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Game Review

by Dave Riley,

Devil May Cry: HD Collection

Playstation 3, Xbox 360

Devil May Cry: HD Collection
Spanning the first three games in the series, the Devil May Cry HD Collection follows half-demon Dante through a variety of high action missions. Under the auspices of the Devil May Cry detective agency, Dante exterminates evil worldwide with a bevy of dangerous weapons and otherworldly powers and looks good doing it.

Despite the thrill of seeing an old favorite made available on current-gen consoles, quick and dirty HD ports often feel like shallow cash grabs. The Devil May Cry HD Collection, whose sole upgrades are slightly smoother graphics and a widescreen aspect ratio, is not exempt from this air of crass exploitation, but the cultural value of the games in question goes a great way towards justifying their release.

The original Devil May Cry has been frequently emulated, but never really surpassed. It's great and it knows it, brashly claiming to have established its own genre (Stylish Action): one focused on sadistic difficulty curves and controller-gripping button combinations instead of button mashing endless hordes of identical enemies. Its protagonist, Dante, is a white-haired, trenchcoated, smarmy jackass who (mostly) manages to be more endearing than annoying, and whose off-kilter quips ("Flock off, feather face!") provide a certain degree of levity that lightens the absurdly heavy gothic setting.

Dante's personality - that he had one at all - was a refreshing change from the standard action game protagonists of the time, who mostly fit into the categories of "mute," "stoic," or "eccentric (i.e.: crappily voice acted)." They also, almost exclusively, controlled like tanks and could only throw out a single combo string of two or three attacks. Their opponents were faceless grunts who could only hope to overwhelm with sheer numbers and whose only concession towards difficulty was an occasional oversized health bar.

By comparison Dante was agile, deadly, and exciting. He could turn on a dime, he could send an enemy flying with a sword swing, then keep them suspended mid-air with dual pistols or slam them down with an overhead slice. Even his most powerful attacks had very little windup and very little recoil, always leaving room for players to skirt enemies on a razor's edge and immediately retaliate. In addition to his standard attacks, including grenade launchers and flaming gauntlets, Dante could hurl meteors, explode in a circle of fiery destruction, or sprout wings and shoot lightning from his hands. These were not overpowered endgame abilities, they were his standard toolset. Some of them are available as early as level two.

With that soaring level of freeform ability, the industry standard horde of Dynasty Warriors-style brainless enemies wouldn't suffice. Devil May Cry's bad guys -- amorphous shadow panthers, enormous scorpions made of rock and lava, and crystalline kung-fu lizards -- all possess a repertoire of at least a half-dozen attacks and are capable not only of dealing damage, but also harassing the player with crowd control and grab moves, and generally act more like a fighting game opponent than an action game mook.

In 2001, Devil May Cry was about the best game action anyone had ever played. We had, pretty much literally, never seen anything like it.

Then its sequel came along and ruined everything.

Franky, the less said about Devil May Cry 2 the better, but for completion's sake: they stripped out everything good and replaced it with a load of filler garbage. Gone are the carefully sculpted backgrounds of the gothic castle, replaced by nondescript city streets and ho-hum office buildings. Gone are the dangerous enemies, replaced by lumbering zombies who are so slow and so stupid that they clock in, on average, a single attack before dying en masse. Gone are the enticing spread of weapons and abilities, replaced by a couple of swords that are just carbon copies of each other, one slightly faster, one slightly stronger, but essentially the same.

Instead of anything we loved from the first game we got a second playable character, Lucia, who plays like a palette swap of Dante, only she has throwing knives instead of pistols and she can turn into a bird. Dante suffers in her presence: he has lost his charismatic edge, possibly to keep his personality in line with Lucia, who never had one to begin with.

At the end of most levels the player is rewarded with a grinding slog against a boss with an astronomically large health bar, but little in the way of dangerous attacks. Where Devil May Cry 1 bosses required Dante to take to the sky or invade other dimensions, Devil May Cry 2 boss battles, up to and including the final encounter, are almost all winnable with a single tactic: jump up and down in a corner and throw projectiles until the bad guy keels over. You can evade once or twice, but only if you feel like it.

Devil May Cry 2 commits the cardinal sin of entertainment: it's worse than bad, it's boring. It's better just to rationalize the whole game away as an elaborate ploy to lower expectations so Devil May Cry 3, whose development team contained a substantial number of the second game's creative staff, could well and truly shatter them.

With the third game, Dante's personality was less retooled than emphasized. This Dante, the teenage, prequel version, is even more of a boorish ass, one who eats pizza while fighting grim reapers, who does a Bruce Lee nose-wipe before squaring off against the frost-breathing Cerberus, who uses a both motorcycle (in a cutscene) and a shotgun (during gameplay) as nunchucks. He was engineered to be a precocious jerk of a protagonist.

And it absolutely works.

When he bangs on a jukebox to get a song going before his first battle, it reinforces everything the first game left unsaid: Dante is sort of an inept clown, a pugnacious loser who quips lame one-liners and coasts by on the fact that his half-demon lineage makes him basically immortal. The absolute refusal to take things seriously (even as the world is about to explode Dante is still using fallen enemies like skateboards) is Devil May Cry's bread and butter. The game also features a female lead, Lady, whose chunky haircut, ruddy pug-nose, and bladed rocket launcher defy the ultra-traditional standard of female beauty we expect from video games and who, despite her schoolgirl skirt and bog-standard cleavage, ends up being kind of cool.

Everything missing from Devil May Cry 2 has come back in bulk. Enemies are many, varied, and aggressive to the last. Their individual abilities aren't as exciting (the lowest-ranked foot soldiers can't hold a candle to, say, the first game's possessed marionettes), but they make up for it in aggregate: with two or three types of enemies attacking at once, all throwing out split-second charge moves, teleports, and projectiles, the battles handily revive the first game's style of frantic dodge-and-retaliation.

The kitchen sink approach also applies to Dante's arsenal. The original game's weapons did not lack for features, but melee attacks were limited to either swords or gauntlets. Here, Dante receives a set of tri-sectioned ice nunchucks at the end of level three. These end up being one of his more mundane weapons. By the end of the game he is wailing on an electric guitar to shock nearby enemies with bolts of purple lightning.

It's cheesy, but its total earnestness is what makes it fun. These games are silly and charming and never take themselves seriously; except when it comes to the fighting, whose laser-focus precision shows why, in the face of God of War and other imitators, Devil May Cry is still at the top of the heap.

The ports themselves are pretty unexciting: graphical spit-polishes without much in the way of extras or special features, but otherwise these are the games as they were, playing perfectly without any hint of input lag or shoddy craftsmanship. There is, as there always is with HD remakes, some concern about companies selling our nostalgia back to us instead of making new games. Those kind of niggling worries are hard to dismiss, but, qualms about "corporate greed" aside, this collection serves an admirable archival purpose of making two excellent titles available without the need to keep a PS2 on hand, not only at the same time but on a single disc. For games of this quality, that alone is worth the price.

Overall : A
Graphics : B-
Sound/Music : B-
Gameplay : A+
Presentation : C+

+ Some of the best action games ever made, in-depth combo systems lend weight to even the most trivial enemy encounters
Graphical upgrades make some visual shortcuts obvious, Devil May Cry 2 is an awful game and better avoided.

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