Devil’s Dare Review – Classic Gaming and Horror Movie Geekdom at its Finest
As a fan of 80’s horror movies, and an avid gamer of the early 90’s, Devil’s Dare by Secret Base immediately grabbed my attention when I saw it – it’s a 2D 4 player co-op beat em’ up inspired by classic arcade games and horror movies. Right there and then, I was sold. Nonetheless, I had to keep in mind that it didn’t mean the game would actually be good. With personal bias completely aside, Devil’s Dare not only delivers on being a love letter to gamers and horror fans alike, but is actually an amazingly crafted beat em’ up, that will surely stand the test of time.
Set at gaming convention Benny Arcade Expo 20xx (Bax East), the expo is suddenly overrun by an unexplained horde of zombies. It is up to you to take the role of four convention attendees, all of which have similar abilities and weapons correspondent with characters they’re pseudo cosplaying as. Axel wields the master sword and shield (or known simply as ‘Master’s Sword’), Jackson uses twin sai’s like Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kingston uses the Golden Axe, and Queenie uses magic technology influenced by Final Fantasy. Each character has very distinct abilities and attributes, that are directly influenced by the classic video game characters they are based off of. Despite the fact that the controls and combos are exactly the same for every character, no two characters play alike.
Each character has a different weight and playing style, that drastically affected how I was playing the game. Queenie’s special abilities allowed her to absorb health from enemies around her, while Kingston had the ability to grab and pick up other foes. Unlike most button-mashing beat em’ ups, I actually found myself strategizing how I executed my attacks – in some cases throwing an enemy against a horde of zombies on one side of the screen, buying me time to take care of a group on the other; other times I lured enemies to chase me, building them into a group, then used Queenie’s special attack to absorb a hefty sum of HP from them all at once. I found this added a sense of depth not commonly found in games of the same genre, and made it exciting and new while not losing the nostalgia of the games it is heavily inspired by.
There are four stages that you can choose from the start – Sewers, Trains, Hallway, and The Road. As you progress through the levels, the following level you choose will get longer; adding unique things to every level depending on what order you decide to execute them in. At the end of every level, you’ll encounter a boss themed after an iconic horror/sci-fi movie character – they are The Fly, Alien, the Terminator, and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. Each iconic movie characters name is changed with a subtle nod to a geeky references e.g., Jason is renamed to Mama’s Boy, or The Fly is referred to as Weird Science.
First and foremost, the feature that separates Devil’s Dare from all the other contemporary beat em’ ups is its permadeath system. If you die in Devil’s Dare, and haven’t collected enough in-game money to revive yourself, it’s game over, man. Game over! Your save slot is deleted. When you choose game over, your save slot will appear showing your progress, money earned, and levels completed, then you must watch as it disappears into oblivion, forcing you to start from the beginning again in classic arcade fashion. This experience brought back a rushing wave of nostalgia; memories of sitting with my Sega Genesis, admitting to the same defeat of older games. This made the game very addicting, making me want to keep playing, and it raised a challenge I felt I could overcome. Money collected from defeated enemies can also be used to buy one item or ability at the end of every level, like maximizing your HP, or a bomb that wipes out everything on screen. I mostly spent money on soul tokens – an item that essentially acts a continue when you don’t have enough money to revive yourself.
Devil’s Dare is hard. The game is mostly a test of endurance to see how long you can go without dying, because dying has such a grave impact on the game. Bosses all have their own learning curve. It wasn’t uncommon for me to die during my first encounter with a boss until I actually learned their attacks and how they moved. Destructible items are scattered through the levels, which often hold food that replenishes your health, or money. Controls are simple, consisting of an attack, special ability, and sprint button. Devil’s Dare has a combo system that rewards more money the higher your combo string, and also tally’s up a killstreak. Your special ability is limited by a blue bar, that refills quite frequently; the game actually encourages you to use it often with that in mind.
The crux of Devil’s Dare‘s features, is the 4 player couch co-op. You and three other friends can synch up controllers to your computer, so you don’t have trudge through this tough game alone. The music is amazing, perfectly capturing arcade classic bit-like tunes. Tracks pound heavily through the levels, and add a great deal of adrenaline to the game. Devil’s Dare uses a very limited palette when it comes to colors, focusing on tones of brown and grey for almost everything, with hints of green to flesh out environments. I found that the matted tone gave the game a very unique atmosphere, since it used what I would consider an unconventional set of colors you don’t see often in games. Sprites are wonderfully animated, and not too over the top, which I found pleasant in the midst of the fast gameplay.
Devil’s Dare is a challenging, wonderfully crafted beat ’em up, that caters to film and game nerds alike. Anyone who grew up playing games from the late 80’s/early 90’s, and adores horror/sci-fi movies from the same time, will inevitably feel a great deal of nostalgia with this game. Nevertheless, Devil’s Dare is a fantastic game aside from its tongue-in-cheek geeky references. Secret Base has made a game that will surely hold its own among other beat ’em ups, old and new. Anyone looking for a great single player or multiplayer challenge, look no further. Devil’s Dare is available on Steam for Mac, PC, and Linux for $12.99.