Game Review: Damsel
Halloween has come and gone, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a nice vampire themed game. Yes, boys and girls, today I'm doing my extended review on Damsel for PC.
Damsel is a side-scrolling platform shoot 'em up. You play the titular Damsel, a vampire hunter that works for a secret organization. Your job is to jump and shoot through the stages, killing vampires, disarming bombs, hacking computers, and saving hostages.
The controls take a little getting used to. Steam claims it can use a controller, but it never seemed to recognize mine, leaving me with WASD for directions, spacebar for jumping, and the mouse for shooting and dashing. Let me clarify: you're not aiming with the mouse, you're only pulling the trigger. So... yeah, it's a little awkward and years of standard controls that utilize "W" as jump or the mouse as aiming forced me to repeat more than a couple of levels.
Controls aside, the gameplay is fun and fast. For any given level you have several things you can do aside from the main objective... and several ways you can lose! Let's say the object is to collect skulls. The only way to win is to collect all the purple skulls in the level. But you can lose by getting hit too many times, triggering a time bomb and not disarming it in time, or accidentally shooting a hostage. So, the game doesn't really hold your hand. Add to this occasional challenge levels that are timed and you'd better be prepared to repeat levels.
This isn't to say the experience isn't fun, because it certainly is. The levels feel like large puzzles. Do I go for the hostage above me first or save them for the end after I've earned a little health? Do I shoot the blood barrel from afar and summon another vampire, or risk going in close to destroy it so I don't add any extra enemies to my path? Furthermore, Damsel doesn't get any stronger. Level 1 is where your abilities stop. She can shoot, she can dash, and she can jump. Your enemies, however, continue to grow and evolve, forcing you to learn better approaches and techniques.
The story is limited, but intriguing. Told through comic panels, you learn that you're in a world that knows about vampires, where the bloodsuckers live side-by-side with humans thanks to a treaty signed in the '70s. Damsel and her group, however, know they aren't holding up their end of the bargain and have begun kidnapping humans, forcing our hero to go hunting.
The art is great, but the comic panels, frankly, get old. Not the style, the pacing. The game moves panel to panel, even if several panels are visible at once. Furthermore, there's really only one song. It's good, but there could be so much more.
I won't sugar coat it; the game is tough. It keeps getting tougher and tougher, yet somehow I can't seem to give up on it. There's an intense satisfaction to figuring out the key to a level that balances out those times where I'm ONE SKULL away from victory and an errant shot hits a hostage. The character is fun, the story is good, if a little predictable, and the challenge is real.
So what's the final verdict? If you can get past the controls, there's a fun game here. Yes, there's so much more it could do, but what it does it does well. I'm usually the first to jump on the faults of a game, and trust me, this game has them, but somehow I still keep getting pulled back to try levels again and again. Whatever magic this game has, it seems to just outweigh my desire to throw my keyboard through the window in frustration. And I guess that's good enough.
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.