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Damsel Review

There are two ways to look at the (really good) action movie Blade from 1998. The first perspective is that the film is a criticism of 1990s Capitalist culture and the conspiracy theories surrounding it; the dot com boom is in full swing, and the vampires in their tailored suits are the physical embodiment of a world where the blood-sucking ‘One Order’ reigns supreme. The character of Blade, a child of the 60s, is a rejection of that rich white corporate network and the epitome of an oppressed minority group taking a stand for the strength of their own identity.

The other is of Wesley Snipes being a badass and killing heaps of vampires.

There’s no harm in taking an analytical dive into anything, to make meaning of it. But sometimes, you just want to veg out and watch a massacre.

Damsel is a lot like Blade in that regard. On the surface, it’s a very solid 2D shooter that harkens back to the simple pleasures of browser flash games. Look beneath, if you want to, and it’s an Oddworld-esque middle finger to the energy drink industry. But, like the classic Wesley Snipes movie, it’s great no matter how you look at it.

Damsel is the first major title from Screwtape Studios, who boast a long history in short-but-sweet mobile games. You play as a cocky, badass girl called…well, Damsel. She’s a member of a secret group that specialises in the wholesale slaughter of vampires, and the thwarting of their evil plans. You do this, naturally, by kicking down the door and shooting every last one of them.

Do a flip!

Damsel plays like old-school 2D shooters such as Mega Man or Commander Keen, blending fast-paced movement and twitch reflexes for the kind of second-by-second gameplay that only a 2D shooter can do. Levels are completed by accomplishing an objective, which can range from anything like rescuing hostages to simply killing everything in the room. The arcade-y experience offers something akin to the lineup offered by back in the day.

That’s not the only reason to compare Damsel to the games you used to load up on the school’s computer: Damsel’s aesthetic is eerily similar to a lot of work found back then, and that’s not because it’s simple. Its animations and effects are actually gorgeous, with the style only affording minor inconveniences (more on that in a bit). The music, too, is eerily 2000s. The electro-gothic (soundtrack?) on show is superbly matched to the game’s macabre portrayal of back street slums and elaborate mansions.

…pinches are Damsel’s specialty…

Sometimes, you just have to scream at the sky to let the tension out

The movement is as free as a bird, with double jumps and dashes in your forte. Controlling Damsel herself is a breeze; you’re never left feeling cheated out of a manoeuvre or a favourable position. Shooting, too, feels great. As opposed to more traditional hold-the-button fare with a constant stream of bullets, Damsel has a charging-shot mechanic that forces picky shots. When you fire your weapon, it’ll begin charging up again. More shots mean a longer charge time. Shoot too many, and your fire speed will suffer. Hence, it pays to pick your shots carefully and only shoot your magazine load too quickly when you’re in a pinch.

And pinches are Damsel’s specialty. The game can prove particularly difficult at times, but only sometimes fairly. The art direction of the game, as mentioned before, is superb but lends itself to a fair few inconsistencies.

For instance, parts of the background that look like platforms are but crevices to hang off of; it’s frustrating to line yourself up for a leapfrog jump, only to come to a grinding halt instead. Cameras and other vampire-summoning devices often become obstructed by, or blend in with, the scenery making them a pain to locate. Coffins that act as combo fodder (sometimes doubling as the level’s objective) obstruct shots but not enemy sight. These become minor issues as you play the game, but they could prove annoying to new players. Just like vampirocratic capitalism and its wealth accumulation mechanic.

Look, up in the sky!

But these are smaller problems in a more consistently solid game. Damsel’s difficulty comes from its wide variety of enemy types, lightning-fast pacing, and tightly-crafted levels. These levels aren’t all that different from each other, but they’re still not procedurally generated. That’s always a plus. Quick mini-games within each level are required to achieve secondary – and sometimes primary – objectives, but Damsel can still be controlled while you perform them. One time, I broke into a safe while shooting at incoming vampires; felt like a badass.

Tragically, Damsel’s story mode is too short at the present time (DLC is coming soon). Other modes do exist, though. There’s your traditional time attack and mission select modes, but also ways to make the game easier or harder. Blade, too, had ways to make the vampire-slaying game easier or harder. But Blade always plays on hard mode, because that’s what hard mothers do.

Final thoughts

Damsel is one of those games that creeps up on you, like a bloodsucking vampire stalking through the shadows. But unlike the bloodsucking that you’d receive from an undead lawyer, Damsel will seep hours from your timestream. If you’re up for a fast action game like the days of old, Damsel has you covered.

If you wanna know more about developer Screwtape Studios’ process of making Damsel, check out our feature about them here!

Reviewed on Windows | Review code supplied by publisher
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