Devil Kings Hands-On

We do battle with a playable demo of Capcom's upcoming action game for the PS2.

Currently scheduled for release in North America next month, Devil Kings is a reworking of the Dynasty Warriors-esque Sengoku Basara that was released in Japan earlier this year. Sengoku Basara, although not entirely accurate historically, was set in feudal Japan, and it featured characters that were appropriate for the time period. Devil Kings, on the other hand, is a much darker fantasy-themed game in which you'll get to play as warriors who'd look almost as out of place in a feudal Japan setting as they would serving beef bowls in Yoshinoya. We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a playable demo of Devil Kings, and we're pleased to report that we found it pretty difficult to put down once we got our hands on it.

The only gameplay option available in the Devil Kings demo was free battle, which is a mode that will let you replay missions taken from the game's conquest mode. We were able to check out five missions from various stages of the game, and we played through them as any of four very different characters. The titular Devil King character is undoubtedly our favorite at this point, not only because he sports both a sword and a shotgun, but also because his "thornbush" special move impales large groups of enemies on spikes that rise out of the ground in front of him. The other characters we've spent time with include Venus, who wields shuriken yo-yo weapons and is able to glide while suspended from a large white owl; Lady Butterfly, who primarily attacks from range using two pistols; and Red Minotaur, who uses a gigantic axe to slay numerous enemies simultaneously and is actually the boss at the end of one of the five missions included in the demo.

Although all the missions in Devil Kings are basically going to require you to slaughter hundreds of enemies, the maps and objectives included in the demo suggest there will be no shortage of variety. The first mission, for example, tasked us with defending two gates that were under attack from enemy forces armed with battering rams and giant maces. The map was quite small, since we really only needed to move between the two gates, but there was room enough for us to explore and tackle incoming forces before they got anywhere near the gates (if we wanted to). The second mission started out in a small courtyard area, where we fought with the six-sword-wielding Azure Dragon (playable in the finished game), who escaped moments before being killed and then needed to be pursued on horseback across a decent-sized map populated by enemy forces. The remaining three levels charged us with locating and defeating various bosses, but they played quite differently because of the types of enemies (including minibosses such as the "Vertical Tank Stomp" and another playable character named Scorpio) we faced along the way and because of the environments we were fighting in. One of the levels required us to follow a linear path through a city, for example, while another afforded us multiple routes across a battlefield, where a number of our comrades (including other generals and plenty of soldiers) were already engaging the enemy.

Your enemies in Devil Kings aren't shy about attacking in great numbers.

Your enemies in Devil Kings will come at you in many different shapes and sizes, and although the majority of them are foot soldiers who simply charge at you with little regard for whichever weapon you happen to be swinging around at the time, the combat isn't quite as mindless as you might expect. Archers will fire at you from range, bomb carriers will attempt to detonate their payloads as close to you as possible, and trumpeters will continue to call in reinforcements until you silence them...permanently. Enemy commanders are also worth keeping an eye out for, because they're tougher than those under their command, they often carry treasure boxes you can collect to open at the end of the mission, and their deaths invariably lower the morale of the men serving under them. Other less-common enemies we've encountered thus far include huge warriors who wield battering rams (as if they were polearms) or throw rocks at you, as well as horseback riders and supply carriers, who drop health or fury power-ups when you kill them.

What's a fury power-up? It's an item that replenishes your fury meter so you can perform superpowerful "fury drive" attacks. The only other way to gain fury is to stun enemies before killing them, which is generally achieved by using a triangle-button special attack and following up with a square-button normal attack. Both of those attacks can be made more powerful (though a little slower) by holding the R1 button, which is also used in conjunction with the circle button to perform fury drive attacks. The only other controls you'll need to concern yourself with while on foot are using the X button to jump and using the L1 button to block and evade attacks. The game's lethargic camera can also be maneuvered using the right analog stick, which is especially necessary when you're moving at speed on horseback.

Each character's fury drive attack is different, but they're all equally devastating.

At the end of each level, provided you've completed it successfully, you'll be graded on various aspects of your performance, such as the speed at which you completed your mission, how many of your comrades survived, and which of the game's three difficulty levels you were playing. You'll also get to open all the treasure chests you collected from fallen enemies, which can contain new weapons, performance-enhancing items of clothing, experience bonuses, and more. Disappointingly, none of the weapons we found actually looked any different from the default ones, though we did notice Lady Butterfly carrying a large chaingun instead of her "Firefly" and "Heatwave" pistols during a mission in which we fought alongside her. So there's still hope...

We almost certainly wouldn't have seen Lady Butterfly in action at all if it weren't for the manual camera control, though, because if there's one thing that's disappointing about Devil Kings at this point, it's that the camera makes practically no attempt to keep up with the action automatically. Everything else about Devil Kings' visuals is pretty impressive, especially in the weapon-effects department, although it was a little disappointing to see enemies suddenly materializing from out of thin air when we turned around suddenly. These are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, though, and we're very much looking forward to reviewing a finished version of the game a little closer to its release.

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