[1 February 2013]
PopMatters Multimedia Editor
I am a fan of over-the-top Japanese action games like Bayonetta and the original Devil May Cry series. I like the punishing difficulty of these titles, the need to learn scores of complex combos to get anything but a humiliating score at the close of q level, and the completely insane and grotesque presentations of sexuality and violence that allow these games to provoke, “I can’t believe they just went there” moments. In a nutshell, I admire their ferocious commitment to spectacle.
That being said, as one of the seminal titles in this subgenre of action games, the Devil May Cry series has been around for a long time, and it’s age was showing. The series’ devil hunter protagonist, Dante, was already looking kind of retrograde when he emerged on the scene in the early 2000s as some kind of camped-up combination of 1980s-esque new wave musician and 1980s glam rocker demon-human hybrid badass. Additionally, the emergence of Bayonetta on the scene and its own form of elaborate, baroque spectacle may have outdone its predecessors by turning the notch up on the level of insane content experienced from about 11 to about 13.
So, yeah, I could certainly get behind a remake, an update, a reboot, whatever it is that you want to call DmC: Devil May Cry with its younger, non-white-headed Dante. Interestingly, despite this new iteration of Dante appearing as a more youthful, perhaps less battle-hardened version of the original, even the “new” Dante feels like a bit of a throwback in his more contemporary, slightly more youthful, slightly more sensitive seemingly emo-inspired form.
In a sense, the new Dante feels a bit like a Twilight-ified version of the supernatural hero. Indeed, while still full of hyperbolic and cringe-inducing tough-guy one-liners and the like, this Dante sure seems to want to talk a lot more and connect a lot more to the other characters in the plot, which is an updated version of Dante’s origins. It might sound like I’m making a dig at Dante for being the Edward or Jacob version of the series’ protagonist, but quite honestly, this really isn’t a bad thing, as the voice acting in the game is surprisingly good and while still committed to an over-the-top crazy plot, there are some real moments of pathos in the game that somehow still manage to fit into the otherwise, normally pretty hammy, pretty absurd Devil May Cry universe.
Though that might be the slightly more subdued tone that Ninja Theory evokes in the series overall. Now, calling a game in which I fought a mother who had been ingested by her own unborn baby “subdued” probably sounds pretty stupid (and it also indicates that Ninja Theory hasn’t abandoned the grotesque spectacle that is kind of the soul of these kinds of games), but honestly, following Bayonetta and Asura’s Wrath (a game that maybe doesn’t entirely fit the genre in terms of its gameplay style, but still is obviously also committed to gross spectacle as a pert of the gaming experience), this game is a bit more restrained at times only ratcheting the insanity up every few levels with big set pieces and especially grotesque boss fights.
This also, though, is to the game’s credit, as the boss fights themselves are not really the game’s best moments. Speaking of retrograde, the appearance of bosses with super huge life bars that require learning a pattern to fight them and then hanging in there long enough to finally bring them down is a convention that this genre still hasn’t quite given up on, and it isn’t the same thrilling experience that (maybe) it used to be. Frankly, the two aforementioned games, while having some similar encounters have managed to evolve the classic boss fight at least a little bit by mixing up QTE mechanics with standard fighting (a la God of War) or just by making battlefields more dynamic and interesting over the course of a long haul boss fight.
That combat-related gripe aside, the core acrobatic, combo-driven, ballet-of-death approach to melee combat works beautifully here, though, for the most part. Standard fights are crazy to experience, combos require practice to pull off and good tactical thinking to most efficiently chain together, and the interface for changing up all of Dante’s weapons is smooth and intuitive. It might just be that I’ve gotten better at these games, but I do have to say that overall the various levels of difficulty do seem a bit easier, which might disappoint really hardcore fans. Nevertheless, the depth of choosing combat styles at the right moment, knowing what weapons to use against what critter and when, and just the overall pleasure of watching yourself put Dante through his paces is all still there and is still a crazy adrenaline-juiced pleasure to experience.
For the most part, the reboot—while not a complete re-envisioning of the game—certainly feels like it comes at the right moment in the franchise’s long history. Rather than turn itself into an endless duplication of itself as some series have sometimes fallen into at times in the past (yes, I’m looking at you, Tomb Raider and maybe even Prince of Persia, which abandoned its reboot to go back to its aged roots), freshening up the main character and the stories surrounding him while still maintaining the core pleasures of the series feels like a reasonable enough direction to go.