As tempting as it is to run ‘n’ gun in Damsel, sending vampires back to their graves while dashing through the stages in leaderboard breaking time, doing so often ends in instant failure.
You see, the small multi-floored levels are littered with hostages that can be accidentally killed by stray bullets. A single wayward shot is all it takes to fail a mission. As such, you’ll soon learn to fire just enough rounds to kill the enemies wandering the path ahead while leaving hostages unharmed. Make every shot count. Or rather, count every shot.
This makes Damsel a touch more deliberate than its peers, forcing you to think before firing. Not only this, but it’s crucial to look before leaping too – things can get quite messy after landing on a platform with a handful of vampires, an explosive barrel or two, and a ticking timebomb. Messy sudden deaths brought on by leaping headfirst into situations encourage you to deal with enemies from afar while making use of any explosive barrels nearby.
Damsel, then, is neither a run ‘n’ gunner nor a retro throwback platformer. It’s a more modern-day endeavour, with each bite-sized stage featuring not one but two online leaderboards – one for fastest times, and another for highest scores. Each stage has a main objective too, ranging from killing all vampires to finding and cracking safes. Those pesky hostages – freed via a timing-based mini-game – are always present, but unless an objective demands it, they can be left behind.
The campaign features 75 stages spread across three chapters, and as early on as midway through the first chapter, the difficulty level starts to rise. Due to the variety of mission objectives, the game’s difficulty never particularly consistent though. Missions to kill all vampires are generally straightforward and open, while other stages usher Damsel in a single direction by using electric barriers and laser grids.
Some even have a slight trial and error feel to them, forcing you to disarm timebombs before dealing with other matters. To put this into perspective, we beat some stages after just a few tries while others were approaching 20-30 attempts.
Despite Damsel being able to take a few hits, instant failure always looms, and this is something the developers have been keen to exploit. While you may curse after accidentally killing a hostage for the umpteenth time, it isn’t enough to stop you from dusting off and trying again – each death feels fair and just, instantly spawning enemies aside.
Damsel herself is both agile and nimble, able to cling onto ledges, double jump, and dash through the air. Her shotgun is pleasingly punchy, and enemies burn and combust satisfyingly when struck. Adding to this, it’s also possible to ‘pogo shoot’ enemies by aiming downwards while jumping – a useful manoeuvre for getting around a tad quicker, adding height to each jump. It is odd, however, that the vampire vanquishing star gains no additional skills or different weapons.
Indeed, it’s fair to say developers Screwtape Studios didn’t have the biggest of budgets to work as there’s a lot of asset recycling. In their defence, they have done their best to disguise this. For instance, many stages re-use the same layouts, but it took us a little while to realise as the starting points, objectives, and hazards all vary. More obvious is the fact that the comic-book style cut-scenes recycle panels. The artwork is, at least, generally well-drawn.
The same can’t be said for the in-game visuals, which have that cheap Flash-animation look. The music is something of an acquired taste, likewise, playing on short loops and becoming abrasive on the ears over time.
Despite being a well-intended attempt at putting a few twists on the platforming formula, Damsel doesn’t come together as a whole. It feels like a core component is missing, which in turn gives is a forgettable, slightly throwaway, feel. More damaging is the fact that as time goes on reasons to carry on slogging through the campaign become fewer. An unlock or an XP system would have made a big difference. Simply put, Damsel doesn’t have enough bite.