In the interest of accuracy, it really should be Charlie Wanton Dismemberment and Destruction. A punk-rock-powered retro brawler-RPG for up to four (online and/or off), Charlie Murder is a brilliant, gory tribute to games such as Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and Castle Crashers. It retains the gorgeous pencil-sketch art style and frantic, bloody gameplay of Ska Studios' The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, but brings its side-scrolling action and grim aesthetic into full 3D.

Charlie Kill Everything Viciously's slight storyline casts players as members of the band Charlie Murder, who are seeking revenge on a former associate who made a deal with the devil and tried to have them all killed. What that involves is a pleasingly lengthy trek through streets, temples, sewers, malls, meadows, construction sites and the like, all of which have been overrun by an array of ghouls, zombies, demons, and mutants – think the kind of grotesque deformities that characterise The Binding of Isaac. The co-op band beat-em-up RPG stuff makes it all sounds rather like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, but this is a darker and vastly superior game, and one of the best available on XBLA.

Charlie Murder review

There are five classes to choose from – beserker, mage, tank, shaman, and mesmer – and each comes with its own skill tree and abilities. All have a light, heavy, and jumping attacks, but also special moves that are unlocked by buying tattoos. For example, the berserker is a lead singer whose screams flatten and poison enemies and provide buffs for his bandmates, while the tank is the bulky drummer who has a number of projectile attacks.

It’s PCP-infused psychedelic ultraviolence, and it’s utterly glorious.

A character’s strength, speed, defence, and the power of their unique attacks (“anar-chi”) are increased by distributing points that come with each level gained, and each attribute is also affected by the clothing currently being worn. Clothes are the bulk of the game’s loot, and may grant special abilities such as freezing enemies when a critical hit is made, or provide better protection against certain attacks.

Levelling up won’t just increase stats, it also unlocks powerful finishing moves that allow actions like curb-stomping the head of a downed opponent, or sucking their vitality out and gaining health in the process. Both enemies and scenery will yield money and sometimes weapons when destroyed, so widespread destruction is advised.

Charlie Murder review
Charlie Murder review
Charlie Murder review
Charlie Murder review

The combat itself is tight, fast-paced, and gory as hell. Upon death, enemies explode in a shower of giblets, and any remains including brains, heads, and limbs may be used against their brothers. Skulls explode underfoot and red splashes coat the pavement. Unholy mutants thrash as the player hangs them on cruel foot-long electrified spikes, or biffs them into giant sawblades or pools of acid. There’s burning, decapitation, poisoning, and dismemberment. Packs of enemies are pummelled at once, and even those on the ground can’t escape the beating. It’s PCP-infused psychedelic ultraviolence, and it’s utterly glorious.

That’s to say nothing of the range of weapons available, which includes bats, pipes, knives, chainsaws, pistols, Uzis, shotguns, grenades, hammers, circular saws, bones, shopping trolleys, and more – all of which may be used in the melee or thrown at the approaching hordes. None of the weapons last long, but there are so many available that it’s never a concern.

With the screen often teeming with enemies – especially in four player mode which also features friendly fire – defence is important. It’s even handy in a pinch, as a well-timed deflection will give the player access to a special move of their choosing with no cooldown penalty.

Players cannot jump-attack with a weapons, and will instead and will throw them if this is attempted, but this was probably a balance decision as jumping weapon attacks would be hard to stop. The game’s flying kicks are powerful enough as it is, and are heavily relied on when things get tougher down the line. And things do get tough. Higher level enemies hold the player down and lay into them, or simply overwhelm with numbers. This makes for epic wars of attrition, as players jump about quaffing healing coffees and dodging while waiting for their special attacks to recharge.

While the game never feels unfair – flying kicks and weapons even damage grounded enemies – occasionally the character’s attack depth can feel too shallow, both in the repetitive sense and 3D collision detection sense. Attacking enemies at times feels like trying to line up two pieces of paper edgewise in the air.

Charlie Murder review
Charlie Murder review
Charlie Murder review

The characters also have a tendency to plummet off any edge with little encouragement in the game’s admittedly few platforming sections. Along with the GO! finger, perhaps that's a nod to its forefathers, but it's annoying. The checkpoint system is also a little harsh, as its never particularly clear when the game has saved, and manual saves aren’t possible. This makes finishing sometimes lengthy levels the only way to guarantee progress isn’t lost when the console is powered down, but it is nice to have such a challenge rather than a checkpoint after each small skirmish.

Given the quality generally on display elsewhere, Charlie Murder also has a couple of fairly naff minigames to break up the fisticuffs. There’s racing downhill and over jumps in shopping trolley sections, quick-time event skateboarding and music-playing, and even a shoot-‘em-up section, but the mechanics therein aren’t refined enough, and these short transitions feel like a bit of an afterthought.

Twisted love letters to retro titles are nothing new to indie developer Ska Studios, who based Zombie Smashers X on River City Ransom, Blood Zero on The Legend of Zelda, and its Dishwasher duo on games like Metroid, Midnight Resistance, and Shinobi. Vampire Smile was fantasic, and Charlie Murder follows suit – it's the best, bloodiest, most atmospheric brawler on XBLA. Hide it from your mother.