He's So Cute: "Death Jr.: Root of Evil" comes to Wii

Many successful comic books have been turned into video games. Likewise, many successful video games have been turned into comics. When done right, properties that hop back and forth between mediums can benefit from the experience. For example, "Street Fighter" was an extremely popular video game that was turned into a comic book series, and, consequently, creations and back-story from the comic were used in later versions of the game.

"Death Jr." began as a handheld video game for the PlayStation Portable. It then became a fun comic book written by Gary Whitta and illustrated by Ted Naifeh, and published by Image Comics. The story involves the "sweet" son of the Grim Reaper, Death Jr. (or DJ, as he is known), and his friends, most notably Pandora -- a cute, smart, little goth girl with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While the original game was popular, the comic book helped bolster its appeal. Fans then saw another game in "Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom" for the Nintendo DS platform, which was then followed by "Death Jr.: Root of Evil," its PSP video game sequel.

So what is Death up to at the moment? Well, it appears DJ will get to the "Root of Evil" once more, but this time on the Wii gaming system. Backbone Entertainment helped to port DJ's "Root of Evil" adventure to the Wii, and CBR News had the opportunity to speak with Producer James Stanley to get all the "deadly" details for you.

Death Jr. and Pandora are the playable characters

James, who was on the creative team for the Wii's "Death Jr.: Root of Evil?"

There was the Creative Director Micah Russo, lead designer Glenn McKnight, and designer Marty Newcomb. The production team likewise had a role to play with play-testing and responsibility for the overall quality of the game. Most of the team had been on the PSP version of "Death Jr.: Root of Evil," so we were quite familiar with the game and the aspects of it we wanted to improve on the Wii version.

Even though Death Jr. started out as a video game, it inspired a popular line of comics. Did any of the designs from the book make it back into this latest sequel?

The comic books certainly influence the personalities, themes, and interactions between the characters, but the story arc of "Root of Evil" is unique to the game. In fact, we put together a special comic book short for Halloween to give more backstory from the game's main villainess -- Furi -- to explain how DJ and the gang met her in the first place. We also pulled some one-liners from the comic books as additional voiceovers to add more humor to the Wii version. It's great having a comic book universe to support the game and be inspired from.

This will be the first time "Death Jr." is available on the Wii. What kinds of play have been included in the game to take advantage of the Wii's remote motion-sensing capabilities? Can players actually slice DJ's scythe in this game?

The biggest control improvements on the Wii are for the camera and ranged combat. We believe some developers got overly excited with the early Wii games and turned the action into a flail-fest. To avoid carpal tunnel syndrome with our players, we've made basic combat attacks a simple button press and swinging the remote and nunchuk as melee combo-finishers.

With the Wii pointer, ranged combat is a blast as you can quickly line up your weapon reticles on enemies by simply pointing at the screen. We're also pleased with the smooth interaction while switching between ranged and melee combat, which simply wasn't possible before on the handheld systems.

Which characters are playable in this game? And what kind of weapons will each of them have?

Death Jr. and Pandora are the playable characters. You can play through single-player mode as either character. In addition, you and a buddy can play through together as both characters in split-screen cooperative mode. So definitely invite a friend over, play with your kids, or make it a date night and get real cozy with your significant other.

Aside from the Wiimote, what were some of the other benefits of the Wii system that you took advantage of in planning the game?

We had some smart engineers work on custom code to take advantage of the Wii hardware such as rim lights, emboss bump shaders, and terrain shaders, which all make the game look amazing on the Wii. We support 480P, widescreen mode, Dolby Pro Logic II, and local split-screen multiplayer that automatically detects the screen aspect ratio to determine the vertical or horizontal screen-split orientation.

One of the fun components about "Death Jr." is that it includes DJ's friends and his Dad, the Grim Reaper. Is that the case this time? What can you tell me about the game's plot?

It's a poignant tale that is instructive to today's youth about the dangers of global warming. Well, not really, but that's a good one-liner for kids to tell their parents when asked.

DJ, Pandora and his gang are working on a science project in the woods by town collecting cocoons. DJ & Pandora stumble upon -- and accidentally release -- a creature from the one cocoon they shouldn't have! Furi, the daughter of Mother Nature, has been released and interrupted in her transformation to the ultimate force of evil, or at least that's what the "Enlarge your evil" marketing blurb promised on the box.

Furi is pissed at DJ and Pandora and goes on a rampage corrupting nature forces into vile creatures, and threatening DJ's town and even DJ's dad -- the Grim Reaper -- in the process. Naturally, it's up to DJ and Pandora to set everything right and stop Furi's evil transformation before it's too late.

Tell us about the game's settings.

I'm still amazed at the crazy environments and enemy types that the team came up with -- we have nineteen levels with over forty-five enemy types plus three bosses and several mini-bosses such as the Mexican Wrestler and Test Subject 51. Some of the levels you'll discover are the Toy Cemetery (filled with bitter teddy bears and discarded action heroes); the World of Waffles (giant waffles, oversized kitchen appliances, and a llama mascot -- what more could you want?); the River Styx (the underworld filled with mythical creatures such as Minotaurs, Griffins, and little Satyrs in muscle tees); and the Saw Mill -- the headquarters of DJ and the gang that gets attacked by scarecrows and flying seedlings.

All of the enemies and environments feature organic elements of Furi's corruptive force over nature, such that enormous tree roots and vines have explosively grown and covered the landscape; even the enemies exhibit this virile power and often have thorns and branches in place of limbs.

Are there any multi-player or online components to the game?

Two-player, local cooperative multiplayer is featured, where you can play through the story mode at the same time with DJ and Pandora. Few Wii titles support multiplayer, so it's definitely added value.

What was the biggest challenge in creating this game? And what accomplishment in the game are you most proud of?

The biggest challenges were working with a new platform for our studio (the Wii), the timeline (nine months), and the team size (baker's dozen). I'm really proud of the team's efforts to make the controls, art, and gameplay worthy for the game to be considered one of the top action titles on the Wii.

The early response from our fans and press alike is that we've done justice to the Death Jr. license with a great game that many have said should have been on a console from the beginning where it can really shine.

Now discuss this story in CBR's Games forum.

Tags: backbone entertainment, wii, death jr., root of evil

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