Spare a thought for Denis. Brave Denis. Noble Denis. Dyslexic Denis? Persecuted Denis. With his centre-parted blonde hair, proud shoulder pads, and Wellington boots, Denis likes to boast that he only ever tracks his prey alone. That which he considers courageous only makes him vulnerable. Reckless Denis. His backstory provides a sliver of justification for the cruelty to which you must subject him. "He insists that he comes from a family of knights," it reads. "But he had nothing to prove his claims." A liar, then. And a boastful one at that. Fraudulent Denis.
First, I trap Denis in a bear snare. This serves two important purposes. Crucially, it makes a mockery of those Wellies. What kind of infantrymen wears Hunter boots to battle? One who doesn't read labels properly, I'd wager. Secondly, the bear trap pins him in place. Now I can take my time lining up a high-heeled kick to the groin. Kapow: this sends him reeling backwards to fall heavily into a bidet I've installed behind him. Before he's able to scrabble free of the pan, a spurt of water fountains him upwards. Airborne Denis! With expert timing, I loose a swinging axe, which strikes him mid-air, and knocks him straight into a stone pillar. As he slides mournfully to its base, I drop a hollowed pumpkin onto his head to finish him off. A knight, eh? Prove your claims, Denis.
There's no shortage of pitiful foils in Deception, a series that aims to stimulate every player's inner sadist. Later, you'll meet Nobu the Lackey, a dropout college athlete who's "never managed to clear the level four vaulting box" (those things come in levels?). Then Frances the Tearful, a crack archer who apologises "whenever anything happens." These comic characters pose little real threat to any of the devilish anime girls as whom you play in Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess. Rather, they act as foils for your cruel ingenuity. They are, like the cat's frantic mouse, prey to be toyed with.
In each of the game's levels you're presented with a themed stage (a castle entrance hall, a school gym, a children's playground and so on) that's divided into chess board-style squares. Pause the game and you're presented with a bird's eye view of the scene. You may then set any of a rapidly expanding range of traps onto suitable squares: a giant claw that descends from the ceiling before grabbing and lifting anything underneath, a hole in the wall that fires suction arrows, a Looney Toons rake which, if stepped on, will flick upwards. Unpause the game and your job is now to lure Denis, Nobu, Frances or any of the others onto these carefully baited squares (enemies generally inch toward wherever you're standing, so it's easy enough to guide them). Once they're standing in pace, you trigger the relevant trap and start knocking them about till their health bar is depleted and the stage is won.
Traps fall into one of three categories: 'Elaborate', 'Sadistic' or 'Humiliating', and you score points for using a range of different types and, of course, for setting in motion complex chains (many traps will knock the enemy onto an adjacent square, allowing you to continue the combo). Additionally, each stage has various environmental hazards that can be incorporated into your plans. For example, you might trap Nobu in a snare and then use a swinging axe to knock him into the air so that he lands onto the vaulting box springboard in the gym. This is the just the start of Nobu's troubles. The springboard propels him up onto the Vaulting Box itself which, it turns out, has been wound to lift vaulters high into the air with a great deal of forward momentum. Position everything correctly and he will land head-first into the basketball hoop on the opposite wall (nothing but net). If you want to add insult to your chain of injury, you can always drop a boulder onto Nobu's head when he finally staggers to his feet.
The difficulty increases as better-equipped enemy types arrive (many of whom are invulnerable to certain types of attacks). Later, you must deal with boss characters and multiple enemies who run at you from different directions. Deception 4 is a vast and generous game. There are two storylines to pursue (each led by a separate nightmare princess: Velguirie or Laegrinna), each of which offer unique locations and rules. There's even a rudimentary level editor, which allows you to position environmental traps and enemies (and customise those enemies with items you've unlocked), and upload your creation to the game's servers to be tried by other players. If that weren't enough, in the main quest line, each stage has three special conditions that unlock new traps that can then be used across the entire game. It's structured in such a way that you'll need to attempt levels multiple times if you want to expand your repertoire of traps. Sadism, it turns out, is kind of exhausting.
But it's also thrilling. While the game lacks certain finesse (it's infuriating when you mistime a trigger, for example, and must restart the stage and repeat the entire trap-laying process from scratch; a soft save of your layout would have been welcome) and eventually becomes repetitive, its humour, idiosyncrasy and constantly shifting tool-set makes cruelty into a virtue - in the video game's consequence-less reality, at least.
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