New developer breathes new life into Devil May Cry

, | Game reviews

DMC Devil May Cry is a best-case scenario for what happens when you take an established series and hand it over to a new developer to let them have a turn. The Devils May Cry up to now have been so very Capcom. But now developer Ninja Theory leaves behind the series’ trademark “you’ll play this battle over and over again until you learn the combos and you’ll like it” approach. They unpack this brawler neatly, carefully, gradually, patiently, giving you ample time to get comfortable, introducing new gameplay over the duration of the story, and fitting it all into a consistent framework. Every weapon is introduced with an easy “here’s how this works” battle. You can try a move before you decide to unlock it. The vocabulary of Devil May Cry — that’s a fancy way of saying the buttons you have to press — is intuitive and easy to remember.

Capcom has at last let someone make a Devil May Cry for the rest of us.

After the jump, God of War may cry

This Devil May Cry feels as carefully crafted as a God of War and every bit as rewarding. You quickly get the sense that your different attacks are specific tools for specific challenges provided by the various enemies. It’s not just the basic “slow hit for more damage against big dudes and fast hits for less damage against little dudes” template. It’s a tactical sandbox of air or ground attacks, resistance, terrain, mobility, blockers, support units, stunning, facing, and so forth. And while these elements are present in any good brawler, Devil May Cry makes it all very easy to wrap your head around. This isn’t a game that you have to figure out. It’s a game that explains itself and then lets you master it at your own pace.

Beyond the difficulty levels when you first play through, there are a spread of new game plus modes that ramp up the challenge by introducing randomized enemies, one-hit-kills, and one-hit-deaths. Collectible keys and unlockable challenges that you have to find on the map make the levels worth revisiting. I’m guessing it would take two playthroughs to unlock all the moves. This Devil May Cry is built for the long haul. Of course, it’s a scoring-based game, so you can always work the leaderboards. With short levels easily made shorter by the skippable cutscenes, this is an ideal brawler for just jumping in to see how you do, and then doing it again to see if you can do better than you did.

The first run through the twenty short missions is a consistent stream of discovery. You’ll fight two fantastic bosses and two terrible bosses. Fortunately, the terrible bosses are saved for the end when you already like the game. There are a few interesting story beats, but nothing to sustain it as well as Ninja Theory’s last game, Enslaved, which was carried by characters created out of the collaboration among Ninja Theory’s artists, the writers, and the voice actors (the chemistry between Andy Serkis and Lindsey Shaw was as electric as anything in an Uncharted game). There is nothing like that in Devil May Cry, which is the typical chronicle of a smirking badass discovering his secret destiny. This particular badass, Dante, doesn’t make much of an impression beyond the fact that he’s a reboot of the previous Dante. He’s less anime this time around. Now he’s more Twilighty. Basically, it’s a lateral move on the uninteresting character scale, but more of a draw to the demographic of brawler fans who are tween girls.

Oddly enough, most of the game’s character comes from the locations. And it’s almost entirely a factor of artwork, because the actual level design consists mostly of stringing boxes together. But these boxes are given impressive context by playing with a few tricks of limbo, the parallel reality where demons live. The idea isn’t explored very deeply, but it’s exploited just enough to make many of these boxes memorable. Add in some freaky dreamscapes and the aforementioned fantastic boss battles and you’ve got places far more interesting than the character who visits them. The music, which you can turn off, features dub gwar ditties like Get Your Body Beat, Deathbad, What the F**k Is Wrong With You, and Throat Full of Glass.

But you didn’t come for the story or the level design or the music. You came to see what happens when you use your glaives to stun that witch while using the axe to stop a chainsawyer’s charge so you can pull the shield off a little flying angel and shoot it down. Works pretty well, doesn’t it? Now try it on the harder difficulty level or for more points or to look for the hidden keys on this level. Who knew you’d be playing a Devil May Cry for so long?

4 stars
Xbox 360