Title: Devil’s Dare
Platform: Steam, Windows, Mac, Linux

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Beat em’ up
Players: Single player, Local 1-4 Co Op

Written by Whistler 20th October 2014

Every now and then I’d shed a small tear of nostalgic joy for the side scrolling brawlers of days gone past, sadly the genre’s never really made a comeback nor kept up with other’s that evolved with newer technology; luckily the occasional developer will remind us that the genre has not been forgotten.

Indie studio Secret Base, known for Tobe's Vertical Adventure and Bitejacker, decided to write a love letter to me (or people with similar tastes to me, pfft) by bringing together famous horror and video game culture in the form of Devil’s Dare.

Devil’s Dare sees you and your friend’s, assuming you manage to convince them to sit in the same room for any length of time without looking at their phones, taking the role of four seemingly average characters who are given the power to fight back (by a red fairy, yeah don’t ask) against a seemingly infinite horde of zombies and horrors in a four player chaotic rampage of button mashing goodness.

Players can choose to do some zombie hunting with the golden axe wielding (wink wink) powerhouse Kingston who can dish out large amounts of damage and call upon lightning to decimate foes, Queenie, the chic with a magical armoured walker capable of using spells like drain and ice breaker, the all-rounder Axel with his Master’s Sword and Jackson, the agile ninja child prodigy with signature sai’s and ninja techniques allowing him to deal plenty of damage while staying quick on his feet.

Right from the second you load the game you will feel the love for some video game nostalgia, everything is displayed in a 16bit style and even the main menu bears a striking resemblance to one particular zombie themed SNES game. One thing to note is that DD is displayed in a sepia tone resembling some proper old school drive through movies but I did feel this was slightly off putting as a lot of the detailed backdrops and the creative sprites kind of blend in together; this did also make Co Op a little to chaotic with my friends and myself getting lost trying to find our characters especially due to the size of the sprites.

Don’t let this put you off though, while lacking in colour, the amount of detail painted into each scene is filled to the brim from (not so) subtle signs, recognizable characters and some great pixel art.

Level design is fairly simple and each backdrop is easily recognizable but the game does not rely purely on these popular references, once you start progressing through the levels more is going on that brings some of these set pieces to life.

Of course being a side scrolling brawler mechanics aren’t the most technically advanced but Secret Base have changed the formula just enough for it to not just feel like a clone with a reskin; while there’s your typical punch, dash, pick up item etc, Devil’s Dare introduces an interesting spin on how the special move effects the course of the gameplay. While in say Final Fight, special moves were used at the cost of a fraction of the player’s remaining health bar and with Streets of Rage the special was a one off last ditch ability that you can use once per life to decimate most foes on screen; instead Devil’s Dare promotes a more controlled play style as opposed to simple button bashing. Each character has three special moves that can decimate foes once utilized against enemies that meet the ‘FINISH HIM!’ threshold which will net you some extra coinage for upgrades. Once you grasp this if you can then further perfect this technique by timing your specials against several foes below the threshold you will net yourself a nice bonus of cash and a health pickup depending on the size of the fatality combo (along with some satisfaction of a pretty awesome show of skill).

There are some issues with this mechanic though, when playing by yourself you will most likely find yourself overwhelmed and trying to land these fatality combos will hinder more than aid you when certain rather unfair enemy combinations pummel your face (it also doesn’t help that enemies can continue to stun lock you once you’ve been knocked to the floor). When playing with an almost full team you’ll find yourselves wasting specials, accidentally picking up items and knocking potential fatalities away from each other left, right and centre; honestly certain levels are just a clusterf*ck as you try to not just button bash in an attempt to not die from the several zombie types and occasional level hazards.

While I do have gripes with the gameplay and it doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the genre, playing is a blast, after already managing to beat the game once (on my own no less) I have no intention of stopping thanks to several elements. Now besides each character playing uniquely from each other, Devil’s Dare is certainly challenging with a couple of almost rogue-like elements and interesting replayability; once you get passed the prologue level you will be given the choice between four scenarios that you can tackle at your leisure. However after completing the first level you’ll find the game no matter what will become far more challenging, as you complete each scenario the next scenario will have an extra level thereby extending the scenario’s length and increasing its difficulty, this meaning you can go through an entire playthrough then play again choosing different scenarios offering a different experience.

But hey if it gets tough so what you can just continue and have at it again right, wrong!
To revive that old school arcade cabinet feel, players will need to amass the coinage from kills to save enough up for upgrades (more on that later) as well as revives, yup you do not get more than one life if you suck at collecting the loot and to make matters harder Devil’s Dare adds that little mechanic that game’s like Diablo and Torchlight were more notable for; Hardcore is mandatory, meaning you have 0 continues should your team be wiped out and your cash was depleted. Instead at the end of each level players are offered between four randomized upgrades and items to spend their spoils on (one selection for each player); within these slot machine-esque choices there will be typical power upgrades, max health boosts, some risky upgrades and often a soul token. Bearing in mind you can only choose one choice per level end so while stocking up on those continues is nice it might hinder you further down the line when it becomes harder to manage the onslaught introducing an interesting blend of risk vs reward.

To top it all off should you run out of continues it’s game over (duh), and your progress will be deleted upping the pressure and getting the adrenaline pumping.

Hell there’s even extra endings and two secret characters, granted the nonexistence of an online Co Op feature does sadden me slightly but if you long for great pixel art, an enjoyable couch Co Op experience along with a highly replayable selection of levels to playthrough I suggest you check this one out for sure.

Devil’s Dare is right up there with Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Golden Axe where I can assure you I’ll be getting my monies worth (figure of speech as I got a review copy) where my only complaint is I wish I got it in cartridge form for display to perfectly recapture the nostalgia trip it sends me on.

High replayability,

Simple yet enjoyable,

4 Player Co Op,

Interesting blend of Hardcore and Rogue-like elements into Brawler genre,

Nostalgia tripping.

Occasional unfair enemy combinations,

Seemingly no invincibility frames when knocked down,

Lack of colour,

Characters tend to speak too much.

Final verdict,

Devil’s Dare doesn’t revolutionize but it certainly gives a fun take on an age old genre and scores a 7.5/10.

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