Developed by White Rabbit Published by Adult Swim Games Reviewed on PlayStation 4 (also available on Steam)
There are many games that have made their marks in gaming history. In the 90s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night not only evolved an already beloved franchise, but it set precedence for the future and coined a new genre name. More recently, Dark Souls made its place in history very well known. Developer White Rabbit has found inspiration from the past and brought it into the present to try and synthesize something unique. The end result is Death’s Gambit, a difficult but not impossible take on the Metroidvania genre.
Death’s Gambit starts on very familiar footing. Much like Dark Souls, you start by picking a preset class. This gives you a template to work around and focus on specific types of builds whether you try to use more heavy weapons, specialize in dexterity weapons or choose to walk the path of magic. Your class choice also does dictate which skill trees will appear for you. Defeating enemies will grant you souls and the ability to level up your stats. Killing bosses gives you skill point that allows you to learn a new skill or technique. Once you have chosen your class, you arise from the dead and are given a contract by Death. If you maintain the contract with Death you can respawn if you die. Interestingly, you can forgo the immortality and do a single death run. If you do so then you best be prepared to take it slow and methodically. The game resembles Dark Souls in the sense of pacing. Blocking, dodging, and attacking consume stamina and you must pay attention as to not over tax yourself. Like Castlevania, you are given a large map to explore and until you acquire a new item or perform a certain task, the world makes small changes and allows you to explore things further. Defeating bosses and exploring the map are the major triggers that move the world to change.
Unfortunately, Death’s Gambit doesn’t quite match up fully to either of its inspirations in terms of overall quality artistically or in overall execution. For one, I found the soundtrack to be a bit too generic and while fitting, not impressive.The game play itself is decent but I found times where it would use my input for an action but not perform it. Worse it consumed the stamina for the attempt and I often missed an opportunity or took damage. This was not a frequent issue but it did happen a handful of times and the frustration was felt. The enemy placement on the map is generally fair and there were a handful of bosses I had fun challenging. In terms of the world design and map layout this was also somewhat disappointing. The pixel art style used is fairly well crafted and the animations of the characters and monsters are pretty good. I love the unique character designs especially Death himself. There are even secrets that grant you bonuses against the bosses. Where Death’s Gambit struggles is that the locales and overall layout are rather bland. Despite scenery changes and themes, I was never really wowed. Even when I found something that I made note of to come back to later, I was more often than not disappointed with the payoff.
There is some redemption in the story of this grim world. As you become a servant of Death you are now on a mission to ride out to slay other immortals that have crossed Death. Only another of Death’s servant’s may kill them. Thus you set out to fulfill your contract. Along the way you uncover the truths of those you must slay and it makes the task more difficult. Though story is often not a huge part of the game it is nice to know thought was put into it as a primary piece and not an afterthought. It is something that was definitely needed to make the game a better package over all. Death’s Gambit may not be the breakout of a mixed mold, but it’s a good place to start and I can see a path forward with a continuing story.