Death’s Obstacle Course For Sure
Although I hate making this comparison as it seems to be mentioned constantly when talking about any game nowadays, Death’s Gambit is like Dark Soul only in 2D. With a strong emphasis on conquering difficult combat, the steep difficulty spikes and constant retries will turn off some players.
Playing as one of several character classes, a knight is tasked to help Death himself. Every time the players dies, which will happen a lot, Death revives the player at the latest checkpoint. Even though checkpoints are well placed, the lack of a mapping system is one of the biggest flaws. Not a true Metroidvania as the player doesn’t get new abilities to gain access to new areas despite having RPG leveling, each portion of the game is segmented to help alleviate some of the pains and frustration of backtracking. But without a map or waypoint to guide the player, remembering where to go or what to do after continuing your progress a few days later is cumbersome. Also, enemies always revive upon reaching a checkpoint, never making traversal easy for the player.
Combat is always a struggle, just like Dark Souls. The most common of enemies is always enough to take you down so the player needs to play smart and strategic as opposed to button mash like any brawler. Knowing when to attack, block, kick to stagger shielded opponents, and rolling is key to success. The challenge comes from the stamina system. Everything other than basic movement will cause the auto-regenerating stamina meter to deplete. This means the player must rely mostly on hit-and-run tactics as there is never enough stamina for a combo attack. Just another reason why this game carries high difficulty.
Bosses are also challenging and will often cause multiple deaths. Besides leveling up to grow stronger by spending experience points, the player also has access to the feather system. Using a feather will restore a small amount of health but the player will lose one upon death. However, this feather can be recollected if the player retraces the original steps or can be bought from the shop screen. This feather system means death isn’t as punishing as in the Souls games and can even be cheesed a bit by re-purchasing lost feathers if the player doesn’t want to backtrack. Feathers are also necessary to fell bosses as they take many hits to defeat unless you have taken the time to become a master or speed runner.
There are some odd control choices that impede the overall fluidity of play control. Holding L1 to grab and climb a ladder is weird and pressing down to pick up items is a pain. To be clear, the player moves with the analog stick but the only way to pick up items is to tap down on the d-pad. This is especially painful during tricky boss fights, trying to pick up your lost feather so you have to let go of the controls to pick up an item. Hitting a button combination to perform the kick action is also unintuitive.
Everything about Death’s Gambit screams dark and dreary. Besides fighting demonic creatures in a dimly lit environment, everything is composed with grotesque presentation including Death himself. The oddest feature of the visual presentation is actually found with animation. Everything moves like a puppet so nothing ever feels exact. Simple things like running, swinging a sword, and even riding on your horse moves with bizarre character and even a slight delay.
Death’s Gambit requires mastery and patience at every turn. Even if you are the type of player that enjoys these overly difficult and unforgiving experiences, there are still many aspects that bog down the overall presentation like stiff controls and lacking map system. For each aspect to enjoy, there is one thing that goes wrong. Although it is respected, players should still stick with Castlevania if looking for a quality 2D fix.