The news that Ninja Theory was handling the development of DMC: Devil May Cry was met with fan responses ranging from consternation to outrage. Hideki Kamiya’s finger-twisting series defined the modern Japanese action game, even if Bayonetta did steal its crown. The idea that a British studio can maintain, let alone better, its quality has been called into question, especially by those who claim Ninja Theory’s games prize presentation over combo-juggling substance.
So it’s a relief to find the DMC DNA intact. Anti-hero Dante may have a fresher, more scowling face than in his previous outings, but he is all weighty maturity in the hands. In part, this is thanks to the way you can switch light, medium and heavy attacks on the fly, and link them together into protracted chains. Squeeze one trigger and Dante slips into angelic mode, with lightning-quick attacks and juggles that send his occult prey high into the air. The other trigger makes Dante’s attacks demonic, with heaving overhead smashes and pounds, while tapping attack buttons with neither trigger pressed results in blows that fall somewhere in between. Switching between these attacks is graceful and straightforward, and combined with an ‘angel pull’ move that sends out an elastic arm to haul Dante close to his foes (above or below him, too), the sense of flow is mesmerising.
More controversial is a new combo ranking system that no longer instantly starts to fall when you stop attacking, but instead only ends when an enemy slips an attack in. This means it’s no longer essential to use Dante’s pistols to link melee moves together, but it does make it clearer exactly how scoring in the game works, so beginners can fully understand when and why their combos are dropped. Add to this the way in which Ninja Theory ramps up the intensity of the music with each rank, and a sense of excitement and drama accompanies battle success.
Cutscenes are directed with flair and, crucially, humour. One particular section sees Dante dress himself for a battle while flying in slow motion through his trailer, and uses a selection of floating objects to cover his modesty. It’s still unclear how likeable Dante will be in this story, or where his character arc will take him, but the scenes we’ve seen have a light-hearted, jovial side that prevents them from slipping into gruff-voiced cliché.
As with previous games in the series, some environments are locked off for battle sequences, pouring in ghoulish combo fodder that must be juggled and defeated before the area unlocks for exploration and progress. These sections see Dante leaping into focused glides between surfaces, hoisting himself onto blue glowing platforms, and pulling red platforms out of the stonework to create pathways. As with Bayonetta, there are sections that make platformer-specific demands of you, one especially memorable sequence tasking you with leaping from fragment to fragment of a marble floor as a cathedral disintegrates around you. Missing a jump and falling into oblivion results in a rapid restart, slightly spoiling the cinematic flow, but the spectacle when all goes according to plan is undeniable.
We’d advise cautious optimism, then, for a series that has been uneven since its creator left Capcom. Ninja Theory appears to have brought technical class and a focused artistic direction to a world that has often lacked coherence and consistency. But the question about whether it upholds its mechanical sophistication in the long term remains.