Title: Death’s Gambit
Available on: Windows PC, PlayStation 4
Developer: White Rabbit
Publisher: Adult Swim
Genre: 2D Action Platforming Game
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Official Site: http://www.deathsgambit.com/
Release Date: June 25th, 2019
When Death’s Gambit originally released on Steam last year, it flew completely under my radar. So, when my editor offered the chance to review it for the PlayStation 4, I had no idea what it was. A quick Google search told me it was a 2D platforming take on the Dark Souls formula. Cool. Taking mechanics from the Souls games and adapting them into other genres has worked well in other titles. So I was officially interested. Was Death’s Gambit worth my time? Let’s break it down and find out.
The first thing that caught my attention was the art style. It has a look that almost feels like something from the 32-bit console era. It would be at home alongside games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Valkyrie Profile. Although, it might just be the gothic ascetic of some of the stages in Death’s Gambit that evoked this feeling for me. Either way, I am a huge fan of what they have done here. From the main characters to the NPCs and enemies, everything looks fantastic. The stages themselves are full of life, with lots of background animations and varied environments. All with a consistently high level of quality.
The sound design is another highlight. Your actions throughout Death’s Gambit are accompanied by very satisfying sound effects. You running, jumping, dodging, and attacking feel like they have weight to them. This is very much in part due to the sounds that are tied to them. In addition, the soundtrack is fantastic. Often times somber and isolating, with the right amount of intensity during boss encounters. I’d be happy to listen to these tracks outside of the game. Which I feel should speak to their quality.
Of course, the look and feel of a game are important. But, if a video game doesn’t play well then they don’t mean much. So what did I think about Death’s Gambit in this regard? Well, the game opens in a very Dark Souls kind of way. Your character, Sorun, has recently died. But due to some shenanigans involving a contract with Death, he is resurrected as an immortal. You get to customize him in a way by choosing a class and one starting item. Again, very much like a Souls game. The classes are varied, from a Soldier, Wizard, or Noble, to my personal favorite, the scythe-wielding Death’s Acolyte. Each class has a different starting weapon and a unique ability. But any character can use any weapon. So that part is less restrictive.
As you kill enemies, you gather items called Shards. These are a type of currency that you can spend at shops for gear and items, or at trainers to learn new abilities or increase your stats. If this sounds to you just like gathering souls in a Dark Souls-style game then you aren’t wrong. The big difference here is that when you die, you don’t drop these Shards. Instead, you drop your feathers. Which are an item that you get early in the game that serves as your primary way of healing in between save points. You only start with three of these, and every time you die you drop one where you fell. So it can be a huge impact on you until you are able to retrieve them.
This system is a lot more forgiving than what you might find in the games that inspired Death’s Gambit. Although that’s not to say this game is easy. It can be quite hard at times. Especially during any one of its many boss fights. I easily died hundreds of times during my playthrough. Some of these deaths were rewarded with flashbacks that expand on the game’s story. That was an interesting and welcome mechanic. One that I would love to see similar games adopt in the future.
As far as the story itself. Well, it’s nothing to write home about. At times it feels disjointed or shallow. But I think it was good enough and had a decent conclusion. It could have been stronger and I could have been given more reason to care about the various NPCs. After my time with Death’s Gambit, I can honestly say I don’t remember the names of the majority of its characters. This is kind of sad as they do have really interesting character designs and the voice acting is quite competent.
Death’s Gambit has tight controls and a solid control scheme. Although it did take me a little bit to get used to using the various abilities and items in combat while trying to avoid getting hit. I also never mastered the game’s parry or dodge mechanics. Though I am positive that is probably more on me than any fault of the game.
Verdict: Death’s Gambit is an interesting and enjoyable take on the Dark Souls formula. It has a great look, feel, sound, satisfying gameplay, and great controls. A disjointed story and lack of character development keep the narrative from being anything special. Overall, I would more than recommend Death’s Gambit to any fan of RPGs, 2D platformers, or Dark Souls-style games.
- Great art style
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Fun and interesting gameplay
- Strange and disconnected storytelling
- Lack of character development for the NPCs.