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Sometimes, the Fans are Wrong

  Awhile ago (as in several years), I (re)wrote a review for the game Splatterhouse in which I decried what I felt was an unwarranted critical savaging of a buggy – but still playable and fun – game. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of critics outside of the lovable Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and the team over at Red Letter Media. Namely because most critics try to cram a complex idea (entertainment) into a crappy scale of one to four or ten.

  Recently, the game series Devil May Cry was rebooted. The not-a-sequel, DmC, stars an alternate universe’s version of Dante, a half-demon badass whole slays big monsters. In this game, he is also half-angel because, seriously, fuck theological norms. Anyway, he is found by the king of the demons, Mundus, and Dante ends up teaming up with his estranged brother Vergil to take down Mundus and his cronies. Punching and explosions feature prominently.

  The game is really enjoyable, maintaining a lot of the signature “stylish” fighting that made the series popular. The locations are pretty varied and interesting, if a bit on the murky side. The controls can be a bit floaty at times, but for the most part, everything is fairly tight and it’s easy to build up style points. There’s some audio glitches here and there (made all the more obvious by the huge variance in voice acting quality), but it seems pretty well designed in the end. The ridiculous difficulty curve is either gone or I’ve become some kind of spectacle fighter god after doing a platinum run in Bayonetta. This isn’t a problem, actually – it was nice to be able to not want to pitch a controller through the television by level six. Of course, there are some questionable programming decisions – like how apparently restarting a checkpoint counts as having been killed by a random monster (thanks for including that in the stats, guys!) – but whatever.

  In short, the game is fun and is now free to head in a more interesting direction than the main series was after Devil May Cry 4, which felt far more anemic than it had any right to.

  However, you wouldn’t think this was the case if you read the “fan” reviews:

And I'm sure all those Metacritic users have at least one well-reasoned argument that isn't a half-assed emotional outburst.

So what we have here is a situation where the critics are praising a game for being a good game, while consumers are whinging that it’s a reboot and it’s not fair and blah blah blah. If you ever needed proof that fans can be awful codswollops, this is a perfect example. It’s like the important part of a game – you know, is it fun – takes a back seat to perceived differences between the original intellectual property and its reboot.

  See, apparently Dante was the personality powerhouse and the fact that he’s now a swearing badass as opposed to a snarky badass somehow manages to “ruin” him. Now, I hate to tell the people who are angry about this, but a lot of Dante’s personality is unchanged. He’s still a cocky asshole. The only thing that’s really changed is the quality of one-liners has gone down the tubes, but I can forgive that. And even then, does any else remember Devil May Cry 2? You know, the entry that was so shitty they may as well have retconned it out of the canon? Dante’s cleverness is pretty much in the first and third installments only.

  I’m not quite sure where all this hate is coming from. I mean, sure, the script probably could have gone through another draft or two, but I’ve played games with worse scripts and enjoyed them. It may be because it’s not doing the same things as it did before, but the third game in the original series is vastly superior from the first – and that’s because it tried a lot of new things. And while not all of the additions to DMC will change the world, they provide enough variety to keep things interesting a lot longer than Devil May Cry 2 or 4 did.

  See, that’s the thing. I don’t understand why people are so defensive over a reboot when precisely 50% of the original series is either bland or shit. You can even update that to 75% if you include all the really, genuinely terrible design decisions in the original game. I submit to you a hypothetical planning meeting:

  “Switching weapons in our fast-paced fighting game should be done via slow menu! And include an unskippable animation of the weapon doing something!” said one guy in a planning meeting, a thin rivulet of drool running down his chin.

  “And we should drown a puppy every time someone opens a menu!” said another planner, genuine hatred for the player arousing him to no end.

  “That’s impossible Gilbert!” another would say, feeding his tie into the shredder. “But we can make the player go through tedious underwater sections that are criminally pointless!”

  Then the head programmer would thrust his crotch mightily as he stood on the table. “Gentlemen, as I have the largest penis, I decree all these ideas are fantastic and shall lead up to a horribly out-of-place gameplay shift not once, but twice in the last twenty minutes of the game!”

