It may not have been the first of its kind, but Devil May Cry was one of the early examples of how to correctly do a high-energy action game. The high level of difficulty mixed with quick swordplay, fast shooting and a good-looking hero resonated well with gamers at the time who embraced the first and third games in the series while shunning the second one, which abandoned most of these core tenets. In order to whet our appetites for DMC: Devil May Cry, Capcom brought back the first three games with an HD facelift. Even with the inclusion of the black sheep in the series, Devil May Cry HD Collection proves that the older games are still fun after all these years.
The plot for the first Devil May Cry is fairly standard, but it introduces us to a rather iconic character from the prior gaming generation. You play the role of Dante, a demon hunter who also happens to be the son of Sparda, a demon who sided with mortals and turned on his own kind to save them. One night, a mysterious woman walks into Dante's office and begins attacking him, something he easily brushes off. The woman later introduces herself as Trish and tells him that the demon emperor Mundus is planning his return to Earth. Upon hearing this news, he goes to a castle on a remote island, seeking the one he holds responsible for killing his mother and brother.
The first game set up a good template for the rest of the series. In Dante, you have a character who likes to play things cool and cocky, flippantly brandishing one-liners at a frequent rate. Character aside, the real star of the game is the combat system. Dante is acrobatic enough to do somersaults, backflips, wall jumps and wall running. He's also pretty skilled with the sword and handy with firearms. Sticking exclusively with either weapon is fine, but the game's combo system encourages playing with both weapons. Sword slashing downs common enemies in a few hits, and constant gunfire eventually whittles down an enemy, but combining a few slashes and bullets and ending with a downward slam is the way to earn bonuses. The stylish combo system will be familiar to those who have played similar later games, such as Bayonetta and God of War. Here, we see a system that is done pretty well despite being one of the earliest games of this type. You can also unleash the Devil Trigger, which boosts your health, defense and attack power to take on tougher foes.
As good as the system is, the level of difficulty really encourages you to learn the battle system to survive. Early encounters can be really taxing, and the challenge doesn't make things easier as you progress. In addition, secret levels scattered throughout the game yield some bonuses to ease the difficulty — if only by a little bit.
With all that went right, the only thing that doesn't seem to have aged well is the camera. Since the game is based on what would have been an early Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry comes with plenty of camera angle changes that work well from a cinematic standpoint but can be disorienting if you aren't expecting them. The controls remain the same, so you won't be constantly going back and forth between camera trigger points. The lack of a free camera system may be a turn-off for some.
Compared to the first game, the plot for Devil May Cry 2 is a little tamer. After arriving at a museum filled with demons, Dante meets up with another demon hunter named Lucia. She invites him to the island of Dumary, where he learns of a businessman named Arius, who wants demonic powers to rule the world. Dante decides to join the fight.
The game takes on most of the traits of the original but throws in a few things of its own. The title gives you the ability to play as either Dante or Lucia, each with a different move set and traveling slightly different paths in the tale. Along with the secret areas, there's also a challenge mode, Bloody Palace, where you only have one life and must traverse floor after floor battling enemies. From a gameplay standpoint, you can do aerial moves outside of the sword slam to continue combos, and you can switch weapons without going into the menus.
DMC2 isn't that bad of an action title. The problem is that it carries the Devil May Cry name, and it doesn't do a good job of maintaining that standard. Dante feels more toned down, rarely saying anything remotely cocky. The combat is fine but doesn't feel as fluid, and the weapons don't differ much. The biggest gaffe is in the difficulty. Even on the hardest setting, the enemies don't seem that aggressive, and good combos aren't necessary to defeat regular enemies or bosses. There are a number of bosses who can easily be eliminated if you simply fire off shot after shot and exhibit a little patience while the energy meter slowly depletes. With little to no challenge in the main story mode, it doesn't feel like a proper entry in the series.
Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening is different story-wise since it is a prequel for the series. You're introduced to Dante as he battles and loses against his brother Virgil. Sometime later, he is attacked in his office by a few demons and receives an invitation from his brother to battle once again. Seeing a new tower erected in the city, Dante goes forth to battle his brother one more time.
