Is this latest Souls-alike a leap of good or bad faith? The Finger Guns review…
I’m sure if you’ve been paying any attention whatsoever to the gaming landscape in the last ten years, then you’ll know that From Software’s seminal and brutal action RPG, Dark Souls, has had arguably as much influence as any game in that period, when it comes to game mechanics. While it initially and predominantly inspired other games in the third-person perspective, an increasing number of 2D and 2.5D platformers, including the likes of Salt and Sanctuary and Blasphemous, have taken those mechanics and adapted them. In April 2021, another joins the fray, with Ludus Future’s Demon Skin next up to the plate.
A deliberately paced and combat-heavy 2.5D experience, Demon Skin thrusts you into the pale blue feet of the Wanderer, part of a group with superhuman powers with which they defend their world from the threat of the darkness. In an attempt to break up the restoration of a sinister ancient artifact, the Wanderer is accidentally turned into a demon, and the only way for him to reverse this transformation is to track down that artifact.
Doing so involves traversing a dark fantasy world and cutting or smashing down anything that gets in your way. This combat is Demon Skin’s calling card and, by far, its most intriguing component. It has some of the standard elements that you’d expect – a stamina bar and a dodge roll likely being the most recognisable – but what makes this game more unique than some of its contemporaries is in how you actually deal that damage.
Rather than what you might consider the simpler control scheme of dodging or parrying attacks, then countering with your own, Demon Skin adopts an almost For Honor-esque stance-based system. Attacks and parries are governed by a three-level system – almost mimicking Rock, Paper, Scissors – that translates visually to a series of arrows in front of the Wanderer. If you use a controller, as I did, then you use one of three face buttons to determine whether you attack or parry high, middle or low. If your opponent chooses the same option, then you or they will parry the attack. If you choose different options, then you or they will score the hit, depending on who swung first. It’s a unique take on the combat you normally see in 2.5D games of this type.
The game features a decent selcetion of unique weapons, each of which do different damage to different enemy types, allowing you to chain combos together and adding to the variety of the combat. Like most other games in the genre, you’ll also be afforded the opportunity to improve the Wanderer’s stats as you progress, allowing you to more easily dispatch standard enemies and giving you a better chance of survival against mini bosses.
Unfortunately, the combat isn’t perfect and its main issue stems from the somewhat baffling decision to utilise a stance switch button, whereby pressing a bumper will switch the direction the Wanderer is facing. It just felt very counter-intuitive and clumsy, when using the left sick to turn left or right would have felt much more natural. In areas with multiple enemies, it led to more than one occasion where I was stabbed in the back because I couldn’t get turned around quickly enough.
Sadly though, the combat isn’t even the worst use of that mechanic, and this takes me to Demon Skin‘s ultimate downfall – the platforming. Not to put too fine a point on it, some of the platforming sections I encountered in my time with the game were amongst the worst I have played in the last decade, and it’s all down to the aforementioned clunkiness.
Whilst it’s forgiveable in the game’s combat sections, where the more deliberate pace can be used to your benefit, Demon Skin‘s platforming sections almost always put you up against something time-critical. The first proper platforming section of the game is an insta-death one which sees you leaping from pillar to pillar as a landslide crashes towards you – I don’t mind admitting I failed this section at least a dozen times as the Wanderer either slid off a pillar, failed to grab the next pillar or couldn’t push past the werewolf inexplicably waiting at the end for some reason. Another section, involving platforms crumbling from underneath you, saw another dozen attempts, as the stance switch mechanic felt too cumbersome for what was required. It’s hugely disappointing to see such a promising title cut off at the knees by its own mechanics but, sadly, that’s what has happened here, ruining a potentially memorable experience.
When Demon Skin works, it works pretty well – it’s a nice-looking title with an interesting story and some combat mechanics that set it apart from other similar games. Unfortunately, its missteps are just too impactful on the overall experience to ignore. If you have the patience of a saint, you might find enough here to enjoy. If time is at a premium, and you don’t fancy the slog, I just can’t recommend it. A real shame.
Demon Skin is available now on PC through Steam.
Developer: Ludus Future
Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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