  The gathered squealed with delight. “And we should say millenniums instead of millennia to show how smart we are!” Gilbert said before his head disappeared into a bowl of lead paint.

  The sequel, imaginatively called Devil May Cry 2, operated under the belief that different enemies, bland environments, an over-reliance on weak guns instead of your swords in combat, a stupid villain, and a ham-fisted secondary character gimmick was enough to make a sequel. Devil May Cry 4 was barely about Dante – he was relegated to a brief stint in the second half of the game. And while the same hack n’ slash action was there, I couldn’t muster any kind of prolonged enjoyment out of it.

  The point is, the series needed a way to keep it going in any significant way, and a reboot was a better idea than just reissuing the game as a high definition version. For all it’s flaws, I do consider Devil May Cry the direct cause of Bayonetta, which is one of my favorite games of all time. If the Devil May Cry series had merely just continued on in the direction that it had been going in after the fourth installment, there’s no way that it could have risen above Bayonetta as a spectacle fighter. DmC, however, gets pretty close to nailing that sweet spot of perfection. Sure, there are some missteps that keep it from reaching its full potential, but they are from a gameplay standpoint, not some mythical depth to the main character.

  Dante, and I hate to tell you this, has always had only one personality trait: cocksure. Alright, in the third one they gave him “No, fuck you dad!” angst, but it took a backseat to his cockiness. New Dante is cocky, but has some quirks that make him – surprise, surprise – more human and, thus, relatable to actual humans. Maybe that’s why fans of the series are so stuck on this “It’s not really Dante!” kick – actually making Dante more relatable has made the socially awkward fanbase less likely to project on him because the developers made him into something other than personified, blank slate machismo when their backs were turned.

  See, fans are a fickle bunch. And I’m not just saying that because I don’t have any and every week I write a blog post and put up more of Project Northwoods in a desperate bid to get someone to pay attention to me and tell me I do a good job and oh, god, why doesn’t anyone pay attention to me anymore just because I’m slowly getting towards my thirties and no one cares about the same types of things that five years ago would have given me so much praise and I’m just going to start drinking Listerine because it can make the pain of being so cold and alone go away and...


  Anyway, a fan (short for “fanatic”) is someone who, on one hand, does not challenge you because they think everything you produce is somehow caked in gold. But they are also of the idea that they have some kind of stake in your product because of that devotion. And while I can sympathize with loving a franchise that doesn’t love you back (GODDAMN IT SILENT HILL, STOP SUCKING), there’s not a whole lot you get to do about it. Sure, you can voice your complaints and – by all means – you totally should. But just because you like something doesn’t mean you get to dictate where it goes next.

  On the other hand, sometimes it’s awesome to listen to fans. They can be a great community resource and can potentially inject some needed creativity in a stale franchise. Long story short, you need to be careful. After all, fan communities gave us Fifty Shades of Grey and literally all of Rule 34. Let that sink in: every single inappropriate, horrible bit of internet pornography involving Dilbert and the Harry Potter universe was generated by people who we would generally consider to be “fans.”

  To sum up this little rant/review/whatever, I’m going to do a nod to my “Dreaming of a Better Game” series and conclude with a list of suggestions for a potential DmC2. Yes, I just got through describing how a lot of fans’ ideas tend to be on the bad side, so I am aware that this is potentially a bit hypocritical. But, then again, I never said I was a fan, did I?

  Now then, Ninja Theory, those responsible for DmC, should pay attention. I am doing this because I love. Or because I feel an obligation to write once a week and this was on my mind. You know, one of the two.

  ADD more recurring boss fights. I would replay the levels in Devil May Cry 3 where I had to fight Vergil more than any other level. Why? Because they were a blast and the antipathy between the characters made me more emotionally invested in the outcome. These levels were the perfect wedding of plot and gameplay. And while we are on the topic of bosses...

  CONTINUE to make really fun boss fights. Lots more of them, too. Some of the best moments in the game, much like most Devil May Cry games, were the multi-stage encounters with huge beasties. This game actually takes it much further, incorporating your almost all of your abilities into the fights. Granted, sometimes it ends up being little more than taking out a cut scene showing Dante escaping an attack, but more gameplay is always a good thing. Speaking of which...

