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Retrospective: Devil May Cry 4

The lost boys.

At first glance, it's easy to think of Devil May Cry 4 as a soulless cash-in. Between its uninspired level design, confounding camera, and new protagonist who looks almost identical to series' hero Dante, it would seem as if Capcom had drawn too often from the same well. As Eurogamer pointed out in its 2008 review, DMC4 "feels like a high-def re-skin of a 2001 game design". It's no wonder Enslaved developer Ninja Theory has been hired to breathe some new life to Capcom's flagship demon hunter.

While Capcom was happy to continue pumping out sequels, series' creator Hideki Kamiya abandoned it soon after the first Devil May Cry. Not content to retread old ground, he sought to bring his madcap sensibilities to games like Viewtiful Joe and Okami.

It wasn't until 2010 that he returned to the third-person hack-and-slash genre with Bayonetta. Prior to its release I asked Kamiya what he felt the biggest difference was between DMC and Bayonetta, to which he replied, "With Devil May Cry we did everything we could do at the time - with Bayonetta, we want to make the best game we can now in this environment."

Bayonetta certainly felt more contemporary. Trimming the fat of unnecessary puzzles and fetch quests, crafting a camera that could keep up with the game's occasional liberties with gravity and the addition of slow-motion helped it scratch that progressive itch that DMC4 had seemingly abandoned.

It's a good thing Dante isn't real, lest he steal my girlfriend. And your girlfriend. And everybody's girlfriend.

But for all Bayonetta's razzle-dazzle, I felt like something had been lost along the way, and while DMC4 resembled an unimaginative iterative sequel - the kind Capcom is notorious for milking (cough Mega Man cough) - it unexpectedly withstood the test of time better than Kamiya's spiritual successor by ignoring more recent design trends.

Symptomatic of its time, Bayonetta was a more forgiving game overall. With mollycoddling checkpointing that respawned players midway through boss battles at full health, even the hardest setting allowed you to inch slowly forward.

Earlier Devil May Cry titles had the exact opposite problem, and dying on a boss would send you all the way back to the beginning of the level. You could buy continues to circumvent this, but doing this often required endlessly grinding for red orbs.

DMC4 struck a delicate middle ground, where checkpoints existed few and far between - though it at least had the decency to place them before boss fights. Revisiting it now it feels harsh losing 10 minutes of progress, but it toughens you up until sequences that you previously struggled through become a breeze.

DMC4's bosses are a highlight. They better be as you face off against them thrice.

At least when you did die it was a hero's death, for DMC4 was one of the last games of its kind not to have quick-time-events. You could only die in battle, and not just because you missed a button prompt during a cut-scene.

Ever since God of War and Resident Evil 4 adopted QTEs as part of the action game vocabulary they've become the norm. Their presence in Bayonetta was among its least appealing concessions to modern standards as one missed button press would result in an instant death, mucking up your score for the rather lengthy levels.

Going back to DMC4 today, it's refreshing to play an action game where whittling a boss' health down to nothing means your part is done. From there you can just lean back and bask in the glory of a cut-scene where your avatar does the rest. It may not be interactive, but it allows you to catch your breath after intense battles.

Since you're not on edge waiting for prompts, it's easier to appreciate the cinematics. The script may be drivel with acting that makes Brian Blessed seem subdued, but its choreography is inventive. There's an almost Fred Astaire-like quality to Dante and Nero's graceful moves and cocky taunts, as they express themselves better through fighting than talking.