There are lots of reasons why you might want to play the Devil May Cry HD collection, but fun isn’t necessarily one of them. Oh sure, there’s lots of good gameplay wrapped up in a relatively nice package, but for me, good gameplay doesn’t always equal a good time. Actually, that’s not quite true. Good gameplay doesn’t always equal a good time when it’s mixed with pure, uncut 10-year-old Japanese videogame insanity - and the Devil May Cry HD collection contains so much of that kind of insanity that only the most diehard fans are going to truly enjoy it. The rest of us will ask ourselves, “What’s the big deal?” Alternately, we may just sit and shake our heads, and thank Sparda that it’s not 2001 and we’re not stuck playing the dinosaur that was the PS2.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down the story or the gameplay since the “people who have never played a Devil May Cry game before” segment of the population is probably going to account for a minority of Devil May Cry HD collection players. Oh sure, there may be the odd Bayonetta fan in there who is interested in playing her direct ancestor, but it’s more likely that those people will pick up the current-gen Devil May Cry 4 or simply wait for the gritty reboot of the first one. So since the odds are most of you out there reading this review are fans of the series, I’m not going to tell you a bunch of stuff you already know.
However, as it is technically “new” based on the fact that it has received an HD upgrade, there is one thing you might not already know, or at least expect based on the “HD” in the title: the Devil May Cry HD collection looks like ass. Sorry, but that’s the long and short of it. There may be an HD coat of paint on it, but new paint can’t disguise the fact that technically, it might as well be from the Stone Age. Nothing could disguise such a mess of jagged polygons, blurry and/or compressed cutscenes, and ragged animations. It also sounds like ass. The soundtrack and effects gave me the impression that they were coming from the bottom of a tin can at the bottom of an abandoned missile silo in the basement of an alien museum. The title screen alone has the most abrasive and obnoxious music I’ve ever heard. It’s “complemented” by painfully generic heavy metal music that accompanies most of the games’ fights and cut scenes. I know that this stuff was present in the original games and it’s not called the Devil May Cry HD (with remastered music so your ears don’t bleed) collection, so I’m already violating my stated intent of “not telling you anything you don’t already know” but I just can’t let such abominations go unmentioned or unpunished. I was gaming in 2001, and I don’t ever remember being so abused by a game’s soundtrack before. Going to bed each night knowing that one of the first sounds I was going to experience the next morning would be that high-pitched harpsichord-filtered-through-an-industrial-accident bong-bong that plays during to title screen was far more depressing than any prospect of next-day gaming should ever be.
Of course, if all we cared about in 2001 was what games looked like and how they sounded, well, none of us would be gamers today. It was all about the gameplay back then because it had to be - the tech wasn’t quite ready to really impress anyone in any other way yet. In that regard, you have no worries. The gameplay, consisting of swordplay, shooting, acrobatics, Dante’s devil trigger, the occasional puzzle, and the introduction of styles in the third game (along with its special edition content) are all there, and all remain as tight as they should be. The first game, especially, was a blast to play and really took me back to those days when every enemy encounter became an exercise in health-bar management, and every boss a whole level unto itself. Of course, the original DMC is also the ugliest and the worst-sounding by far, but you won’t notice because you’ll be too busy learning the best strategy to take out even the most basic enemy.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the other two. I know that Devil May Cry 3 was supposed to be a return to the greatness of the first game, but not for me. Devil May Cry 3’s error is one of the most tragic a game can make - poorly balanced difficulty. I guess since the second game was too easy (and it is too easy), they thought the third had to make up for it by being too hard. I played all three of them on normal, mainly because, I never noticed whether or not I could change the difficulty before the game started - and I wasn’t about to start over. What I got, instead of each game getting progressively harder to account for my increasing skill, was the reverse goldilocks treatment - the first was one was just right. Now obviously everyone is different, with different tastes in difficulty, but even so, three games whose difficulties vary so wildly from game to game indicates a failure somewhere in the development process. The difficulty issues with the last two games are especially tragic because the gameplay is so strong. Of course that criticism applies to the original games and has nothing to do with the HD collection aside from the fact that it still exists and must be dealt with should you choose to play it.