  CONTINUE to make the action player-controlled. Devil May Cry, especially in later installments, would show Dante killing dudes in ways that the player couldn’t. This made it especially silly when cutscene Dante would be replaced by gameplay Dante and get his ass thoroughly shredded by low-level mooks. This has been avoided tremendously well by pretty much making everything cutscene Dante can do a thing that the player can as well. I humbly request that you keep this going. And hey, while we’re kind of talking about things the player can do...

  CONTINUE to make every item useful. Almost every weapon and ability has a use, and I’m not talking about esoteric, you’d-have-to-be-super-skilled-or-stupid-to-attempt-it uses. I’m talking about a game where every weapon and skill can and should be utilized effectively in a fight. It’s a lot of fun mixing and matching styles. But, it’s not completely perfect...

  ADD a lot more variety to non-sword attacks. I was particularly disappointed by the gauntlets in this game, as they were my usual go-to weapon in previous Devil May Cry installments. I would have really appreciated having extended combos similar to its previous incarnations. And, say, now that I think of it...

  ADD a bit more variety in the demon/angel weapons. I get that the angel weapons are faster and the demon weapons are harder hitting, but why not have one of each? Like, say, the angelic scythe is slow but has powerful pushback, keeping enemies out of attack range but still close enough for further attacks. The angelic discus/shuriken is largely the same: fast, lightly damaging and capable of pulling enemies closer to Dante. The demonic axe is preserved as slow, powerful, and the key shield breaker in your arsenal. The guantlets, however, are now faster and weaker, but allow for longer combo chains and build up power with use.

  But, I’m not a game designer, so I could have just royally fucked balance. Hey, speaking of hardcore fucking...

  STOP confusing the word “fuck” for wit. It’s a small thing, but just something I noticed. I’m not going to lie and say I was offended, because anyone who has heard me speak or read almost anything on this website knows I am as fond of cursing as the next inarticulate asshole, but Dante and his enemies are at their most entertaining when they trade verbal barbs that don’t end with a simple “Fuck you.” By all means, use it for punctuation or shock (personally, I like the little touches where something startles Dante and he curses – it makes him feel more like a new, better rounded character than the old one). But having both the hero and his foes screaming the same expletives makes everyone seem really limited.

  There’s a scene late in the game when Vergil says to Dante “We make a great team.” Dante responds with “I’m stronger,” to which his estranged brother parries “I’m smarter.” Not to be outdone, Dante simply says “I’m better looking.” Seemingly giving up, Vergil and Dante exchange some utilitarian, plot-business dialogue. Then, at the end of the scene, Vergil proclaims “I have a bigger dick.”

  It’s puerile and silly, but it works on so many levels. Despite years separated from each other, they are growing more comfortable with being brothers, teammates, and friends. It’s a genuinely funny line.

  And you didn’t even have to say the word “fuck.”

  Not even once.

  So more of the quality writing, because I know you can do it.

  STOP putting cutscenes in the middle of levels, or give us the option to have them skipped on subsequent playthroughs. Although excising them would be preferred, really. Unless they are introducing a new enemy, a boss, or ending a level, they really break up the flow. Devil May Cry is supposed to be about stylish, fast action. Every second that I spend away from doing that had better be on my own terms – that is to say, exploration. In the dance club level, Lilith taunts Dante and Dante responds to her without having to pause the game and watch it happen. And then there’s the corollary...

  DON’T add any more levels that focus on things other than killing baddies. Okay, I will clarify this a bit because having downtime is sometimes a good thing. There’s one level where Mundus basically flips his shit and throws a massive shockwave which destroys a chunk of Limbo and reality. Dante runs after a speeding car, clearing the way of obstacles. It’s a short level, but it’s intense as all hell, namely because every playable section is broken up into smaller, actiony portions. These levels are awesome and should be used sparingly because, as I said, Devil May Cry is a spectacle fighter and emphasis should be on the fighter aspect.

