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REVIEW – Damsel

Go fast. Kill vampires. Look cool doing it.

Australian games always have a special place in my heart because, quite frankly, we are a country that’s pretty darn good at making games despite the odds being against us. So when the opportunity came up to try out Damsel from Screwtape Studios, I was all for it. Originally releasing in 2018 for PC, Damsel has recently seen a release for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, and being a huge fan of my Switch and always looking for more games, I managed to snag myself a copy.

Slay ‘Em Up

The world of Damsel is one that’s crawling with vampires. Vampires that are very industrious and have a corporation called Red Mist who are the number one producers of a vampire-friendly drink. Unfortunately for humanity, they’re now adding a particular human-based and incredibly illegal ingredient. As a result, Damsel and her crew are on the case to take them down in an incredibly stylish and incredibly violent fashion.

The story and campaign mode itself is told in between levels through absolutely gorgeous comic-book style ‘cutscenes’ that explore the cast and plot in bite-sized (ha ha, get it) pieces. It’s nothing too meaty (ha ha!!!) but it’s still a joy to look at and explore, which carries over to the levels themselves, still retaining that same unique visual style.

The other modes lean more toward the arcade-style the game really wants to push, with arcade-like leaderboards, as well as higher difficulty modes for those that like the challenge. Although the default difficulty mode still provides one heck of a challenge. I know this because I died. A lot. But that’s all part of the appeal because dying doesn’t slow you down and you can freely have as many goes as you like at the levels.

But for those who do like things a little more chilled, there’s also chillout mode where death isn’t a worry, meaning you can just enjoy the run and gun to your heart’s content.

Something to sink your teeth into

Damsel bills itself on a fast-paced arcade-style run and gun platforming gameplay. For the most part, it does this really well. Each level will have a different objective, ranging from downloading data from computers through to slaying every last vampire you see, although each level contains all of these elements to varying degrees to allow for high scores.

The game tries to encourage players to balance risk and reward. Do you complete the objective as fast as possible for the best time? Do you explore every last inch to rescue all the hostages and disarm all the bombs to get the highest score? Do you try everything at the same time to really challenge yourself? You can’t stop to think about it too hard because as soon as you do, it’s too late and a vampire has shot you in the face with a rocket launcher.

Damsel encourages players to think on their feet, but make sure they do actually think because there’s a lot of ways to die for a player that isn’t careful. I can’t tell you the amount of times I thought I was doing quite well only to not realize I was almost dead, explode a barrel, and kill myself. Or think I was doing really well as I was running and gunning, accidentally shoot a hostage in the face, and get a game over. To which I would always say ‘well, hang on, let me just try that one again’. Which is a phrase players will be saying to themselves a lot.

The gameplay is incredibly fluid, with players able to shoot or melee when they’re up close, dash, perform double jumps, cling to walls and platforms and do all kinds of cool stunts. All the while, a funky synth soundtrack plays in the background to keep the adrenaline flowing.

May cause distress

But as fluid as the gameplay is, it’s not without its flaws that could easily ruin the entire experience for some players. Its visual style is both its greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. I can’t tell you the number of times I lost track of where I was in a level, or what platforms were actual platforms I could stand on or just platforms to cling to.

Every level is fairly dark, the vampires are dressed in dark clothes, and so is Damsel herself. It’s all cool to look at in theory and in screenshots, but trying to play it can be a bit of a headache, especially when each level has so much going on. While I was trying to complete an objective, I’d forget I triggered a bomb, it would blow, and I’d get a game over. I’d go back, disarm the bomb, only to get my ass handed to me by respawning vampires right around that location.

I know that the difficulty is part of the appeal, but it teeters on the edge of unfair and a little too cluttered at times, especially given the small size of the levels. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself, small levels means more attention to detail and better lends itself to the fast-paced parkour-style action, but it only furthers the visual clutter as the levels try to cram in every possible element at once.

For players with visual impairments or who just have trouble keeping track of multiple things, this might not be the game for you. Even with chillout mode enabled which makes it more accessible, the other issues tend to override the experience.

But for players who like the arcade-style platforming action of the 90s, combined with punishing difficulty of modern style indie games, this is absolutely a must-try.

Check out Damsel on PC, Xbox One and Switch!

Check out our previous review on the Damsel Early Access for PC!

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