There’s something quite unfortunate about dying in a permadeath game. It’s like a blow to the head, a jab to the stomach and your father calling you “a disappointment” all at once. Yet Devil’s Dare, the arcade beat ’em up from Secret Base, encourages it. The point to this (and yes there is a point to the game seeing its users ground into pixellated meat paste time and time again) is that overcoming its remarkably high level of risk offers a suitable reward in response, namely more bits of level for Devil’s Dare to kick your ass with. It’s a novel concept but does it pay off? Find out in our Devil’s Dare review.
The game sets off with four friends enjoying themselves at a video game convention until who should show up? A horde of mindless zombies! At which point you have to make a decision – do you play as Axel, Queenie, Kingston or Jackson? Each character has their own strengths (the range of Axel’s sword keeps enemies at length, Queenie can freeze them, Kingston zaps them with electricity when zombs get too close and Jackson’s attacks are ridiculously speedy) and picking the one that tailors to your play style is paramount to getting anywhere in Devil’s Dare.
That’s how I end up playing as Axel, slicing through enemies with his master sword like a knife through room temperature butter. I try Queenie at first but her attacks attacks (she has a shotgun along with a freeze blast and a timed bomb as her specials) prove effective but difficult to pull off successfully, Jackson’s dive kick is tricky to aim while his pull-chain pull seems pretty pointless (drawing enemies to me is the exact opposite of what I want to do) and Kingston’s best move only works when enemies stand on either side of him.
And as Axel, I find myself with a fairly well rounded experience. Taps of ‘X’ stick his sword out and (just about) keep basic enemies at bay and his sword spinning special is a nifty trick that thins the horde out and bags me fatalities (which in turn dole out health replenishing foodstuffs). Combined with running away from more advanced foes (including a zombie mother who spits sprogs at me and an angry golfer who takes swings at my with her driver) it’s a pretty solid gameplay plan. So I think anyway as over the course of my Devil’s Dare play I’m beaten into a pulp more times than I count.
I’m usually killed by the end of level bosses and only a handful of times by the lower level goons though, which is marginally better for my self esteem. You see similar to the arcades you’ll waste an awful lot of time on trying to exploit their weaknesses and then doing your utmost as you attempt to pull it off. One example is the Alien (of the movie’s fame) who rolls across the map to flatten you out of existence. Intelligent gameplay would see you zip in and out and take pot shots (or stabs) once it’s finished its roll, but sadly its army of rolling bugs make that easier said than done.
Devil’s Dare is hard but as mentioned, getting past those tough as nails stages can be rewarding. Complete the level with enough fundage and a wealth of offensive upgrades are yours…or you can save the money and prepare to spend it on a revive, also known as the only thing that will keep your level progress should you fall prey to the game’s ridiculous difficulty.
You’ll especially want to have some sort of backup plan at least because not only does permadeath in Devil’s Dare wipe out your progress of that level but it also deletes your entire save slot too. As much of an incentive as this is to do well/a sadist’s idea of a deterrent, it also proves to be my biggest gripe with the game.
Similar the the just as tough titles I’ve recently reviewed – Iron Fisticle and A City Sleeps – Devils’ Dare has a few levels (just four) but it makes them nigh on impossible to access their later stages (although the recently release Casual difficulty knocks the toughness down by the smallest of fractions). Rather than unlocking the extra stages for good though, Devil’s Dare stacks progress in a massive bar on the level select screen (the basic stages four levels are unlocked from the getgo) . Every time you pass a level you get a pip added to the bar, making your next playthrough longer, harder and it adds new enemies too.
Like my issues with A City Sleeps, I have a big problem with this as if you’re not anywhere good at the game, there is so much that you’re missing out on. In Devil’s Dare’s train carriage level for example, it threw a different boss at me depending on the progress pips I’d accumulated. While a case could be made that it offers variety and replayability, it eliminates these extra bits of level as soon as you die and so as a base/for the weakest of DD players you’re effectively shelling out for just a four level game.
Furthermore, whilst the grind is necessary for making money and paying for those end of level upgrades, defeating wave upon wave of similar enemies in a level could see tedium set in for some. This is also true for the game’s ‘survival’ mode where you just do that. Defeat waves until you die, or more likely, until the lack of boss battles to break up the action causes you to quit.
So like the other game’s sitting next to Devil’s Dare on the ‘stupidly hard’ shelf, brevity is its biggest issue. But, if you want to test your arcade mettle and feel that you’ll be able to overcome the difficulty (or at least rack up those level unlock pips) then this is a well-made time sap that those looking for a challenge should invest in if not seriously consider.
Devil’s Dare is available now on Steam.