Devil May Cry is undoubtedly one of the most stylish games to appear on the PS2 to date, and Capcom deserves high praise for managing to make a Goth half-devil hero somehow cool. Honestly. Its relentless assault of enemies, superbly judged difficulty curve and well executed combat system made it an instant favourite with the more action oriented gamers - and lead character Dante was elevated to gaming icon status immediately.
The fact we've got a sequel so soon generally means one thing: Capcom realises it has a fantastic game engine that's way ahead of the competition, and that slapping out another version with new monsters, a second playable character and few new visual effects will make good business sense.
Cooler, tougher, stylish
But let's give Capcom the benefit of the doubt for the moment and hear what it is promising for one of this year's most anticipated releases. Firstly, according to the blurb, Dante, the ultimate devil hunter, is "even more cool" and "tougher than before" and is even more of a death dealing dude than before with "a range of stylish new moves and devastating attacks". The storyline has had slightly more attention lavished upon it this time around, but don't expect Shakespeare. It's the usual wafer thin excuse to take out some evil overlord that's up to no good. In this case "agents of international corporations have quietly been infiltrating the island [of Dumary]" and with Dante being the son of the legendary sword wielding, demon eradicating Sparda, everyone's looking to this chisel-jawed lady killer to sort out these evil corporate types. Told you it was wafer thin.
At least Capcom's boasts about Dante's moves are not the usual idle PR fluff. Within seconds it's impossible not to be impressed with his agility; for example double-tapping X and hitting square sends our floppy-haired, Diesel-clad hero into a headfirst gun-toting fit, while tapping circle while running up to a wall sends Dante sprinting up it and flipping over like some gravity defying Matrix character. The usual impressive pyrotechnics from the original are present and correct too, with L1 activating the 'Devil Trigger'. If your DT energy bar has at least one cube full you can activate a temporary state that allows Dante to activate his Devil abilities and thus allowing the player to engage in a frenzied, machine gun-toting rampage, or fly, or move exceptionally fast.
Sexy demon cat like fighter alert
And the usual swordplay features heavily too, with triangle allowing Dante to slice and dice the numerous enemies with his sizeable blade. Holding R1 varies the attack pattern, while tapping jump allows for mid-air attacks. But unlike the original, we get to play as a second character, Lucia, a "sexy demon fighter" who "moves like a cat" and is armed with two curved daggers for "up close and personal" attacks, while using the throwing knives for long range battles.
Both Dante and Lucia have a few "special" attacks, which can be activated with combinations of R1, directional control and triangle or square - for example Dante can fire off a 'Rain Storm' by tapping X to jump, hitting R1 then square, while Lucia can activate her 'Rapid Fire' attack by holding down R1, a direction, then square to fire off a jump kick in mid air. Normally in any fight situation the game locks onto the nearest enemy, but hitting R2 allows you to override this. Pressing R1 will track the target no matter where you're facing, which is handy when you're bounding around like a trapeze act, avoiding swinging tentacles and all manner of projectiles. Clicking L3 even allows you to cycle through targets of your choice, which makes for a friendly combat system - especially once things get a bit hectic.
As before, despatching the many enemies spits out orbs of various colours: red acts as the currency you need to purchase upgrades/items with, green restores some of your health, blue restores all of your health, white refills part of your DT gauge, purple increases DT to the maximum level, while the rare gold orbs allow you to continue from the exact point of your death - as opposed to often several battles back with the existing continue system.
You're gorgeous. I'd do anything for you
Visually DMC2 is arguably even more gorgeous to look at than the superb original. The game now mixes up the indoor/outdoor environments far more than the original, and they are never less than stunning with rich textures, intricate detail and gangs of well realised evil creatures. Being typically gloomy and gothic, the palette employed is somewhat subdued, but nevertheless it suits the mood perfectly, and Dante's ability to jump like a flea means the architecture is rather more imaginative than your average run and gun, with normally inaccessible areas perfectly reachable by this superhuman athlete. Oh, and there's a nice blurring effect as you swipe your sword through the air, but just think "bigger, better, more" in the visual department.
Gameplay wise, we got to grips with five levels, and so far the game is best described as a) a relentless assault of enemies in the vein of old school bash 'em ups like Final Fight, and b) quite easy. Whereas the original DMC had us forming calluses on our poor thumbs as struggled to dispatch some rock hard enemies, most of the enemies we came across in the first five levels of DMC2 could be dispatched merely by holding down square and waiting for them to die. Only on the level four end-of-level boss do things get even remotely challenging, and even then we managed to locate a place where we could stand where we never got hit. Oh dear.
As before, at the end of each level you get graded for your style, orbs collected, items used and so on, although it seems bizarrely hard to get a good grade for style, no matter how much you mix up your approach to combat, or how many tricks you pull of mid-battle. Hrm.
Easy peasy, Japanesey
It seems somewhere along the line that Capcom took the criticism of DMC being too hard for the casual audience and went completely the other way, making it harder to die than not, with the need for health power-ups almost entirely absent. So far, DMC 2 is a complete show off in so many respects, and a casual glance will give you the impression of a killer game with some cool moves. But right now we're praying that the challenge ramps up soon, or else this is in serious danger of being labelled one of the easiest games of all time…
Devil May Cry review (PS2)