  Contrast this to the level where you walk (yes, walk) through a soda factory to get to their warehouse. I’m sure this was done because that area becomes a maze later and you can speed through it if you remember the layout, but the maze was not particularly difficult to get through. And if you felt you needed more character depth to Kat (which I’m fine with), a cutscene would have been a better way to handle it. And, you know what? Let’s talk about Kat.

  DO NOT continue to write useless female characters. Now, to be fair, Kat is apparently a stronger character than your previous efforts (She can hold up under torture! She killed a demon all by herself!), but she’s still about as interesting as a raisin. Either give her some depth and never make her a damsel in distress again or make her role in the plot minimal if you just can’t figure out a way to make her three-dimensional. Because goddamn. And, hey, let’s talk about characters a bit more. Or rather, what’s behind them.

  (SIDENOTE: In my original posting, I said: "You have a problem," thinking Ninja Theory were the same guys as Team Ninja. No. No they are not. Although I regret my error and certainly own up to it, Kat's still a pretty abysmally written female character, guys.)

  HIRE consistent voice actors. Vergil, Dante, and Kat are alright, if a bit understated. Bob Barbas, Lilith, and the Succubus are scene chewingly awesome. Mundus sounds fucking bored, especially compared to his wonderfully voiced minions. With a major cast this small (there’s one other character), the differences between the level of effort is really jarring. It honestly appeared like whoever was telling the actors their motivations gave everyone a vastly different interpretation of events.

  I’m holding up Mundus as particularly egregious. He’s supposed to be the king of the demons or whatever and it appears like he doesn’t even care. His lines sounds like an exhausted professor correcting a particularly stupid essay. As a dispassionate badass, this could have worked. But every other demon is either slimey, sadistic, or just plain creepy. It’s way too stark of a contrast. It probably wouldn’t have been too noticeable if the only other characters were Dante and Vergil, but them’s the breaks.

  STOP this platforming business. Yes, Limbo has some pretty awesome visuals, but missing jumps is annoying no matter the game. And – while dinging players some of their life is infinitely better than killing them outright – punishment for a miscalculated jump is best reserved for Cave Story and other 2D platformers.

  Instead, make small sections of the levels connected via the grappling hook thing. If you really want short platforming segments, I always thought that the original Devil May Cry had a pretty neat solution: if the player falls off, they fight some baddies and are teleported to their destination. Give a small, one-time bonus for completing the jumps correctly. No fuss, no muss.

  Of course, I could have hallucinated all of that. But still: platform sections are seldom fun in a game that isn’t a platformer. That way, you can focus on improving the enemy arenas and making them as visually impressive as the platform segments.

  DO NOT RUIN PHANTOM. I’m not even joking. Yes, he’s a big spider. But I swear that if you turn him into some generic “spooky” spider crap, I will take this as a personal attack on me. In fact, don’t do anything to him. Just copy and paste him into the sequel and make him say “fuck” once if you absolutely must in order to achieve an erection. It will take effort to ruin a lisping, lava blooded spider. Effort, as I mentioned, I will take as an affront to myself and all I stand for.

  I guess we’re all lucky I don’t stand for all that much.

  Well, I think that’s it for today. I really did enjoy the game, and at the end of the day, I felt my money was well spent. I heard through various message boards that if the reboot does well, Capcom will continue with a sequel to the reboot. Otherwise, they will continue the original series as if nothing happened.

  You know.

  Like they did with Devil May Cry 2: The Retcon.

  Also, I’m pretty sure Bob Barbas was a corrupt angel or something, because he drops an angelic weapon for Dante. I hope this is explained or brought up in a sequel, because that would have been an awesome touch if the blatant stand-in for a certain television pundit was some corrupt dickbag angel who was in charge of a demonic prison. That would show a level of depth and commentary beyond what any of the original games had.

  UPDATE - Because I love Yahtzee, here is his review of DmC. And, yes, his video is the only reason I caught my Ninja Theory/Team Ninja mistake above. I said I acknowledge my mistake, would you let it go? JEEZ.

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