Devil May Cry HD Collection
Once upon a time, Devil May Cry was practically the gold standard for video game difficulty. It also spawned a whole genre of knock-offs, and for a good part of the early 2000s it wasn’t uncommon to find Devil May Cry-alikes on store shelves, or people boasting (and often lying) that they’d finished the game on some ludicrous difficulty. Devil May Cry was a thing, and despite a disappointing sequel and a long wait for a return to form, it gathered a dedicated following. The better parts of the series boast insane difficulty curves conquerable only by people willing to learn an intricately designed combat system. For the most part, it’s a kind of game you don’t really see on consoles very often anymore.
Those dedicated fans, by the way, are still around. The cynic in me wonders when exactly the idea for this HD port collection came up – considering the uproar around the announcement of DmC, it’s easy to imagine this being a hasty way of placating fans that are upset about the new direction the series is taking (a remastered Devil May Cry 2 will certainly prove that series fans are used to disappointing sequels). Snarky feelings aside, though, there’s no denying that Devil May Cry is a series worth playing again, and again, and again. While it’s a little thin, two out of the three games on display are still excellent.
The original Devil May Cry, early in its life, was meant to be Resident Evil 4. In retrospect, that’s fairly obvious; the moody soundtrack, the gothic European castle, and the fixed camera angles all point towards that series. It’s also hard to tell how seriously it’s taking itself compared to, say Devil May Cry 3 and the more recent 4, which are goofy as hell. Dante has plenty of stupid quips up his sleeve, but given the darker atmosphere and the horror elements, as well as the completely straight-faced presentation of some of the funniest lines in video game history, it’s harder to tell. What isn’t difficult is seeing why Devil May Cry was such a big deal.
The original game’s combat is nothing short of excellent. Mashing buttons is a surefire way to get yourself killed and incredibly frustrated, but the game does a fantastic job of teaching you how to play without explicitly telling you what to do. Enemies broadcast their attacks and weaknesses with extravagant animation, and it’s not too hard to piece together what weapons work best on what kind of monster with a little experimentation. Devil May Cry‘s difficulty is akin to a fighting game; half of the challenge is understanding how to execute all of the moves on offer, and when to use what move – or when to lay off of the attack button and dodge. For people who enjoy overcoming seemingly impossible odds, it’s incredibly rewarding. There’s a sense of enlightenment once everything clicks.
This is why Devil May Cry 2 was and is still so disappointing. The original game almost had a puzzle-like quality to it in its best moments, challenging the player to figure out exactly how to tackle each boss. For the most part, 2 totally lacks this trait. Most enemies and bosses are simply there to be smacked around until their health bar depletes, never throwing any curveballs or making things particularly difficult for Dante (or Lucia, if you hate yourself and feel like basically playing the same game twice). The premise and tone also swings much harder towards the “dark and grim” side of the original Devil May Cry‘s equation, retaining all of the early 2000s dumbness without any of the quirky charm. Dante barely says a word, let alone any one-liners. The weapon system here is stats-based, meaning that there is no careful balance like there used to be – instead of giving the player a handful of weapons that all control differently, Devil May Cry 2 offers a ton of swords that do more damage than the last sword. Great.
Luckily, all of this is fixed in Devil May Cry 3, which is regarded by many as the best game in the series. It’s certainly the most ambitious – it expands on Devil May Cry with additional weapons and battle styles, which effectively amount to controlling entirely different characters. The game is incredibly deep, and insanely difficult. Brute force will get you nowhere in the game, and a couple of Dante’s combat styles require incredible tactile skill. It’s really no wonder the game is still so popular with fans; it’s certainly deep enough for players to record combo videos to show off to other people. The fighting game parallels here are certainly the most apt. If that sounds daunting, that’s because it is – but it’s also damn fun. Devil May Cry 3 is completely over the top in a tongue-in-cheek way, featuring a younger, cockier Dante and an ensemble cast of other cornball characters.
Devil May Cry 3 also introduces a lot of streamlined changes – the camera is far better in 3, pulling back enough to see what the hell is going on. Constantly changing camera angles are the most annoying part of the original Devil May Cry, since they were both incredibly disorienting, and at times screwed up precise inputs. Switching weapons is also much less of a chore in 3 – the original game requires opening the menu, choosing a weapon, and watching a silly CG animation of said weapon before returning to the game. In 3, weapon switches can be mapped to buttons. These are small changes, but they’re incredibly welcome, especially for people planning on playing this collection in order.
All of these games run at a slick 60fps, although that’s a bit less impressive in this collection, considering they all ran at that clip on the Playstation 2. HD resolution is definitely a bonus, although it does reveal some ugly textures in all three games – Devil May Cry 3, in particular, suffers from some garish stretched textures. The lighting in all of these games is fairly basic, too – it’s the art direction and fantastic animation that makes Devil May Cry visually appealing. It’s a shame that the menus are all still as they originally were – pausing the game takes players to gross upscaled fullscreen images, which don’t mesh with the higher resolution games at all. Granted, it’s not like anyone is buying these games for the menus, but it’s still a shame that they didn’t get the same treatment.
At its budget price, Devil May Cry HD Collection is a bargain. It does feature one of the most disappointing games ever made, but it also stars two of the best games ever made, so it sort of balances out. It is a shame that more work wasn’t done on the menus, or reworking some of the worse textures and models – not to mention that the “exclusive extras” on the disc are a bunch of pieces of random art. Unless you prefer your television to Google image search, there’s nothing new here for fans to dig through. The better games in this collection are some of the finest examples of action games ever made – it’s almost a pity they didn’t get a royal treatment. Still – fighting Nelo Angelo in HD? Bring it.