard RPG buffs like inventory upgrades and additional combos and whilst some are unique to each character, there is a lot of overlap that can make characters feel shallow. Abilities on the other hand (which are unlocked by purchasing tattoo's by the way) are excellent additions for the sometimes repetitive combat.
Our favourite was acid cyclone, which allowed Charlie to whip up a skin-melting whirlwind that picks up every item not bolted down into the ground and proceeds to assault (and melt) your enemies to death.
Standard combat sections are further broken up by some grotesque and comedic boss battles, some of which are strongly reminiscent of the abortions found in The Binding of Isaac. In addition, there are frequent vehicle sections to further diversify the kill-and-loot gameplay. Whilst we say vehicles, we actually mean ridiculous objects utilised as vehicles. One section had us flying on a broomstick through a forest with a pistol in hand. The whole bizarre escapade felt like the speeder chase inReturn of the Jedi, only rewritten by J.K Rowling.
It's not all fun and games though, as Charlie Murder suffers from some rather irritating niggles. Both the controls and combat can be extremely temperamental. Any weapons you pick up are instantly dropped even if a slight breeze touches you, making guns the only real advantageous weapons to use.
Platforming sections too, whilst rather scarce, are also frustrating as responsiveness of characters can feel rather floaty at times. Whilst combat can also get rather repetitive, we imagine co-op play would largely remedy this.
Sadly, due to the game being unreleased at the time of writing, we didn't get the chance to sample the four-play mayhem in our playthrough. We can only assume it's one hell of a lot more fun than single-player. The loot and leaderboards will ensure you'll be playing the game with friends way past the end credits and if that's your thing, then you'll have two extra difficulty levels to work your way through.
Charlie Murder is a little rough around the edges for sure and towards the end of your initial playthrough you'll realise that the combat is slightly shallow. But with one or more friends in tow, the title is a great party game, simple enough for metal and non-metal fans alike to enjoy.