Given the modern resurgence of giving classic franchises an HD makeover, it should come as no surprise that one of the more venerated action series is up next. That's right, folks, there is now a Devil May Cry HD Collection! Containing all three original games with shiny new visuals, it's a great package for only forty dollars. But do these groundbreaking games stand the test of time? Considering I had only played DMC 3, I was excited for the chance to play the first two... but in the end I came away from the experience with mixed thoughts.
I won't bother citing the "story" too much. Notice the quotes there? The narrative arc of the series is decent as these sorts of stories go. Still, a lot of it is definitely smile, nod, and get back to beating up demon spawn. Dante, son of the legendary demon Sparda, who aided humanity at the cost of bringing down the ire of both heaven and hell upon him, is the main reason these games resonated with their audience. He's a brash but talented young man, known as much for his rough tongue and sharp quips as he is for his massive sword and named pistols. From there an absurd plot develops as Dante must endeavor to stop all manner of demonic influence and personages from taking over the world with the help of an interesting side cast of misfits and long lost relations.
But let's not beat about the bush: when you think Devil May Cry, you think action! Combat is fast paced, mixing guns and melee combat. The focus is on stringing together combos and juggling literally rooms full of enemies. These games were some of the earliest to really bring about the feeling of pure awesomeness that I call the "God Factor." Basically, once you get good with the controls, slicing, dicing, and blasting your foes to smithereens is immensely satisfying. It's worth noting the influence DMC has had on more recent hack and slashers. Play God of War or Bayonetta and the similarities are apparent, if more refined. As the series evolved, the action morphed as well, becoming tighter as well as more elaborate.
There are some mild platforming sections and puzzle elements as well. Taking a page from Resident Evil (remember that the original game was made by Hideki Kamiya as well), there are lots of over-sized keys to find and fit into over-sized locks. You'll figure out early on that the gameplay revolves around clearing out areas of bad guys before earning the right to unlock the next area. It would border on boring if not for the fact that the combat is such a blast. The platforming sections aren't particularly challenging despite the camera issues (more on that later). The real trick comes into dealing with the bosses. This is one area where DMC shows it's age: bosses are really nothing more than pattern recognition enemies. Boss fights are almost always tedious affairs with the rare gem tossed in to really make you pay attention. Sadly, some of them are overly repetitious. However, some strategy is required, and these battles turn into mini-puzzles in and of themselves.
Devil May Cry also introduced the "Style" meter. Essentially, the more uninterrupted attacks incorporating more variety garner you a higher multiplier. In other words, be creative when beating up the bad guys and you'll get a better score. This is important for the scoring structure at the end of each mission. You are scored based on completion time, style, damage taken etc., and are then graded on each category, then given an overall score. Your bonus is determined by the overall score.
This series is one of the earliest to include a mission structure instead of levels. You are given time to upgrade in between the action. Incorporating mild RPG elements is another hallmark of the franchise. Killing enemies garners you red orbs (sound familiar?), which can then be spent on items and upgrades. Upgrading weapons unlocks new moves. However, keep in mind that buying things like health refills is actually more provincial early on, and since you have the option to replay missions, you can essentially farm orbs. Considering the series’ inherent difficulty (the second game aside), this is time well spent, especially considering how often you'll need to purchase either extra lives or simple health packs in the form of green stars.
Then there is the infamous 'Devil Trigger' ability. When active, this mode allows Dante to release the devil within him, making the hero even more formidable. He becomes more powerful and takes less damage, as well as slowly refilling his health. Just keep in mind that the devil gauge is on a timer, so make sure you wait to use it until the most opportune moment.
Graphically, the HD Collection boasts shiny new visuals. The HD overhaul makes the action much sweeter, but the menus and cutscenes didn't get a makeover and the results are jarring. The art style isn't really steampunk, although there are certainly elements there that speak to it. The term 'Gothic' comes to mind. But even in the dark and dank castles, the colors are far more vivid and the textures are much smoother. These games are quite old, so don't expect miracles, but they do look nice... except for the menus. Every time you pause the game it looks like you're looking at the screen through a coffee filter. I honestly wonder why the effort wasn't made to upgrade everything.
The first Devil May Cry is obviously the oldest game in the series. It looks and plays like an older game. But it's important to remember that while dated now, at the time of its release it was groundbreaking. A lot of common elements to the genre can be traced back here. The combat, leveling system, even the mission structure and upgrade elements have been refined since, but a lot of recent actions games take cues from DMC.
Devil May Cry 2 is widely regarded as the runt of the litter as it were, and now that I've finally played it I can see why. Firstly, the series legendary difficulty has been toned down. The story is less focused, and much of Dante's swagger is missing as well. It's like the developers didn't want to step on any toes rather than letting the character and canon continue down the path. It's worth noting that the original mastermind of DMC, Hideki Kamiya, was not involved in its development. It's funny: playing DMC3 immediately after playing the second game... it's obvious the developers listened to all the people complaining about the less than stellar sequel.
A quick word about the changes in DMC3. It's actually the first game in terms of time line, but for this collection, it's also the last and most evolved. The level of exposition and the detail of the cutscenes are also much sharper. Dante actually has different styles he can use and level over the course of the game. There are four choices that grant additional bonuses depending on your preferred play style. One is for 'Gunslingers,' another is for 'Swordmasters;' those are pretty self-explanatory. The 'Trickster' style allows for a dodge function to get Dante out of tight spots and the 'Royalguard' grants him the ability to counter with higher defense. Later on you unlock two other classes: 'Quicksilver' slows down time and 'Doppelganger' brings a shadowy Dante to fight with you. Each style is worth experimenting with, and as they level up you'll earn some nice bonuses and extra moves.
The Devil May Cry series, encapsulated in this HD Collection, is fantastic... however, there are some issues apart from the disappointing unevenness of the HD overhaul. The camera is still a phenomenal pain. It's fixed, yet changes angles when you cross an invisible barrier. The problem is that it can sometimes switch at inopportune times. For example, if you are running towards the camera and it switches to a shot from behind, then you will probably have to compensate with the controller since you were already holding down on the analog to run towards the screen. As a result, you'll probably have a momentary hitch when you have to reorient both yourself and your thumbs. It's annoying, but easily turns to frustration in the heat of battle.
The fact of the matter is that Devil May Cry was a groundbreaking series in modern action gaming. If you've never played these games before, having the first three titles all on one disk is very nice, especially considering the price point. I really like how you literally see the series evolve as you play through the games in order. However, it's difficult not to feel like this franchise is dated. Mechanics that were once revolutionary are now par for the course, but more often than not you'll notice that they don't do things that way anymore because they've found better options in the interim. I'm also disappointed with the HD Collection simply because of how uneven the makeover was. Seeing blurry menu screens time and again is simply too jarring to just pass over. I can't for the life of me understand why that wasn't given an overhaul as well. It's what I've feared with this recent HD revival: cutting corners and simply trying to cash in on old brands. Still, for fans of the series who want to replay some awesome moments and memorable boss battles (and there are no shortage of those), to newcomers who want to try some truly classic (if dated) games, the Devil May Cry HD Collection is definitely worth your time... even if the end result is a growing appreciation for how far gaming has developed since.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Devil May Cry HD Collection provided by Capcom.