The game rectifies the mistakes of the second game but keeps the few things that it had done well. The Bloody Palace returns, as does the ability to switch weapons on the fly. Combat feels more fluid, and the mid-air moves also remain. Most importantly, the difficulty has been increased, so bosses and regular foes no longer fall down with only one type of attack.
The game also throws in a few new elements. The biggest change is that Dante has a few preset styles that focus on different combat traits. Trickster places more focus on dodging and agility, similar to the style exhibited in the previous two titles. Swordmaster emphasizes melee weaponry while Gunslinger focuses on projectile weapons. Royal Guard highlights defense but gives you the opportunity to unleash more powerful attacks. Quicksilver slows down enemies around you while you move normally, and Doppleganger gives you a shadow clone and lets you play the game with a second player. Each style comes with an experience system that gives Dante more weapons as the player levels up.
To top things off, the entry included in Devil May Cry HD Collection is based on the Special Edition, which was released a year after the original. That version increased the number of Bloody Palace levels to 9999 and threw in a turbo mode that increased the game's speed by 20%. A continue system makes the game a little bit easier, and the game also features a new boss fight against Jester. The biggest change to the game was the ability to play as Dante's brother, Virgil, who has his own move set despite only having one play style.
About the only complaint that can be levied against the title comes in one aspect that fans love: the difficulty. For some reason, the normal difficulty level in the Western release of the title is actually the Hard difficulty level in the Japanese version. All of the other difficulty levels in the English release follow suit, leaving no true Easy mode. For the hardcore fans, this is a blessing since it means that the game is a challenge no matter what, but for more casual players, it'll be frustrating unless they start with Easy and go from there.
There aren't too many extras included. On the built-in music player, you can listen to any track from all three games. You also have the opportunity to see some CG artwork for all three titles as well as some fan art culled from the Capcom Unity Web site that was made specifically for the game's 10th anniversary. For those expecting things like behind-the-scenes videos or anecdotes during the making of the original titles, you're out of luck. Considering that most HD collections being released nowadays offer the games and nothing else, the included content isn't bad.
The graphics on the original games were great for the time, but this HD upgrade doesn't really do the games justice. The character models have received the most attention and look much sharper. Jagged edges are almost nonexistent, and the textures were upscaled rather well. The sharpness permeates the environments as well, but it tends to make some items look odd. The shot of the skybox in the opening level of Devil May Cry 2 when Dante jumps down from the tower is a good example of this, as you'll clearly see the separation of the top and bottom of the skybox.
The environments also suffer from really blurry textures. Anything that isn't mobile looks like it got the same textures as the PS2 games, with little to no change in resolution. Stained glass is fine, but everything else looks subpar and more noticeable since most of the environments are brown. Close-ups of stone textures and things like the destroyed office in Devil May Cry 3 look pretty bad.
The worst offender has to be the movies. The opening FMVs in the first two games are still presented in 4:3 format while the last game at least has 16:9, but they aren't very clear. The standard-definition resolution of the FMVs gets worse when some scenes feature explosions, and even the movies that play the first time you obtain certain items are jarring with the sudden change to 4:3 before gameplay takes you back to 16:9. The games look better than their PS2 counterparts, but the title doesn't do a good enough job to deserve the "HD" moniker.
The sound, on the other hand, sounds richer than the PS2 versions. The original dialogue is still in place, and while some of the utterances border on the ridiculous, it isn't as if the original versions didn't have the same script. The music is still energetic during battles and complements the action scenes nicely. The effects also come through clearly, with some nice differentiation between the surfaces on which you walk or jump. What's interesting is that it seems like the effects got louder. While they don't overshadow the game's other audio elements, those who played the originals will immediately notice the volume upgrade.
As it stands, Devil May Cry HD Collection is a solid package for action fans. The games don't look as good as they should have, but they still shine in some areas, and the sound is almost flawless. The stories are still silly in parts, but they're engaging enough that you can ignore the parts that shouldn't elicit laughs. Most importantly, the fast and fluid combat holds up significantly well to the point where it outshines some modern games. This is a highly recommended title for those who love unleashing crazy combos and want some significant difficulty to go along with it.
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