At this point, those of you out there who are fans of the series and have played and loved the three games included in this HD collection can probably stop reading right now and skip to the end because there’s just not a lot left to say. It’s the same three games you remember plus an alleged coat of HD paint. If you liked it then, and you’re not turned off by the less technically impressive games of yesteryear, then you’ll love the Devil May Cry HD collection. If nostalgia means nothing to you and you think of last-gen games in terms of land lines and those drink-coasters you used to listen to music on, and then play it at your own risk.
The rest of this review is for everyone else. It’s for the Bayonetta fans and those that weren’t aware of the series before DMC 4. You may want to give the Devil May Cry HD collection a pass. While the first game is a lot of fun, it’s also a lot of work, and that work never really goes away in the other two games.
The number one thing a DMC novice needs to understand is that every single enemy you encounter can kill you. Every. Single. One. If you’re used to breezing through a tutorial level then destroying waves of low level enemies while you hone your technique in preparation for boss battles, you are going to be in for a shock. It’s entirely possible to find yourself hung up on the very first group of enemies you have to fight simply because they can do so much damage so fast, and they’ll lull you into a false sense of security first by shuffling around and not attacking aggressively. Get too close for too long, however, and you’ll find ¾ of your health gone with precious little you can do about it. It will take some adjustment. It’s about learning attack patterns rather than the application of overwhelming force. It doesn’t really help either, that these games came out before the days of interactive tutorials. In their original form, these games had instruction manuals that you read while you were on the toilet. The Devil May Cry HD collection offers no such luxury. There is no instruction manual (because they’re no longer a thing), and there is no interactive tutorial. When you purchase a move (via the red orbs you collect off dead enemies) the game tells you how to perform it, and if you forget you have to go back and re-read it.
It’s vitally important that you learn these moves because they’re essential to Dante’s survival. It’s not because they kill the most enemies the fastest, either; it’s because as you chain together more advanced attacks and combos, your style meter goes up from D to S and the higher it goes, the more red orbs you get and the better chance you will have of receiving a green orb that refills your health. You can purchase green orbs (actually the ones you buy are called vital stars) as well, but be warned: in the second and third game, every vital star you purchase increases its price. The same goes for every other power up, as well. Even in the first game, it’s true for most of them, just not vital stars and a few select others. Because of this expense, you might find the notion of grinding a welcome one, and the game is accepting of such a strategy. You see, whenever you save your game, all you save is what is in your inventory at the time. This means you can save and reload your way to any red orb count you want. DMC 2 and 3, also offer the opportunity to play levels whose sole purpose is to farm orbs. They’re optional, however, and I didn’t play either one, so you’ll just have to discover them on your own.
Powerups aren’t you only battle aid, either. Dante is half demon and, as such, can enter “devil trigger” state where he morphs into his netherworld form and gains a substantial increase to attack power along with access to a different set of moves. Your devil trigger gauge can be refilled via orbs and stylish combat, so if you play your cards right it will always be full when you need it the most.
You also collect an assortment of melee weapons (mainly swords) and guns in your travels. Melee and ranged attacks are mapped to specific face buttons so mixing them up is easy - and necessary. Mixing them together, by, for example, knocking an enemy airborne with Dante’s sword and then air-juggling it with Dante’s signature pistols, Ebony and Ivory, is essential to maximizing your style score.
Along with a robust arsenal of moves and weapons to keep you interested, there’s also, ostensibly, a story to keep you interested, but it probably won’t. It’s some nonsense about Dante, his brother, and their father, the demon Sparda who used his powers to separate the human world from the demon world forever. It’s nothing special. The writing and voice acting are barely average and even the cutscenes themselves are mostly dull until the third game. Early on in DMC 3, however, there’s a truly laugh inducing worthy cutscene involving demons and a slice of pizza that is almost too silly to be believed. For me, that was the high point of the DMC story presented across the three games. Fans might tell you how cool Dante is, but honestly, I never really saw it. He’s not particularly funny or suave and his one-liners are less Han Solo than bad 80’s sitcom.
Ultimately, what you have with the Devil May Cry HD collection are games that will mean two different things to two different groups of people. To one group the Devil May Cry HD collection will be a warm piece of nostalgia pie toped with a heaping helping of back-in-the-day-flavored ice cream. To the other group it will be a curious piece of gaming history that is remarkable only in how it influenced games that came after it. For one of those groups, it will likely be a must-buy no matter what the reviews say. To the other, it is an experience that’s rewarding at first but slowly diminishes to the point that you begin to wonder why you ever liked it to start with.