The Serious Sam games are known for two things - humour and non-stop action. While the former doesn't quite hit the mark this time around, there's no denying Double D XXL offers plenty of the latter.
Double D was originally released a couple of years back on PC, and this "XXL" version - available on Xbox Live Arcade - expands on it with some new features and gameplay modes.
In case you missed it first time, Double D is a 2D Contra-style platformer. Whereas the main Serious Sam series consists of FPS games, Double D still takes its core principles - namely, chucking hundreds of enemies at you non-stop while you run backwards with the fire button jammed down - and adapts them successfully for side-scrolling gameplay.
The main selling point here is the ability to stack the guns you collect on top of each other, allowing you to create weird and wonderful weaponry configurations.
You could stack three shotguns on top of each other for triple the firepower, or stack a tommy gun on top of a chainsaw for both long and short-range attacks. Ammunition is also a consideration, however, so while you can just stack every gun on top of each other if you want it's a horrible waste of ammo and you're likely to find yourself stuck with a pea-shooter before long. This trailer for the PC version sums it up in a suitably sensible manner.
On top of the weapon-stacking, new to the XBLA version of the game are the options for upgrading each weapon, offering satisfying variation to the gameplay.
One such upgrade gives your pistol an air buffer, which lets you float in the air when you fire it. Another lets you fire bees out of your shotgun, while another lets you fire slippery butter puddles out of your grenade launcher. In total there are 40 different types of upgrade, which combined with the gun-stacking makes for millions of different possible weapon layouts - though you're likely to only set up a couple and stick with them for the majority of the game.
Humour has always been a key part of the Serious Sam series, but it's a bit hit-and-miss in Double D XXL. The cut-scene skits are the sort of thing that would have been funny in the mid '90s - when the novelty of comedy voice acting in games like Duke Nukem still hadn't worn off - but now they feel old-fashioned and anachronistic (especially the awkward cut-scene in which an enemy general compliments a topless female kamikaze on her "nice bombs").
The cut-scenes aren't exactly hilarious, then, but the enemy designs are silly enough to raise plenty of chuckles. Take the Vuvuzelator, for example - a monster with a body made of stacked pancakes and vuvuzelas sticking out of it - or the Chimputee, a chimpanzee with bionic arms and a jetpack. The bosses are also ridiculous, but more in terms of size - some are so ludicrously massive they're far too big to fit on the screen even when it's zoomed all the way out.
Controlling Sam takes a little getting used to. The game uses a twin-stick system for moving and shooting, but then maps the jump button to LT and maps the ability to throw jump pads (which can be used to bounce around) to LB.
However, once you get the hang of it, things work fairly well. It's easy to switch between your various weapon stacks and the accuracy of the twin-stick set-up makes it simple to quickly direct your bullets at the swarms of enemies coming from all directions.
Also chucked in for this new XXL edition is a couple of new auto-scrolling vehicle stages in which Sam has to avoid dying while slipping past swarms of enemies. In such sections, or titular hero can be clunky to control, and the game wouldn't really have lost anything in their absence.
A couple of multiplayer options round things off. Co-op is entertaining enough but when the camera zooms all the way out it can sometimes be tricky to keep track of which player you're controlling. Deatchmatch, meanwhile, is a forgettable inclusion that just seems to have been chucked in there for sake of appearances more than anything.
While it isn't exactly the most original gaming experience you're going to have, there's at least charm in Double D XXL's unashamed '90s gaming values. The art style is ugly, the gameplay is simple and the voice acting is atrocious, but it's Serious Sam and it knows you don't mind.
It won't win any prizes for innovation but fans of old-school run 'n gun gaming will find enough here to keep them going for a while. A solid, if entirely unremarkable game.
- Constant action with very few breaks
- Gun stacking is a clever idea
- Character designs are ridiculous
- Very basic gameplay concept
- "Funny" cut-scenes are cringeworthy
- Looks absolutely horrible