This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee sheds a single emo tear for his gigantic sword in Devil May Cry 4.
It would be very narrow-minded of me to say that all Japanese cartoons suck; that's like saying that all glam rockers are pedophiles. The fact is that there's bound to be at least one thing to your tastes in all the different varieties of anime, whether you're into samurais or giant robots or serials about awkward young men very pointedly not having sex with a selection of eager women. But it would be fair to say that there are certain popular trends in anime that tend to set off my cynicism alert. I would list them, but thanks to Capcom, I don't have to. Now I can just point at Devil May Cry 4 and say "pretty much that."
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not some spectacle-adjusting model railroad enthusiast who cannot function without absolute realism at all times. Leaping eight times your own height, swinging swords the size of small cars around, and deflecting bullets with other bullets are all fine with me as long as it's entertaining. I'll even accept that getting a seven-foot katana jammed through your torso is totally survivable, if a bit homoerotic. A game starts widdling on my chips, however, when it populates itself with smug self-satisfied dickspurts and starts neglecting gameplay because it's too busy letting them swagger invincibly about until I want to flatten their androgynous faces with a kayak paddle.
Allow me to expand. The abominably lengthy intro cinematic contains a total of three high-energy bombastic fight sequences, and my only contribution to them was to sit on my arse taking a drink every time someone defied the laws of physics. There was no reason why these fights couldn't have been playable, but the game seemed afraid I might cramp its style. It's like Devil May Cry 4 invited me out to a bar, then left me alone in the corner nursing a Strongbow while he busily tore up the dance floor with a giggling society girl. Eventually she was called away by her cackling friends and he came back to our table with fresh drinks and apologies, but I won't forget this betrayal, oh no!
Capcom seem to be pulling the Hideo Kojima gambit with this instalment, wherein the beloved established character is supplanted for most of the game by a whinging pubescent successor whose motivation could best be summarized as "pussywhipped". It seems, however, that after all the hilarious fanboy rage that Metal Gear Solid 2 wedded, Capcom are trying to pull the wool over our eyes by making the new character, Nero, look, dress, behave, and speak exactly the same as the old character, Dante. If you're having trouble telling them apart, remember that Nero is a pussy, while Dante is more of a cunt.
Anyway, if you want to know the story, Nero spends most of the game chasing his cardboard cut-out love interest while Dante concentrates on wearing too many belts. Devil May Cry 4 is a game that really makes me want to hate it, since everything about it is as aggressively juvenile as a 12 year-old on pixie sticks, but there's nothing really wrong with the core combat gameplay; it's as obsessed with style as everything else but building combos is fairly intuitive, and if you seriously don't find something entertaining about launching an enemy into the air, then keeping them afloat with a cushion of bullets, then it's time to re-assess your standards.
But the lone shiny gold star I stick on for the combat is almost immediately torn off for some truly obnoxious level design. Jumping puzzles, fine. Timed jumping puzzles, fair enough. Timed jumping puzzles with fixed cameras, now we've dropped into the ocean of shittiness. But then they hit us with a timed jumping puzzle with a fixed camera where enemies spawn in every time you fail, and now the ocean of shittiness has closed in over our heads with no rescue boat in sight.
Breathlessly intense punch-ups aside, Devil May Cry 4 strikes me as a rather lazy game. Several moments come across as artificially lengthened, like what my spam mail seems to think I should be. Take the recurring board game segment: there are certain rooms throughout the game which for some demented reason you're not allowed to leave until you've thrown a big spiky dice a sufficient amount of times to make a big representation of yourself move across a bunch of squares. There's only one path, so there's bugger-all strategy involved. It's just pointless delays, like a hallway full of balloons. After the first time it happened, I assumed it was just some idea that the lead designer's girlfriend had had that he'd agreed to put in for the sake of his sex life and we'd never see it again. But then for the entire last hour or so of gameplay it came back, bigger and more of an embuggerance than ever. This led me to deduce that the developers genuinely thought it wasn't terrible game design, and that in turn led me to deduce that the developers were all pillocks.
Not that there was any shortage of evidence to that effect. Virtually the entire midpoint onwards consists of revisiting all the previous levels in reverse order. This was a bad idea in Silent Hill 4, and time has not sweetened it. Considering how short the game is anyway, I can't help wondering if this is some sort of cry for help. "Please!" go the Devil May Cry team. "Please stop buying these games so we can do something else, we have totally run out of ideas! I spent the last six months rendering the glisten playing off the exposed breasts of some athletic hip-cocking slut and now I want to kill myself!"
Let's face uncomfortable facts, shall we? No series on any form of media has ever still been good after being shaken down for sequels, with the possible exception of the Back to the Future movies. Devil May Cry 4 is the agonised graphical squawk of a series being put through the wringer, utterly submitted now to the fanboys and the weird girls who write erotic crossover fan fiction and smell like old meat. The combat is all I can really recommend, but it's hardly worth buying it for that. You can probably replicate it by putting a wasp next to a spider, playing some Slipknot in the background, and pouring red and green gummi bears on whoever wins.
Compensating for something: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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