Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC, Apple Mac and Linux
Developed by Australia-based Screwtape Studios, Damsel is an action platformer in which the lead character, Damsel herself, goes about trying to help eliminate a nasty vampiric threat. Choosing not to conform to the traditional damsel-in-distress trope, the main character is instead charged with being what is essentially a secret operative in order to infiltrate various vampire dens and clean up shop. Once done, rinse, repeat, and basically do the same thing time and time again.
This isn't to say that Damsel does not feature a story per se, more that the story seems superfluous and an after thought. The story line progresses through the use of clever comic book-styled cut scenes between missions, which effortlessly compliment the general cartoon/super hero aesthetic of the game as a whole. Presentation aside, though, the shallow nature of the story is a bit off putting at times. Most cut scenes involve remote communication between Damsel and her fellow anti-vamp colleagues in which all parties exchange the information acquired in the previous mission. Damsel becomes John McClane-esque gung-ho about taking the vampires down, and more vampire destruction ensues. Some story discoveries were a bit fun and clever, particularly the Red Mist homage to Soylent Green. Ultimately though, any push to continue playing the game was certainly fuelled by the missions and trying to improve scores rather than a gripping story line.
Playing through Damsel provided me with a conflicting, love-hate relationship with the game-play itself. Standard platforming fare, such as dashing, double (and triple) jumping, baddies, and collectibles abound, which is to be expected. I enjoyed the process of zipping through levels trying to complete the objectives as fast as possible without becoming vampire fodder in the process. Damsel is a game which lends itself nicely to the speedrunning crowd as after each level you are presented with both time and score-based leaderboards to show you just how slow and terrible you really are (that was usually my experience at least).
Sadly, the hate part of that love-hate relationship I referenced is much the same as the love bit. Frantic does not even begin to describe some of these missions. While this is not a problem by itself, given many current games lean towards twitch movements and skills for survival, where the gameplay breaks down is the level design itself. The backgrounds of most missions are overly-wrought with detail, which would be lovely to look at if it were not for the fact that it is so terribly distracting when trying to survive and shoot a bunch of vampires. It becomes so cluttered with projectiles, background noise, and even random score numbers floating around that it is easy to lose what is going on and accidentally fail the mission. This is particularly frustrating when you fail and do not even know why.