Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Screwtape Studios
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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Switch Review - 'Damsel'

by Joseph Doyle on Oct. 31, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Damsel is a challenging, arcade platformer with a kick-ass female lead facing off against an army of irresponsible corporate vampires.

Throughout the ages, humanity has created demons and specters out of shadows and things that go bump in the night. In the name of safety, religious fervor, outright fear, or a cocktail of the three, people would attempt to stamp these things from existence with ceremonies that included tossing salt over their shoulders, burning people at the stake, and desecrating corpses by filling them with stakes or ripping out their hearts. People were terrified at the prospect of something wanting to consume their blood. Damsel brings this fear into the 21st century and recognizes the necessary immediacy of dealing with these awful creatures. You play as the eponymous Damsel, armed with a plethora of bullets and an abundance of lower-body strength, who wants to get to the bottom of the vampires' evil deeds. With weightless platforming, myriad objectives and a layer of sarcasm, Damsel attempts to win over the heart that's still beating within your chest.

Damsel takes the run-and-gun genre and, well … runs with it. From the start, the goal of every level is abundantly clear. From the time, points, and rankings at the end of each stage to the feel of the controls and even the auxiliary-feeling objectives, the goal is to finish as quickly as possible. While not as simplistic as Celeste or Super Meat Boy, the feeling is almost the same, only with different tools at your disposal. Instead of dodging spikes and saws like in the previously mentioned examples, Damsel is armed with guns to knock out the majority of her hindrances. You'll bounce around from level to level, not only dodging the electric fences and spikes, but also shooting down hordes of bloodthirsty vampires, busting up coffins, and collecting skulls, among other rudimentary-feeling tasks. "Rudimentary" may not be the appropriate word, but the task at the top of each level largely feels generic and uninspired. There's always potential for the story to bump up the intrigue, but this is largely lackluster as well. While the creative effort of making the story fit into a few comic strips between each level is laudable, the characters are all trying to be edgy and cool, so the player loses interest in the narrative almost immediately.

The story obviously isn't the focus of Damsel. You want to fulfill your objective and move on to the next level as quickly as possible. Getting there is enjoyable because the controls are well-tuned, with a bevy of different tacks to take on each area, either going as fast as possible, racking up as many points as you can, or something in the middle. Additionally, you can shoot your way through the bloodsucking creeps, dash by them, ground-pound into them, etc… All of these different ways to complete a level are fun, but even after playing for a short while, the game becomes too formulaic and repetitive. Sure, you can race yourself (and others on the leaderboards) to see if you can get a better time, or you can pound your way through the different parts of each level, but it ultimately feels like a slog to finish. Each level adds a lot to the game and curbs this feeling — but not enough to reinvigorate the player.

In terms of aesthetics, Damsel wholeheartedly dives into the emo phase of the mid-2000s, with cartoony pink skulls plastered across the screen as your black-clad, purple-haired heroine darts across the screen, as if Hot Topic had burst into the world of interactive advertisements. Embracing the chicness of being retro, Damsel also boasts a more cartoonish art style, mixing the look of Hanna-Barbera classics like the Jetsons with the dark grays, moody reds with vibrant violets of an animated version of psychobilly culture. It could definitely go in a modern Cartoon Network lineup. This art style matches the tone of the game rather well, with the story mode filled to the brim with brooding, quippy one-liners. The UI follows suit, and while it's effective, it's on the small side, leading to things like Damsel's life bar being overlooked even after an entire hour of playing.

Synthesizers bubble and crunch throughout the entirety of Damsel, driving the player to jump, run and shoot more intently and intensely. Techno fares well for both the genre and tone for the game; the low rumbles of the fat, bass-heavy synth melody paired well with high-intensity drums to sate the grungy backdrop of this vampire shoot-'em-up. They're also appropriate for the speed and accuracy of the game, and that's always appreciated. However, while there is quite the amount of music provided in the game, it all kind of smears together. Using such a distinct voice for the melodies in the majority of the songs makes it difficult to differentiate between the tunes. Alas, that mirrors the repetitive nature of the gameplay, showing dedication to the above sentiments of consistency but losing itself in the monotony that is Damsel.

When the dust finally settles — and hopefully the dust isn't the charred remains of a loved one's heart — Damsel has something to offer to a very specific type of player. The story leaves something to be desired, the levels can feel tedious and repetitive, the music can come off as having a little tunnel vision, but the basis of the game is incredibly solid. The platforming feels good, busting through hordes of enemies is satisfying, the controls are incredibly solid, and the art style is both macabre and peppy! While the title can simultaneously feel cluttered (large number of different tasks) and tedious (gameplay lacks variety), one could easily see this being ideal for someone who's incredibly goal-oriented and has a laser focus on details — perhaps speed-running fans. For the average Joe Schmo, it may make you feel as if your life forces are slowly being drained away. (Check your necks, people!)

Score: 6.5/10

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