I was supposed to do this review a month ago, but then I arrived in L.A. only to find out I wasn’t sharing a house with four people, I was sharing an apartment with twelve, a situation I’m still trying to get out of. This has left me with very little time for games, but I have managed to get a few hours in here and there. While I still haven’t beaten Death’s Gambit, I’ve played enough that I think I can give proper thoughts on it, which means I’ll be revising some opinions when I gave my brief rundown several weeks ago.
Death’s Gambit is a 2D Soulsborne/Metroidvania hybrid that evokes the games of yore, pixelated graphics and all. I’d originally said it was 16-bit, and I honestly thought it was, but that was a mistake. It turns out the game is actually 32-bit, roughly on par with the original PlayStation graphics; my bad. The artwork itself is gorgeous, and while it's very clearly evoking Dark Souls and Castlevania, there’s still a rich detail that you can’t help but appreciate every time you see it.
Class wise I’m still playing the Wizard, but I have a sword now. Like Dark Souls, weapons and abilities are not class restricted, but you need to have the right stats to use an item; for example, my Intelligence is 33, letting my magic attacks do 150% damage. However, my strength is 10, which means I can’t use the shield that one of the bosses dropped since it requires a Strength of 18. Anyone who’s played Dark Souls should recognize this mechanic.
What I said in my original overview is still true, the layout of interconnected sections evokes Metroidvania games, and you can unlock new abilities that make the game less punishing. However, having gotten through roughly ⅔ of the game, there’s a few things I need to add. When I started playing Death’s Gambit, I hadn’t fully grasped how frustrating it could be at times. Now I realize any Soulsborne game gets frustrating, that’s part of the appeal after all, but Death’s Gambit is different. In Soulsborne games, the stamina bar is a critical part of gameplay, and learning how to manage it is critical in your success. However, there is a big difference between having a stamina bar in a 3D game where you can dodge in any direction, and a 2D game where you can only dodge in two directions, and it hurts the gameplay. Everything is tied to the stamina bar, not just your base attacks, but your special abilities, which are absolutely critical to taking down bosses as your regular attacks simply won’t do enough damage. This means you often run out of stamina at critical moments and means boss fights can take much longer than they should. You often have to choose between attacking or dodging, and in a game like this, it’s an obvious detriment to the gameplay. You’re also going to have to do a lot of grinding to take down certain bosses. While Dark Souls always feels like a logical incline in terms of difficulty, Death’s Gambit has difficulty spikes that almost feel random.
The level design can be frustrating at times, because it’s often confusing. A big interlocking world is par for the course with Metroidvania style games, but in Metroid, and even newer titles like Guacamelee, I never felt lost. Death’s Gambit however can often feel like a maze, and it’s easy to forget where you are or how you got there. The game isn’t very good at guiding you where to go next, and since it has no map it can get really frustrating at times.
Lastly, the controls just aren’t as tight as they should be. It’s hard for me to put my finger on what the issue really is, but attacks sometimes don’t feel like they land on time, and in this type of game, timing is everything.
I still like this game, I like it a lot. I absolutely love the art-style, and I’ve had a lot of fun playing it, but it definitely has more negatives than I’d originally thought in my first “review.” It’s a shame, because this game has so much potential. Metroidvania and Soulsborne games are two of my favorite things, and I still love the idea of melding the two. I still believe Death’s Gambit is a game worth playing, and if you like Soulsborne games, then you’ll probably enjoy it. But be prepared for frustrating moments that really shouldn’t be there. We’re in something of a Metroidvania renaissance right now, with plenty of indie titles taking over from where the bigger companies left off. At a time when you have something like Guacamelee, or Dead Cells (which I haven’t played yet but is getting phenomenal reviews), an indie developer can’t afford to half-ass it.
I hate saying that because playing this game, it’s clear that it was a work of passion for the Devs; you can feel their love for it in every pixel. I wanted to love this game, I really did. As it is, I feel it’s a good game that could easily have been great, and that’s the most frustrating thing, the potential is so obvious. Score wise, I’d have to give this a 7/10, but it should have been an 8 or a 9.
Despite the missteps, Death’s Gambit is still a game that is worth playing, and I honestly hope it gets a sequel. If it does, I’ve got four main suggestions for the Devs to help the game live up to what it could be.
1. Lose the stamina bar. This is probably the most frustrating feature in the game, and a 2D game really doesn’t need one.
2. Tighten up the controls. Too many times I missed an enemy I should have hit or couldn’t dodge in time. Fix this.