After Firaxis Games released XCOM: Enemy Unknown last fall it became a lot easier to get excited about reboots of long-established videogame series.
This is part of the reason why I was interested (rather than dismayed, like so many people) in how Ninja Theory would handle developing a new Devil May Cry game. As controversial as it may be to say, part of this excitement was because the original Devil May Cry series was in dire need of reinvention.
To start off it might be important to note that I’ve played the original Devil May Cry games and really enjoyed two of them (the second one wasn’t so hot and I thought the fourth was fine, but kind of boring). Sitting down with the first entry in the series a few months after its release was as enthralling for me as it was for a lot of the people who hate the idea of the new game on principle. Dante was a great protagonist — a loud, stupid guy revelling in the ridiculous world designed for him to interact with — and stringing together combos with his weapons was a blast. After a misguided sequel Capcom made the smart decision of embracing Devil May Cry‘s harsher sensibilities in the third game. This approach freshened up the series, forcing players to dig deep into its intricate combat mechanics, but also set a standard that isn’t possible to properly follow up in any satisfying way. Continuing to iterate on the series’ design sensibilities and upgrading the graphical quality just isn’t enough to make the fourth game all that interesting.
It’s possible to think the original Devil May Cry games are great while still being thankful that the next entry to the series was a reboot.
The universe of Devil May Cry was always pretty shallow, the characters and plot doing a good job of setting up plenty of opportunities to throw Dante into battle against fantastically designed enemies in metal album cover settings, but little in terms of actually engaging the player with an interesting story. By the time the fourth game was released the novelty had begun to wear thin. Like another long-running Capcom franchise (let’s call it Immoral Tenant . . .) the plot had become bloated, the narrative catering too much to fan service and the gameplay bogged down by over-familiarity. Devil May Cry, like Resident Ev — sorry, Immoral Tenant — is a storied game franchise buckling under the weight of its own convoluted and increasingly nonsensical mythology. While I enjoyed playing through the games as they came out, Dante himself was also very much a character of the era he debuted in and was overdue for a rewrite.
All of these gameplay and narrative elements made Devil May Cry a perfect candidate for reinvention. Luckily, the resulting game, DmC, is both an excellent homage to the series’ roots and a refreshingly original invention. DmC‘s combat, while perhaps a tad too easy on the normal setting, streamlines the dense mechanics of the older titles in a clever way (the on-the-fly weapon switching and angel/demon affinity system is a beautiful combo-making toy chest) and the tongue-in-cheek, They Live-riffing story is an absurd delight. The character of Dante, fan worries aside, is also just as much of a brash, egotistical moron as ever. His haircut may be different, but the general characterization is essentially unchanged apart from a little modernization. I simply don’t get the complaints involving this aspect of the reboot. Dante is as fun to control as he is to watch interact with the rest of the cast.
Sure, the game’s level design can, at times, be a bit more disorienting than it ought to be, but this can be forgiven in light of how much opportunity Ninja Theory provides for Metroid-style collectable hunting. Also, the presentation of these environments is top notch. The imagination on display in particularly memorable segments like the news station and nightclub is absolutely fantastic. Ninja Theory has always been skilled in creating stunning levels and memorable, motion-captured characters. By working with bits and pieces of the Devil May Cry fiction in a unique way they’ve managed to marry their knack for impressive visual storytelling with extremely enjoyable combat mechanics.
It’s possible to think the original Devil May Cry games are great while still being thankful that the next entry to the series was a reboot rather than a derivative sequel. This is something I wish more diehard fans of the “old Dante” would realize. Just because a series of videogames was good in the past, doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from the kind of reinvention possible through a reboot. Rather than feel betrayed by the kind of changes being made to a beloved franchise, it might be a better idea to enjoy the injection of fresh blood that its reinvention brings to familiar characters and concepts.