STAFF REVIEW of Damsel (Xbox One)

Saturday, August 24, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

Damsel Box art While I don’t normally gravitate to challenging 2D platformers, Damsel piqued my interest with its colorful comic book inspired visuals and frantic paced gameplay. Be prepared to dash, shoot, hack, disarm, rescue and kill thousands of vampires throughout your adventure. In the beginning I was quite enjoying my time with Damsel, trying to simply survive and progress, but about half way through, repetitiveness reared its ugly head.

The campaign is broken into three main chapters, each of which are made up of 25 bite sized levels. As you complete a mission, the next is available to challenge yourself, meaning you need to beat them progressively in order to continue on and unlock new missions and chapters. For the narrative, it’s presented in an actual comic book form, which is why the accompanying visuals tend to match and work so well.

You play as Damsel, a secret agent which is the only one that can stand up against the evil forces of the Red Mist, an organization comprised of vampires, set out to take over the world. She has a team that helps her along the way, narratively anyways, as she uncovers Red Mist’s secrets. Between levels you’ll get to watch a few panels of comic book styled storyboard, progressing the story as you go. Does that story relate to your current objectives? Not usually, but at least there’s a decent amount of narrative within.

Damsel has lightning quick reflexes with her dash ability, has killer melee abilities if close range to a vampire, all topped off with a powerful shotgun that can blast any enemy in your way. Your goal is to cause distress, and Damsel has the abilities to do so, it’s only a matter if you can keep up as well. Each mission is bite sized, lasting anywhere from 10 seconds to 2 or 3 minutes, depending on your skill and practice.

Not only will you have to deal with dozens of vampires, but also traps, bombs, lasers and more. Levels are meticulously designed to be played out in a certain way, if you’re trying to aim for a highscore or speedrun that is. If you’re aiming to work on your score or time, you’ll need to play many times to experiment and see what works best to maximize your efficiency.

Each mission has a specific objective, ranging from defeating all the vampires, hacking computer terminals, disarming bombs, saving hostages or destroying coffins. You need to do so quickly though if you want a high score or a good time and grade. There are other traps and different types of vampires will challenge you in unique ways. You can’t simply spam your shots, as you’ll lose the mission if you accidentally kill a hostage, something you’ll do countless times by accident, prompting a restart.

While there is an easier Chillout Mode, where you don’t need to worry about dying and can simply enjoy it for fun, Damsel is crafted around speedruns and leaderboards. While you have a main objective, there are also skulls strewn about the levels, strategically placed, allowing you to amass much higher points. If you're a true glutton for punishment, the most extreme difficulty forces you to keep your skull combo constantly going if you want to progress.

You’re going to have to utilize all of your skills and abilities if you want any chance at succeeding, from your double jumps, dashes, melee, wall jumps and precision aiming. Most of your kills will come from your shotgun blasts, as you can aim in the main vertical and horizontal axis, yet no diagonal. Each vampire will have its health above its head, displayed as a number of hearts. A shotgun blast or melee will do one heart worth of damage, so sometimes you’ll need to figure out how many shots you’ll want to purposely shoot, as one extra might kill the hostage they are guarding, again, causing a restart.

While there are a handful of enemies you’ll encounter, I was hoping that the second and third chapters would add something new, either from enemy variety or bosses... something. Sadly, what you experience in the first dozen or so levels will be what you do for the remaining as well. While no new mechanics or enemies are introduced, the difficulty does spike quite sharply about halfway through by various means. When you get close to a bomb for example, you’ll need to perform a quick QTE to disarm it, but if an enemy shoots you, you get knocked back and have to restart the process. Given that there’s a short timer, you’ll die many times from these explosions due to a random enemy projectile or getting too close to start the timer when you didn't mean to.

This is where repetition and practice comes into play, as levels are designed in a specific way, so it’s only a matter of memorization of enemy placement and pathways if you want to be successful. That being said, because each mission is short in nature, Damsel definitely contains that “one more try” urge, as I would constantly get frustrated from having to restart numerous times, usually due to accidentally killing a hostage, but yet went back for another several tries. The small levels also means you can quickly jump on and play for a few minutes if you don’t have a lot of time to sink in at once.

For those that are a glutton for punishment, or really want to challenge themselves, there’s also an Arcade Mode. Here is where you’ll be tasked with trying to complete the campaign mode, but are only given a set amount of lives per stage. While there’s nothing new added here except difficulty, this is where the best of the best will climb the leaderboards for bragging rights.

Visually, Damsel is beautiful with its colorful and lighthearted comic book style. While the comic book narrative between missions is welcomed, animations of all of your moves is fluid, and stylish to boot. As for the audio, the soundtrack is decent and never really grated on me, even when retrying a level more than a dozen times. The only glaring miss is that the comic book panels aren’t narrated, which would have added some depth to the boring characters, though maybe they purposely wanted to keep the silent comic book aesthetic.

Damsel is absolutely designed for those that either speedrun or want to climb global leaderboards for bragging rights. For the more casual, it might be a little much with its challenging and frantic gameplay, though that’s where the easier difficultly option comes into play. In short bursts, Damsel can be a lot of fun, but play too much in one session and you might start to feel frustrated with the need for perfection and repetitiveness.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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