EDIT: This was written prior to the extensive update that came out Sept 2021. I am informed that the update addressed a few of the things I complain about here- the review below remains unaltered.
I understand the “it’s like Dark Souls” comparisons are played out at this point, but if ever such a comparison was appropriate it’s now; having never played a Souls-like myself I can’t be certain but I’m led to believe Death’s Gambit is Dark Souls in all but name. Same brutally grim aesthetic, same brutally hopeless mood, same brutally vicious difficulty.
This is a game that’s so hard, the very first thing you do is die. Off screen! But Death is a wily one, and he offers a deal; do him a couple of favours, and you can wander the earth as a rockin’ cool zombie. All he needs is for us to kill a few immortal demi-gods. Seems fair!
Here’s the part of the review where I invite all of those people who like to yell at strangers on the internet that, ‘ackshually, Dark Souls isn’t hard at all, you just need to get good,’ to hit ctrl-W on their keyboards right now. It turns your comments into super-comments so people can’t delete them.
Alright, now that those people are out of here- this game is hard. Not even enjoyable hard. I love a challenge; I’m a die-hard fan of Touhou, Ikaruga is a huge part of my online identity, and I’ve completed Super Hexagon 100%. No, this is a different kind of hard; this is a game that is as anti-player as any I’ve seen outside of Kaizo Mario romhacks.
Basic mob enemies take a third of my healh away if I so much as catch an askance glare from one. Hidden spike traps take me down to a single hit remaining. There’s no I-frames and if you get caught in an attack that hits multiple times, it’s back to the last Death Statue you go, with an admonishment from the big guy himself.
The real problem for me is the Stamina gauge. Everything from jumping to swinging your weapon consumes stamina, and does so at an alarming rate. I guess being dead gives you stiff knees or something, because after only a few actions you’ll be left unable to do anything except waddle around ineffectually. As a result, boss fights become gruelling slogs with such precise management of resources as to be a total chore. In every other game on the planet, a perfectly-timed dodge-roll through an attack is rewarded with an opening to counter-attack- it’s one of the rules of the universe. But here, you barely have enough stamina to get one attack in if you still want to be able to dodge-roll back out- and not doing so is usually a game over. It’s oppressive, and levelling up barely mitigates the problem at all, with only one stat increasing Stamina and only by a meagre 2 points at a time (by comparison, a dodgeroll costs 25, and an attack costs 20. It’s absurd.)
Fin or Bin:
But!!! But. Look at it. The pixel art is spectacular, bringing to mind recent BBLC title Momodora. It’s grim, yes, but an awful amount of love has gone into this terrible world and it’s terrible inhabitants. And despite my misgivings, the game does control very well, with responsive attack combos and sprightly movement. Yes, it may desperately hate its players, but I’m not ready to give up quite yet. I might introduce it to my old friend Cheat Engine and see if we can’t curb its anti-social behaviour somewhat. If that doesn’t help, then I’ll probably be Finished with it quite early and with my tail between my legs. Gameplay stream here!